wild swimming in the sea

If you are looking to escape the ordinary, exercise at your own pace and reap the benefits of a new activity in the outdoors, why not seek the thrill of wild swimming ? 

Personally, I haven’t looked back since entering the exhilarating world of taking a regular wild swim. Whether you prefer the tranquil embrace of lakes, the thrill of rushing rivers, or the enchantment of hidden waterfalls, wild swimming offers a unique and refreshing way to connect with nature, with one’s self and also with other, like minded people.

This wonderful way to escape and unwind from our everyday pressures has been gaining popularity rapidly throughout the United Kingdom and beyond.

In this article, we take a plunge into the exciting world of wild swimming and explore its wealth of health benefits. Discover how this invigorating activity can boost how you feel both physically and mentally, as well as provide what I call a mini holiday, totally immersed in nature, a getaway from the often hectic pace of modern life.

Social Wellness Walks

Here, we will uncover some of the best wild swimming locations around the UK from hidden gems in the wilderness to purpose made wild swimming locations with life guards on hand to ensure your safety. You will find tips on staying safe whilst exploring these natural playgrounds and swim locations as well as learn about the gear and techniques that will enhance your experience and help to keep you safe.

2 people preparing to wild swim

So grab your swimmers and get ready for an unforgettable journey into the enticing world of wild swimming. Whether you’re a seasoned swimmer or just dipping your toes into this magical escape, be prepared to be captivated by the sheer beauty and sense of freedom and exhilaration that awaits you.

What is Wild Swimming?

Wild swimming is also known as open water swimming or even cold water swimming and is the act of swimming in natural bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, tarns and oceans, as opposed to swimming in, often stuffy, man-made swimming pools. It is a growing trend amongst outdoor enthusiasts, I for one would always choose swimming outdoors over swimming inside in a leisure centre pool, that said, I do also love to visit a Lido from time to time.

Swimming in lakes, tarns, rivers, seas and oceans is perfect for nature lovers who seek a more immersive and adventurous swimming experience. Unlike swimming in a pool, wild swimming allows you to explore the wonders of nature, swim amidst stunning landscapes and even feel at one with the diverse wildlife around, above and below you.

swimming at carpernwray

Whilst wild swimming can be done in various stunning and sometimes remote locations, it is important to note that it is not the same as swimming in dangerous or restricted areas. 

Swimming outdoors should always be done in safe and designated spots, swimmers should always be respectful of the water itself, the fact that the water is home to a host of wildlife and they should always leave the water and the banks around it as they found them. By following necessary precautions and heeding advice, wild swimming can prove to be a most memorable and secure experience that leaves you feeling totally alive, exhilarated even, with a huge sense of achievement as you go home eagerly planning your next dip!

Benefits of Wild Swimming

Aside from the sheer joy and excitement provided by swimming in the outdoors, wild swimming offers a numerous list of health benefits. The combination of swimming and being immersed in nature has a huge positive impact on both physical and mental well-being. 

I always feel a rush of excitement and anticipation as I pack up my things and head out for a swim in the wild. As I gradually enter the water I feel the benefit of the cold zing and my whole nervous system seems to thank me for taking the time to regulate my breathing and my heart beat by taking long, full, slow breaths in and out through my nose. I will go into more detail on this later on.

stretching pre swim

Upon leaving my wild swim location, I always feel so good, wrapped up in warm layers, the cold kickstarts my circulation and I gradually start to feel a warm glow.  My pain levels are lowered and I feel thankful that I took myself away from my to do list to do something special for me. 

Physical health benefits

Firstly, wild swimming is an excellent cardiovascular exercise that strengthens the heart, boosts circulation and improves overall fitness. The resistance that water gives, provides a full-body workout, swimming engages muscles that are not typically used in other forms of exercise and if taking to the lake regularly, you will certainly notice an improvement in your body and muscle tone.

This low-impact activity is suitable for people of all ages once they are a competent swimmer. I have to admit that I have never been a fast paced swimmer and I prefer to swim at a slow steady pace, breaststroke being my go to swim stroke to allow me to focus on my breath and to thoroughly enjoy the time spent totally surrounded by nature. That said, you are free to choose your pace and your technique once you are confident with your surroundings.

