You probably wouldn’t blink an eye at seeing people in Norway, Germany or Slovenia swimming in rivers and lakes would you? It’s been a popular activity for, well frankly a very long while now. So why, until more recently, has wild swimming in the UK been viewed as an unusual sport? Maybe it’s something to do with the coldness of our waters or our unfavourable seasonal weather? Although, here in the UK we are lucky to have an abundance of rivers, lakes and long stretches of unspoilt coastline, so we don’t have to go far to find a beautiful spot for a little swim.
It may seem absurd to most of us to willingly decide to strip down, slip into a wetsuit, a delicate technique at the best of times, and immerse ourselves into cold, sometimes Baltic-like water. Well in fact this coldness is why those who wild swim do it. Stepping into cold water makes you gasp for breath, it makes every part of your body feel more alive than it ever has done before! Or so I’m told…
However, it’s not all about finding a beautiful spot to swim in, although having such a close connection with nature has been proved to help support mental health. Swimmers vow that some health conditions can be improved through swimming as well as feeling happier in themselves. Kate Rew, the Outdoor Swimming Society founder, states the best thing of all – it’s free. “Wild swimming costs nothing and is a great mood changer. There’s no experience like it and every time is diﬀerent”.
Benefits: people love swimming for all the philosophical, physical, social and physiological reasons there out there.
Studies show that regular cold water swimming can reduce inflammation, linked to conditions such as aches and pains, high blood pressure, arthritis and depression. Through a process called cold water adaptation.
Manages stress levels.
Again through the cold water adaptation process wild swimming can help you to manage your stress levels. By training your body to be able to deal with the stress of cold water immersion regularly your body can then handle smaller stresses more easily. In turn this also enables our bodies and minds to manage the symptoms of depression.
When swimming in cold water you are forced to be in the moment. To focus all your energy on breathing and accepting the cold water on your skin. Swimming outside in nature helps us disconnect from our busy lives, it justs you and the water.
It boosts your mood.
Various studies have proved that swimming in the wild has powerful mood boosting properties and can even help to sooth symptoms of depression. “All wild-dippers know the natural endorphin high that raises mood, elates the senses and creates an addictive urge to dive back in,” says wild swimming expert Daniel Start.
Is It Safe?
In swimming there is no such thing as ‘safe’ per se, there is only ‘safe for you’.
Your swimming ability.
Ensure you are swim fit. Consult your doctor if you have any reservations, and particularly if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma or any condition that might raise your own risks.
Acclimatization to cold water.
Yes even in the summer. Limit your time if you are unused to it and take warm clothes to change into. The best way to see yourself through ‘afterdrop’, is to change immediately. Dry yourself off (pat, don’t rub), add lots of warm layers, and have a warm drink. Put yourself in a warm place.
Build yourself up depending on your confidence.
Understand your body.
Learn when your body is struggling to deal with different water conditions, don’t push yourself over your limits.
Understand the weather.
Especially in the sea where wind and tides can have a massive effect. If you are new to open water swimming then perhaps wait until May time to start where water temperatures will start to be warmer. The sea will often hold its temperature better than rivers or lakes.
Swim with others.
It’s always advised and safer to swim with others, more fun too! 🙂
Locations in Kent
Location: Formby Rd, Halling, Rochester, ME2 1FF
Description: Beautiful turquoise clean, spring fed water from the Chilterns. No battling through mud or reeds. Accredited as a NOWCA open water swim venue.
Membership: Must be a NOWCA member £12 a year.
Opening times: November to April Saturday & Sunday 0900hrs to 1200hrs. April to June Friday, Saturday & Sunday 0700hrs to 2000hrs. June to September Everyday 0700hrs to 2000hrs. October Friday, Saturday & Sunday 1000hrs to 1600hrs
Location: Malling Road, Larkfield, Kent, ME20 6AA
Description: This is a top destination in Kent for open water swimmers, but you must first pass an induction before you can swim in the lake, which is deep and cold. If that doesn’t put you off, then you’ll enjoy an invigorating swim surrounded by green flag award winning country park.
Membership: Need to have completed an induction course first. 1 hour swim £6.
Opening Times: Open every day of the year. Entrance gates are unlocked daily at 7.30 am and locked at dusk.
Note: Pay and display parking.
Location: Fifth Avenue, Cliftonville, Margate, Kent, CT9 2JN
Description: A 4 acre tidal sea bathing pool built in 1937. It is 137m long, 92m wide at the seaward end and 167m at the landward end. So swimming a width of the pool from the center steps is roughly equivalent to swimming 6 lengths of a 25m pool. It is 7ft deep at the seaward end.
Opening Times: All year, but tide dependent.
Other beaches that are popular in Kent to swim from:
Check out the Kent Sea Swimmers Facebook group for great advice and tips!
- Hythe Beach. Discover this stretch of coastline with the Hythe to Folkestone Coast Path walk.
- Sandy Beach – Folkestone
- Minnis Bay – Birchington on Sea. Explore this area with the Minnis Bay to Reculver walk.
- Joss Bay – Broadstairs
- Botany Bay – Broadstairs
- St Margarets at Cliffe. Wander around this town with this circular walk.