Swimming doesn’t have to be limited to a swimming pool. Wild swimming is a refreshing and stress-busting activity that you can try in many different areas around the UK – no chlorine involved!
Wild swimming can take place in many different bodies of water, including seas, lakes and rivers. If you’re thinking about going wild swimming for the first time, read our guide to find out how to make the most of it, what not to do, and where to go.
The benefits of wild swimming
Swimming itself has many health benefits, including increasing lung capacity, promoting low-impact exercise (great for those with sensitive joints), and de-stressing. Throw the beauty of nature into the mix, and the benefits increase massively.
The benefits of wild swimming include:
- Cardiovascular health – in a study of around 46,000 swimmers, walkers, runners and non-exercisers, swimmers had the best cardiovascular health. The activity decreases blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while increasing maximum energy output.
- Mental health – spending time in the Great Outdoors can work wonders for improving mental health, with activities like forest bathing growing in popularity in recent years for this very reason. Wild swimming is no different, and adds the physical benefits of swimming into the mix.
- Alertness – swimming in the wild, rather than in a swimming pool, forces your body to be alert to your surroundings, and so may increase your alertness over time.
- Strength and flexibility – swimming is a low-impact activity that will improve all areas of your fitness without putting pressure on your joints.
Water in wild swimming areas is generally colder than that which is found in a public swimming pool, which means that participating in this activity may be seen as a form of cold water therapy. Celebrities such as Holly Willhoughby have long been a fan of this therapy, which sees the body exposed to cold temperatures in water, resulting in a boosted immune system, lower levels of inflammation and even weight loss over an extended period of time.
What equipment do you need for wild swimming?
Depending on just how ‘natural’ you’d like this activity to be, wild swimming generally doesn’t require much equipment. Some sensible items to bring to your experience include:
- A towel
- Warm clothes to change in and out of
- Ocean-safe SPF
You never know what has been discarded into a body of water, so some wild swimmers opt to wear swimming shoes or jelly sandals to protect their feet. You could also bring a swimming cap to protect your hair, and a wetsuit if swimming in a colder region or during the cooler seasons.
Wild swimming: The dos and don’ts
Do: Warm yourself up before swimming
Try hiking to your swimming location, or doing a quick on-the-spot workout to raise your heart rate. The water will seem cold at first, but by warming up internally, you’ll be able to acclimatise faster.
Don’t: Swim in stagnant water, canals or urban rivers
These types of waters can contain harmful debris, bacteria or chemicals that could injure you or make you sick. In addition, make sure to avoid water with blue-green algae, flood water, or bodies of water that have a strong current.
Do: Swim with a partner or friends
Wild swimming can be dangerous if you’re by yourself, especially if it’s your first time. Keep an eye on the weakest swimmer in the group.
Don’t: Spend too much time in the water if you cannot acclimatise
If the water is too cold and you find yourself shivering, do not try to stick it out. Swimming in water that is too cold for you to handle can make you feel weak and lower your coordination. 20 minutes is a good amount of time to spend in warmer waters before getting out and drying yourself off.
Do: Make sure there’s a clear way out of the water
First of all, you should definitely avoid jumping into a body of water without first checking its depth. If you do jump in, make sure you have checked for a clear way out.
Where can you go wild swimming in the UK?
Some of the most popular areas for wild swimming in the UK include the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, the glens of the Scottish Highlands and Snowdonia in Wales. Here’s a deep dive into the best locations around:
Rydal Water, Lake District, Cumbria
A fairly small lake in comparison to the likes of Windermere and Grasmere at just 0.75 miles long, this picturesque area is linked to the poet Wordsworth, and ‘Wordsworth’s Seat’ at the western end of the lake was reportedly his favourite spot. The lake itself is 55ft deep at its lowest point, but first timers can stick to its more shallow edges.
Loup Scar, Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire
A charming stretch of the River Wharfe near the village of Burnsall, this is a very popular place to wild swim in the summer. It is also known as a prime cliff jumping spot, with dramatic, tree-lined cliffs at the side of the river.
Fairy Pools, Glenbrittle, Isle of Skye
Located near the village of Carbost, these pools are filled by waterfalls from the Cuillin Mountains. Come for the stunning views and stay for the crystal clear waters. Be careful though, these icy pools are literally breathtaking and should only be endured for a few minutes.
Llyn Cau, Cadair Idris
Set in a crater on the southern edge of the Snowdonia National Park, Llyn Cau is accessible via a 20-minute walk from the nearest car park. Walk straight into the water from the rocky beach, and swim in the formidable presence of the surrounding 400m-high mountain walls.
Try wild swimming this summer
Want to try wild swimming, make like David Beckham, Ed Sheeran and Prue Leith by stepping into a natural body of water and doing your favourite stroke! Summer is the perfect time to try wild swimming for the first time, so head to one of our favourite destinations above to discover your favourite new activity.