The Wellbeing Wonders of Wild Swimming 1

Wild swimming and controlled cold exposure have been linked to improving the body’s immune function. Exposure to the natural elements, such as cold water and sunlight, can stimulate the production of white blood cells and thus increase the body’s ability to fight off infections. I love this benefit as my immune system needs a little extra love and boosting, especially in seasons where viruses are more prevalent.

Additionally, I speak from personal experience when I add that cold water immersion is known to have anti-inflammatory effects, which can aid pain management and greatly help to cope with a variety of health conditions, particularly those of an arthritic or musculoskeletal nature. 

For instance, I have both Fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, degenerative disk disease and also two areas of joint damage along my spine. These damaged areas cause a condition named Spinal Stenosis, in short, I experience pain all day everyday which also varies greatly in intensity. Cold water exposure and lake swimming helps me to manage daily life and I always feel the benefit of reducing inflammation in my body through immersing my whole body in cold water.

swimming with a toe float

Muscle soreness can also be reduced by dipping into cold water and gentle swims after taking part in other forms of exercise will help muscles to recover. So, if you’ve been out on a log cycle, walk or run, achieved a long session of your favourite sport or you hit the gym, a cold water swim immediately or even a day or so afterwards can help your muscles to recover more quickly.

As I suffer with Fibromyalgia, I experience pain in various forms, including muscles, joints and nerves. I also suffer from joint stiffness, a great way to manage this is to live an active life as possible and balance this with periods of rest. I love walking and hiking as they help me to keep moving, however, any physical activity results in a build up of muscle pain and fatigue, therefore, I find there is nothing better for the soul than a swim in a beautiful place after a day out hiking. 

Swimming outdoors has become increasingly popular with those who live with the challenge of managing a variety of mental and physical health conditions and it is suited to all fitness levels and all ages. As long as you listen to your body, it will allow you to build strength and endurance at your own pace.

zoe and dog wild swimming

Mental health benefits

Taking to the water has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health. Being immersed in nature and surrounded by the calming sights and sounds of the water can reduce stress and anxiety. The release of endorphins during exercise also contributes to improved mood and a greater sense of well-being. Swimming in cold water gives you that saught after natural high.

The feeling of freedom and connection with nature that wild swimming provides can help to alleviate symptoms of depression and provide a lift from low mood. I can think of many times when I have felt low and in need of a mental pick-me-up. 

Admittedly, there have been a few times when  I have questioned whether I want to get into a lake as my body is hurting and feels dragged down, but afterwards I have always felt better and boosted. 

There have even been times when the skies have been grey at my local swimming spot, even rain pouring down splashing upon the surface of the water and the thought of getting in hasn’t been so inviting, yet each of those times, I have practised my breathwork, gradually entered the water and managed a swim.

I can honestly say that after every swim, I have emerged triumphant and feeling proud that I told myself to brave the elements. These are the moments we can draw strength from and feel a real sense of achievement.

When I am in the water, I tune into the sights and sounds around me. I really allow myself to feel the sensation of the cold upon my skin and to notice the rhythmical movement created by moving through the water. 

Being close to the water is good for our health, swimming in it can really be so meditative and soothing. Personally, my body feels held and supported by the water and my soul embraced by all that nature provides. There are fish beneath me and birds above, even families of ducks or swans swim close by and I love how the distinction between species of wildlife and humans suddenly becomes blurred as we share space and move within close proximity.

sitting after a swim

Safety Tips for Wild Swimming 

Whilst wild swimming is an exhilarating experience where we can feel connected to our primitive, adventurous side, it is crucial to prioritise safety to ensure you enjoy a risk-free adventure. Here, I have put together some essential safety precautions to keep in mind before you set out on your wild water swim adventures :

Research the location beforehand

Do your research: Before heading out to any wild swimming location, research the area thoroughly. Choose whether you want to swim at an open water swimming resort with lifeguards on hand or if  you wish to take a hike to a lake or tarn or even head to the coast. 

You should always check for potential hazards, such as strong currents or underwater obstacles, make sure that you are not choosing to swim in close proximity to cliffs where debris or rocks could fall and you should also ensure that the water quality is safe for swimming.

