Start your wild swimming adventure with our beginner's guide to open water – Metro

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Come on in, the water’s fine! (Picture: Supplied)

The best time to try a spot of wild swimming is right now, with natural water at its warmest through August and September.

Swimming itself is still one of the most popular sports in the UK. Around 14million adults swim, with 4.7million enjoying a dip at least twice a month, according to Swim England.

And outdoor swimming is on the rise, too – 7.5million of us take part, with 2.1million preferring lakes, lochs and seas.

The Outdoor Swimming Society, a largely volunteer-run organisation, has been a pioneer for open-water swimming since its launch in 2016 – with membership since growing to around 170,000 across more than 30 countries worldwide.

It has helped to enhance access to open water, provided resources to the community, formed networks and hosted events.

A recent survey of its members asking why they swim outdoors found that 94% swim for joy – they felt happier and less stressed after a swim – while 68% said they swam for physical fitness.

Of course, exercise has both physical and mental benefits – hello, happy hormones – but wild swimming combines these benefits with being surrounded by nature, which also boosts the productions of those all-important hormones.

Outdoor swimming is on the rise, with 7.5million of us taking part, and 2.1million preferring lakes, lochs and seas (Picture: Supplied)
Wild swimming combines the usual health benefits with being surrounded by nature (Picture: Supplied)

Not only that, but being in cold water is said to help with everything from boosting your immune system to easing symptoms of depression and improving blood circulation.

Generally speaking, there are two types of outdoor swimming. Wild swimming tends to refer to swimming in a natural environment – so places such as lakes, ponds, lochs and the sea – while open-water swimming refers to events and races and accredited lakes (such as The Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park) with safeguarding in place.

‘Swimming in a pool is repetitive and can quickly become boring,’ says Neil Gilson, a marathon swimmer and INCUS Performance athlete.

Marathon swimmer Neil Gilson says every open-water experience is an adventure (Picture: Supplied)

‘Wild swimming is an adventure – every time you go you can guarantee it will be different to the last swim and the variable conditions are what make wild swimming so much more interesting.

‘From the weather, water temperature, tides and wildlife there are so many factors that come into wild swimming. I really enjoy the challenge of open-water swimming and seeing how far I can push my body – both physically and mentally.’



Safety first: advice for beginners from Swim England

  • To avoid getting into difficulties when swimming outside, never swim alone in open water. The temperature and choppiness of the water can make things difficult.
  • Let someone in your household know where you are, what you are doing and when you expect to return.
  • Look out for safety signs and online information/feedback. If a sign says ‘no swimming and/or ‘danger’, don’t swim there.
  • Plan your exit before you get into the water. Consider any currents, the tidal flow and wind direction.
  • Avoid weirs, locks and other structures.
  • If you get into difficulty in the water, don’t panic, stay calm and float on your back until you can control your breathing and then continue to swim once again.

Neil was the first person to swim the Bristol Channel from Swansea to Ilfracombe in Devon last year and is currently training to swim Lake Geneva, a 70km non-tidal swim in a freshwater lake, next year.

He advises that you should first be able to swim for 20 minutes without the need to stop before venturing into open water.

The Dart 10k event in Devon is a bucket-list swim for many open-air swimmers (Picture: Supplied)

‘It is easy to stop for a rest when you’re in the pool, but when swimming outdoors it’s unlikely you will be able to touch the bottom or have anything to hold onto.

‘Start off with small realistic swims that are within your ability and easy for you to achieve – you can then look to build on this the next time you swim.

‘Research the best swimming spots, too, as lack of knowledge of the environment where you are swimming can be dangerous.’

While getting into the open water for the first time can be daunting, Neil says the rewards are amazing. ‘You won’t look back after your first swim. Every swim is an adventure,’ he explains.

‘Swimming also works almost every muscle in your body and being outdoors and connecting with nature is proven to have a positive impact on mental health, too.’

Dive in! Open-water events to take your wild swim to a new level

Swim Collective, Dart 10k

A bucket-list swim for many, this is a journey (not a race) from Totnes to Dittisham, passing many landmarks along the way. This is a super-inclusive event, but you need to be able to swim a mile in under 40 minutes to attend.

Where: Totnes, Devon
When: September 4
Price: £110; charity places £55 + £200 fundraising, which goes to
Level Water.

Above Below retreat

This action-packed weekend involves hiking and swimming in and around Ullswater and is a great introduction to cross-country swimming. The routes are challenging, with swims up to 2km long, but adaptable to a range of abilities.

Where: Ullswater, Lake District
When: Sept 9-11 and Sept 23-25
Price: £374 (includes accommodation, ferry and breakfast basics, pack lunch and dinner), book via Above Below

Armathwaite Hall Hotel & Spa wild swimming package

Jack Whitehall has done this activity at Armathwaite, so why not follow in his footsteps?

Under the guidance of a wild swimming coach, guests can spend a half day immersing themselves in the natural waters of Bassenthwaite Lake, a natural infinity pool and a string of waterfalls in Buttermere.

Where: Cumbria
When: All year round
Price: £320 per room based on two people sharing (includes the experience, breakfast, lunch and dinner), book via Armathwaite Hall.

After the swim: how to look after your skin

Whether it’s a dip in the sea, pool or lake, watch out for negative effects on your skin, says Bruce Green, a chartered scientist, chemist and founder of SOS Serum Skincare.

Here’s what to watch out for and, if you do run into trouble, Bruce says a simple bath or shower in fresh water is all you need to keep the negative effects at bay – just make sure the water’s not too hot as this can cause further irritation.

Chlorinated water

‘Chlorine does a great job in sanitising pool water, but too much exposure, especially over a prolonged period of time, can dry out the skin,’ he says. ‘This leads to irritation, itchiness and rash. If the skin is already sensitive, it can cause conditions like eczema and psoriasis to flare.’

Salt water

‘Salt water isn’t necessarily bad for the skin, but when combined with sun and sand can lead to irritation. For those with skin conditions such as eczema, the effects of salt water can vary from person-to-person.
Some people’s skin may be soothed by salt water, but for others it may exacerbate an existing skin condition.’

Fresh water

‘Occasionally, swimming in open water can cause a form of dermatitis that is colloquially known as “swimmer’s itch” – an itchy rash caused by an allergic reaction to parasites or some types of algae in the water.

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This page was created programmatically, to read the article in its original location you can go to the link bellow:
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