Wild swimming according to Ella Foote, swimming journalist, teacher and director of Dip Advisor ; a swim guiding business helping people enjoy wild water.
The term ‘wild swimming’ has become somewhat contentious over recent years, with many finding outdoor swimmers galling with their evangelical attitude and attempts to convince everyone to dive in – the water’s lovely don’t you know? While some may just call it swimming, describing swimming as wild demonstrates it’s more than a trip to the local leisure centre or indoor pool.
‘Gone are the thoughts and feelings you might have been dwelling on and in their place are thoughts of strength, determination and excitement.’
Swimming wild is different to just swimming. It provides a sensory experience that evokes feelings of magic and sparks awe. Like any exercise, swimming is physically and mentally beneficial. It uses all the muscles in your body, increases heart rate and can put you into a meditative state that is useful to release stress. Low impact, it is good for people at any age. Breathing fresh air, natural daylight and engaging with nature are all things that have been scientifically proven to be beneficial to our overall wellbeing – being outside is like giving your swimming a boost. Nothing makes you stop and focus on your breathing, body and mind like a cool dip. Forcing you into the present moment. Gone are the thoughts and feelings you might have been dwelling on and in their place are thoughts of strength, determination and excitement.
If you haven’t taken the plunge you might ask, is it cold? Well, yes, it is cold, but beyond the chill is a sweet zing that can stay with you all day. That initial discomfort as the blood rushes to your core and makes your skin prickle will pass and on the other side of those sensations is joy. It is this euphoria that wild swimmers chase. Once in the water and out into the depths your eyes level with the earth and water stretches out in front of you. You are reminded of the wildness, size of the landscape and how small we are in the world.
In the river, depending on the time of year, your nose will fill with the sweetness of water mint, damp woody aromas or musky syrupy smells from flower and fauna. At the coast, seaweed odours can cling to your nostrils – sharp, metallic and salty. Lakes and waterfalls bring a freshness, cooler air and rich foliage notes. Pebbles can prod and poke soft skin under toes. Sand can grate, grip and blast the body. Soil can be slippery and sludgy. Water splashed on dry lips ignites taste buds, a flash of colour from a fast-flying kingfisher can catch your eye and the hum of the natural world around you fills your ears. You are swimming – like flying, feeling weightless and present.
Despite swimming in wild water all my life, I can still forget how great it can feel emerging out of the depths, replanting my feet and returning to the land. Nothing else improves my mood and sense of strength like an open water swim. The ritual of it. The childlike glee of discovering a new place to swim or the belly full of fear you feel from launching into icy temperatures – you can’t beat it, so why not leap in too?