If you are heading to the coast, of course, it is always advisable to seek beautiful spots that are manned by RNLI lifeguards. Also, do look into what species of fish or jellyfish could potentially be in the water. 

Some regulated cold swim venues are also used for diving and diver training, if you like to snorkel or swim with your head in the water, this can provide an added bonus as you might see some of the underwater features they have added for the divers to explore beneath you as you swim.

Check water quality and temperature

Always have in mind that you are swimming in an open body of water as opposed to a chlorinated swimming pool. Check out any risk of potential water pollution by doing your research.

enjoying a wild swim

As I said earlier, I know which one my heart will always choose as there are stunningly beautiful spring fed lakes and tarns, even ex quarries that have been filled with water and are now used to provide crystal clear, weed free swimming. 

Always assess the conditions of the water before entering. Check for signs of pollution, algae blooms, or any other factors that may affect water quality. Be aware of the weather forecast, as sudden changes can create dangerous conditions.

As your journey into the world of wild swims progresses, you should find that your body adapts to the cold and is better equipped to deal with the chill of open water. You may choose to improve your body’s tolerance to cold exposure by investing in a cold dip tub for your garden. These are great for use in between opportunities to get out and wild swim. 

Many cold water swimming enthusiasts steadily progress further to dipping and swimming in ice water as winter temperatures plummet, if you find that you take well to the benefits of cold exposure, this should be a slow and gradual journey, one that involves knowing your own body, practising breathwork and possibly adding layers to your swimming kit as the weather gets colder.

Investing in a cold water thermometer will help you to track your progression and tolerance through the colder months. Monitored open water swimming venues will display the air temperature and the water temperature to keep you well informed.

During hot and balmy days of summer, the water is extremely enticing indeed but we should always be mindful of how we enter the water. It is imperative to gradually enter the water, breathing slowly and allowing your body to adjust to the temperature of the cool water. Diving straight into cold water on a hot day can be life threatening, causing cold water shock. 

Start in shallow water

If you’re new to wild swimming, start in shallow water, regulated wild swimming venues can be great for this as most provide gently sloping access to the water. Some even have areas shallow enough to touch the surface for your whole swim. They are also great places to gradually increase your swimming distance before you head out to wild swimming spots further off the beaten track. 

Swimming at a venue where there are lifeguards and numbers of people swimming in the water are monitored will allow you to become comfortable with the environment and assess your swimming abilities. Often there are suggested swimming routes and circuits marked by coloured buoys, these allow you to set your goals safely and progress by swimming further when you’re ready. These venues also often have cafes providing hot drinks post swim, cakes, hot meals and even small shops stocking essential equipment.

A lovely way to introduce your body to the zesty zing of the cold even before taking on a swim in the wild is to visit a waterfall with a natural pool beneath it, or head to a shallow river where you can safely focus on your breathing and work on getting into the water gradually. 

Swim with a buddy or in groups

It is always safer to swim with a buddy. In fact even when I swim at designated open water swimming venues, I swim with a friend or with my partner, more often than not, the swimming venue will recommend this.

community swimming

Also, I would suggest that swimming with a buddy or in a group is essential in unfamiliar waters. Having someone by your side can provide assistance in case of an emergency and ensure that both of you are accounted for.

Know your limits

Be aware of your swimming abilities, you know your own physicality and ability better than anyone else and you should never be tempted to push yourself beyond your limits. 

Cold water and strong currents can be physically demanding, so it’s important to listen to your body and take breaks when needed. Stay close to sensible places were you can exit the water safely and don’t stay in the water beyond your capability. 

Once you are swimming, the movement of your body in the water will kick start your circulation and you should find that you start to feel your limbs warm up and you become more comfortable with the cold. If you start to feel that the cold is setting in heavily, exit the water, dress in your warm layers and sip from flask of hot drink.

Wild Swimming Gear and Essentials

Wetsuits and swimwear

A wetsuit is a crucial piece of gear for wild swimming, especially in colder waters and for absolute beginners. Depending on the water temperatures, you can purchase different thicknesses of wetsuit to provide insulation and to help regulate your body temperature, allowing you to stay comfortable during longer swims.

wetsuit ready for wild swimming

If swimming in a lake where there is the potential of encountering weeds, the wetsuit adds buoyancy. Should you get in a tangle, it is easier to release yourself from weeds when wearing a suit. If you are in need of a break from swimming or in need of rescue, you can turn onto your back and float more easily. 

