Add the benefits of swimming (exercise, stress relief, weightless mobility) with the extra advantages of being under an open sky in the midst of nature. That’s the joy of wild swimming - also called cold water swimming, outdoor or open water swimming.
It’s swimming for pleasure in natural waters - a lake, river, reservoir, pond or in the open sea - free from the restrictions of lanes, ropes and sometimes other people too. And it has become increasingly popular - Google searches for wild swimming grew by a massive 86 per cent between 2020 and 2021.
But why is wild swimming so popular?
Because it can offer an amazing boost to your mental and physical health and wellbeing, being good for your body, head and heart. It can be as challenging or as easy as you want it to be, as well as a lot of fun too.
Mental and physical boosts can range from a sense of elation to a feeling of relaxation, and the practice is reported to strengthen the immune system and soothe muscles.
Swimming can be a great stress reliever because the rhythmic strokes and breathing that swimming involves can feel like a form of meditation, or mindfulness. It can bring your focus into the moment and trigger the part of your nervous system that regulates relaxation and rest.
It’s also good if you are recovering from an illness or injury thanks to the feeling of weightlessness you get from being in the water making you feel lighter and more agile.
And it can make you happier too, since swimming, like all exercise, releases endorphins - the feel-good hormone.
A study published in the British Medical Journal Case Reports suggested that cold water swimming may be an effective treatment for mood disorders. It’s thought that the shock of cold water adapts the body for the stress response associated with depression and anxiety.
How to experience the wellness benefits of cold water swimming
Most regions have their own social media groups that you can join and seek advice from, asking questions about everything from local sea tide times and the risk of jellyfish stings (it can happen!) to the livelihood of weeds, algae and strong currents.
If you prefer safety in numbers, join a group of wild swimmers who tend to go out at set times on set days (an early morning swim is a great way to wake up and get the adrenaline flowing before work).
There are some risks involved with staying in the water too long so check out for top tips for staying safe in water.
Taking up wild swimming is also an excellent way to explore the countryside and seek out new places. The 2021 Trends in Outdoor Swimming Report shows that outdoor swimming raises people’s awareness of environmental issues and encourages them to take action to reduce pollution and environmental damage.
Wild swimming is great for your mental health, good for your body and good for the environment too. If it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, don’t hesitate any longer - dive in.
Great wild swimming spots around the UK & Ireland:
Lake Windermere, Lake District.
Hampstead Heath ponds, London
River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire.
River Derwent near Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.
Milarrochy Bay, Loch Lomond.
Castle Stalker, Argyll & The Isles.
River Tay, Perthshire.
Torrin Pools, Isle of Skye.
Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire
Bluepool Corner, Gower Peninsula
Porthdinllaen, Llŷn Peninsula
Watkins Path Waterfall, Snowdonia
Ballintoy Harbour, Causeway Coast
Gawley’s Gate, Lough Neagh
Orlock point, Donaghadee
Lough Shannagh, Mourne Mountains
Republic of Ireland:
Carlingford Lough, Louth
Mountshannon, Lough Derg
Keem Bay, Achill Island
Killary Fjord, Galway