The Pleasures of Outdoor Swimming

Yes, I know it’s the fashion to call it wild swimming these days, but it’s pretty tame the way I do it . . .

Struggling into a clammy wetsuit to brave the breakers on a chilly day is not for me.  I usually swim outdoors when the sun is shining and the water, though refreshing, has warmed up a few degrees.  It still takes a bit of courage to wade out into the cool green depths and overcome the initial goose-pimples, but it’s so worth it to experience the real freedom of immersing yourself in the environment.  Imagine breathing in the fresh scents of waterside plants; the sounds of birdsong and the wind rustling in the branches; the sight of surrounding crags and valleys; a plunging waterfall creating a natural jacuzzi – then tell me you’d swap that for a claustrophobic chlorinated indoor pool!

Afterwards, you feel so happy, invigorated and fully alive. There’s no finer way to feel at one with nature and see the world from a different perspective – what Roger Deakin in his book Waterlog called ‘a frog’s eye view’.  

The recent short spell of hot weather was a good excuse to visit some of my favourite Lake District swimming spots – we’re spoilt for choice here with calm lakes, large and small, sparkling rivers and streams, and best of all, mountain tarns surrounded by wonderful views.  The one we visit most, High Dam, has leafy oak and birch trees for shade, grassy banks for picnics, and fallen logs to jump off.  At this time of year a floating raft of water lilies spreads over the water’s edge, and the tiny minnows gather to nibble at your toes – no need to pay fancy prices for a fish pedicure if you come here for a paddle.

Another day, a morning climb took me up the ghyll past Rydal Hall, high into the hills to find Buckstones Jump – a sparkling cascade falling into a deep pool with a natural beach.  It’s the prettiest spot for a swim in mountain water so fresh it makes you gasp for a moment or two, until you acclimatise.  One family had wild camped overnight with their two little children – what a wonderful adventure –  and already a few teenagers had make the early-morning trek to show off their suntans and dare each other to leap from overhanging rocks into the plunge pool.

Later I slipped into Rydal Water and swam to the island in the company of canoeists and some quacking ducks.  I also had a dip in Elterwater for the first time – a beautiful little lake that, being shallower than some, had warmed up to an almost comfortable temperature.  Elterwater means Lake of the Swan, and I shared the space (at a respectful distance) with some beautiful swans and wild geese.  A peaceful end to a perfect day.

Of course skinny-dipping’s a whole new level of pleasure – just be warned that no matter how secluded you think your chosen spot is, you’ll be amazed at how many dog-walkers turn up the minute you’re submerged . . . it seems to be one of nature’s laws!

Are you a wild swimmer?  Share your happy moments with me!

Poem of the week

The Mermaid

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.

William Butler Yeats

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