Some swim venues will ask you to turn onto your back and raise a hand in the air if you get into trouble so that you may be seen and assisted. 

Consider the air temperature and the water temperature before embarking on a swim. Full length wetsuits with a thick skin can be purchased for Winter, with thinner skins for Autumn and Spring. Also, you could choose to progress to a three quarter suit from a full length suit before you opt for wearing just your bathing costume, shorts or bikini. 

A great way to transition from a wetsuit to your swimming costume or shorts is to wear a long sleeved base layer in the water, ladies would wear this over their costume or with bikini bottoms and gentlemen with their swim shorts. For instance, it is amazing what a difference a simple base layer made from Merino wool can make to a swim in chilly conditions. 

It is imperative to keep the core warm whilst wild swimming extremities will feel the cold, this is normal. Without going into too much science our bodies react to really cold temperatures by protecting our vital organs as a priority. A good example is our fingers and toes are the first to get frostbitten when our bodies are exposed to freezing temperatures. Our bodies are concentrating hard on protecting the heart and core organs. Neoprene swim gloves can be purchased to help keep a little warmth in your fingers. 

Goggles

A good pair of goggles is essential for clear vision underwater if you would like to enjoy what is beneath you as well as around and above you. Look for goggles that provide a comfortable fit and a wide field of view, allowing you to fully appreciate the underwater scenery. I find that goggles are also useful if you choose to swim on a rainy day where raindrops on the surface of the water cause splashback. 

Footwear

Neoprene shoes or sandals are often recommended for wild swimming, they provide protection and grip when walking on uneven or slippery surfaces to enter the water, also, you may not like the sensation of earth or rocks beneath your feet in the water. Look for shoes that are light to swim in with a non-slip sole and quick-drying materials. Personally, if I take a swim from a pebble beach, I wear protective shoes but when swimming in a lake or tarn, I much prefer to keep my feet light and experience the freedom of no shoes.

Hat/Cap

When the weather is cold, I opt to wear a brightly coloured, chunky knit bobble hat with a warm fleecy lining in the water. Choosing a bright colour helps you to be seen and the knit and fleece trap warm air keeping you head cosy, thus helping to reduce heat loss from your body.

Most open water swim venues will insist that you wear a brightly coloured bobble or swim cap to keep you visible to lifeguards. 

Opting to wear a swim cap not only keeps your hair out of your face, also helps to retain body heat but they also provide the added bonus of reducing drag in the water. These are a popular choice for seasoned swimmers who wish to swim efficiently and at pace. Silicone or latex cap that fits should fit snugly but comfortably.

group in dryrobes

Towels and robes

When I go wild swimming I pack a large quick dry microfibre towel in my backpack. I love these as they dry quickly and fold up neatly taking up minimal room. You may wish to invest in a towelling changing robe or poncho with a hood, these are very handy for retaining your modesty when changing outdoors.

Wild swimmers are also absolutely loving waterproof, hooded changing robes these days as they provide a water resistant outer layer and are often fully lined with snuggly fleece which absorbs any water on the skin and traps in warm air to help your body warm up quickly. Some even have side zips and vents to help you to change quickly underneath your outer layer.

lady in a changing robe

Here are some great examples of hooded changing robes available line to suit all budgets:

Dryrobe Advance Long Sleeve – A popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts, this waterproof hooded changing robe offers full coverage and is made from durable and high-quality materials.

Red Original Changing Robe – Designed with water sports in mind, this UK-made hooded changing robe provides excellent warmth and protection, making it ideal for chilly beach days or post-surf sessions.

Gul Changing Poncho – This hooded changing robe combines functionality and style. It features a waterproof outer layer and a comfortable inner lining, ensuring you stay dry and cosy while changing.

Northcore Beach Basha – Perfect for beach lovers, this hooded changing robe is lightweight and easy to pack. It offers excellent coverage and is designed to withstand the elements, making it a great choice for UK beach trips.

TWF Adult Changing Robe – This affordable and practical hooded changing robe is suitable for all ages and sizes. It features a waterproof outer layer and a soft lined interior, providing comfort and convenience during changing.

Waves Recycled Sherpa Lined Changing Robe – A great looking cosy rob with a super soft and snug Sherpa fleece lining. Available in four funky surface design options ad two plain colours. 

Waterproof bags, swim buoys, tow float

A dry bag is a waterproof bag that allows you to keep your belongings safe and dry while swimming. It is an essential item for storing your phone, wallet, keys and other valuables whilst you’re in the water. My dry bag even doubles as a towable swim float.

In terms of safety in the water, a swim float and whistle are essential safety equipment for wild swimming. A swim float is a buoyant device that provides visibility and helps you stay afloat in case of fatigue or emergency situations. 

wild swimmer and tow float

I recommend you use a brightly coloured swim float that is easily noticeable in the water. My float is bright orange on its top side and easily visible at distance it is clear on the reverse. My top tip for dusk or early morning swims is to place a small neon light in the tow float and swim with the float clear side up.

A small whistle can be attached to your float or wrist for added safety. This provides peace of mind as it is an  effective tool for attracting attention and signalling for help if needed. 

Having the right gear and adding to your kit with the four seasons in mind not only ensures your comfort and safety but also enhances your overall wild swimming experience. It is beneficial to invest in quality gear that is suitable for the specific conditions and locations you plan to swim in.

Breathing Techniques

One of the best pieces of advice that I can offer you if you are considering taking to wild swimming is to practice calming breathing techniques.

Learning to take long, slow breaths, aiming for smooth inhalation of air through your nose will not only prove to be very beneficial when entering the water but is also a fantastic way of calming your nervous system and improving your health and wellbeing in general. 

breathing technique wild swimming

Here are my tips for effective breathing whilst wild swimming:

On the edge of the water, start to take slow and deep breaths in through your nose and out through your nose.

Whilst breathing in, imagine the oxygen filling all of the tiny bronchi and each tiny air sac and every chamber of your lungs. Once your lungs are full, slowly release the air, you may find that you release the air with a small sigh.

Once you feel calm and ready, step into the water and allow your feet to adjust to the cold firstly. 

As you progress into the water, continue to take long, slow breaths through your nose and adapt your technique to exhaling steadily through your mouth during the initial entry, this will help you to keep your breath controlled and calm and help you to acclimatise safely. 

By maintaining calm, slow breath, you are aiming to avoid sharp intakes of breath as you immerse further into the cold water. Mastering this technique will help to keep your heart rate steady and avoid a cold water shock response. Aim to maintain a steady breathing pattern while swimming, adapting your breath to suit your chosen stroke. If you put your head in the water, focus on exhaling fully underwater and inhaling above the water surface.

If you experience a cold water shock response, try to regain control of your breath by taking slow, controlled breaths. Practice rhythmic breathing by coordinating your breathing with your stroke pattern.

breathing technqique whilst swimming

Swimming with a buddy means that you can both keep a close eye on each other as you set out on your swim. 

If you experience symptoms of cold water shock, focus on slowing your breath, turn onto your back if necessary to avoid panic and let your buddy know that you need support.

Joining a wild swimming community

One of the best ways to fully immerse yourself in the world of wild swimming is to join a community of like-minded individuals. Whether it’s joining a local swimming club or participating in organised wild swimming events, being part of a community can provide valuable support, guidance, and a wonderful sense of camaraderie.

a group warming up after a swim

Joining a wild swimming community offers numerous benefits. You can learn from experienced swimmers, discover beautiful new swimming spots, and share your own experiences and tips with others. It’s also a great way to meet new people who share your passion for wild swimming and form lasting friendships.

Wild swimming communities are popping up all over the country and even throughout the world. You can find out about them online, through local news, searching social media or by contacting local swimming organisations.

Apres swim coffee and catch ups are an additional boost to your sense of wellbeing and great for your mental health. I often find that I have a lovely catch up I with a friend whilst swimming along and a slice of cake or a well earned snack together afterwards feels well earned and tastes so good! 

Locations

There are so many places to wild swim in the UK. Some very well known and some a secret except to the few. Here are some locations of differing types to whet the appetite.

Rydal water. Situated in the heart of The English Lake District: a beautiful expanse of water surrounded by fells and mountains.

Infinity pool, Thirlmere. Again in the Lake District this beautiful little pool is part of a cascading waterfall down the side of the Helvellyn Range. 

Loch Morlich, Scotland: Nestled in the Cairngorms National Park, Loch Morlich offers stunning mountain views and crystal-clear waters perfect for wild swimming.

River Wye, England/Wales border: The River Wye is known for its picturesque beauty, meandering through lush valleys and dense woodlands, making it an ideal spot for a refreshing swim.

Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland: Located in Glen Brittle, the Fairy Pools are a series of enchanting turquoise pools formed by cascading waterfalls. It’s a popular destination for adventurous swimmers.

Llyn Padarn, Wales: Situated in Snowdonia National Park, Llyn Padarn boasts serene waters surrounded by majestic mountains. It’s a great place to take a dip while enjoying the natural beauty.

River Dart, Devon, England: Flowing through Dartmoor National Park, the River Dart offers a mix of tranquil spots and thrilling rapids, creating an exhilarating wild swimming experience. Please note that it’s important to check local regulations, safety guidelines, and weather conditions before partaking in wild swimming activities.

Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia, Wales. Nestled in the mountains a short hike up reveals a mystical lake perfect for wild swimming.

Janet’s Foss, Yorkshire Dales. An instagram famous wild swimming pool beneath a beautiful waterfall near Malham Cove.

Carpenray, Carnforth, Lancashire. This beautiful designated wild swimming venue is also the UK’s finest diving venue boasting crystal clear water, underwater attractions and an amazing variety of fish. Carpenray is an ex quarry, this venue has an onsite cafe, shop and changing facilities also available.

Stoney Cove, Stoney Stanton, Leicestershire: Stoney Cove Lake and diving centre is famous for its spring fed water. Boasting crystal clear waters free from fleas or mites, this quarry has a waterside pub and a shop selling all sorts of swimming, diving and snorkelling equipment. 

Race Hub, Frisby Lakes, Melton Mowbray: This purpose run site offers a great venue to start your wild swimming journey safely, with its excellent swimming lake offering two loops marked by buoys of 500m and 200m. You can start by taking a short dip or swim, progress to enjoying a safely hosted night swim or swim with a club or group. Race Hub has a wonderful cafe overlooking the water and a shop selling everything you need to continue your wild swimming journey.

Exploring the wildlife when wild swimming

One of the unique aspects of wild swimming is the opportunity to encounter and appreciate the diverse wildlife that inhabits natural bodies of water. From fish and birds to amphibians and mammals, there is a whole world of wildlife waiting to be explored while you swim.

As you venture into the water, keep an eye out for any signs of wildlife. You may spot schools of fish swimming beneath you, birds diving for food, or even playful otters or seals in coastal areas. Take the time to observe and appreciate these natural wonders, but remember to do so from a respectful distance to avoid disturbing or endangering the animals.

Swimming quietly and using slow, deliberate movements can increase your chances of encountering wildlife. Keep in mind that some locations may have restrictions or guidelines in place to protect sensitive ecosystems or endangered species, so always follow any regulations or recommendations provided by local authorities.

getting into the water

Conclusion

Diving into the world of wild swimming opens up a world of adventure, health benefits, and connection with nature. Whether you’re seeking tranquillity, excitement, or stunning scenery, wild swimming offers a unique and refreshing way to explore the beauty of natural bodies of water.

By following safety tips and precautions I have mentioned, planning your adventures carefully and equipping yourself with the right gear, you can embark on unforgettable wild swimming experiences in the UK and around the world. 

Whether you’re a seasoned swimmer or an absolute beginner, the world of wild swimming provides a wonderful, life affirming activity to experience and enjoy. Memories are waiting to be made and beautiful, natural gems are awaiting discovery. So pack up your kit bag and give yourself the chance to embrace the benefits of cold water swimming in the wild.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Lucy Phillips, a beautiful friend who lived life to the full loved to wild swim.

Share with your friends!
Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *