Sadie and Michelle have been walking with me in the Lake District for 10 years. They love it but there real love is wild swimming with the temptations of lake and tarn all part of the walks we do. Charlotte (my daughter) caught up with them and here are their thoughts on this ever growing hobby.
Since COVID-19, it seems like everywhere you look more and more people are taking up wild swimming, meaning swimming in natural waters such as the sea or a lake, instead of a man-made swimming pool. Where2Walk (who are not known for a love of cold water, whether you’re Jonathan or Holly!) wanted to know why it has become such a popular hobby, so spoke to two experienced, keen wild swimmers and friends, Sadie and Michele.
Sadie and Michele are from Guernsey, and regularly swim in the sea around the island. Like most people who grow up on the coast, they swam in the sea from childhood and as an adult, Michele would run into the sea to cool off after a run. She then got Sadie hooked as well, with them both now swimming in the sea all year round.
“It’s an addictive thing.” Michele says. “It’s so good for mental health. We combine it with walking as well. Both things are so good for you.” Their words echo those of many people who have become addicted to wild swimming, even those who previously stood by the coast in winter thinking wild swimmers were mad.
“I’d be really quite upset if I had to give up swimming for some reason.” Michele says now. “In summer there are periods where we’re in every day. We’re very lucky.”
All year round, wherever they happen to be at the time!
Most of their swimming takes place in Guersey, where they live, though they have swum in the sea in Peru. Michele’s most adventurous (and very quick!) swim was in Antarctica, where the sea was -1. “It’s often the best way, semi-planned but not properly planned.” she added.
Both Sadie and Michele have taken part in full moon swims at night, which can be magical if a bit eerie. However, they would recommend an enclosed bathing pool for a night time swim, as it can be more dangerous to swim if you can’t see as well.
They have both also had their fair share of cold, choppy sea swims, which can be a lot of fun but Sadie’s favourite time for a swim is late evening in the summer. “Everything is really still and the sea is flat. It feels like silk on your skin and everything is quiet.”
“You can sometimes do it when the sun is setting and the moon is coming up too. It’s magical.” adds Michele. However, if you’re thinking of sea swimming, remember that the time of day you swim can depend on tides in that location, so make sure you have the local knowledge of when it is safe to do so.
Sadie and Michele are sea swimmers, but they spend a lot of time in the Lake District with Where2Walk and have swum in Ullswater, Crummock Water and several tarns, to Where2Walk’s Holly’s distress!
The main difference between the two is in the feel of the water in the sea which Michele describes as “thicker. It all feels much thinner in a lake and easier to swim.” However, in a lake you are not as buoyant as in saltwater and there is less resistance and movement from the water itself.
Some people prefer one to the other, others enjoy both. Sadie says swimming among the Lake District scenery amid the stillness of the lake was like being “at one with nature” but she also enjoys the feeling of the sea and saltwater.
In a nutshell: “Cossie, water shoes, a hat and a dry robe for when you come out!”
Part of the reason wild swimming is taking off is that it is not an expensive hobby. You can get started with just a swimming costume and a towel, although some people go for a wetsuit instead.
There is some equipment that will make your life easier, first of all water shoes, especially in the winter. These protect your feet when getting in or out the water and also can help keep you warm – many people struggle when swimming with their extremities getting cold. Gloves are another way to help with this. Another way to help you keep warm for longer is a hat, as you lose so much heat through your head. Sadie says “the first year or two of swimming I didn’t bother – but Michele was absolutely right. They have been known to get soaked but it really helps.”
In terms of more specialised equipment there is one valuable investment: a dry robe. This is an almost ankle-length robe designed to help dry you and warm your body for the trek back home. You can also use it to get changed under, so no more shivering under a small, sandy towel! They can be expensive, but if you’re swimming often they are an easy way to be more comfortable after you’ve left the water.
A final piece of equipment worth mentioning is a tow float, which is a floating bag you take with you in the water to keep you visible, which may be useful to help build your confidence at first. Some can also carry things, so you can take a drink or a camera.
Many areas in the country have wild swimming groups you can join, who run organised swims. They are usually easy to find on the internet. However, it depends on the person whether this would work for you. For some people, a big group can be what they need to get started, helps them build confidence and learn from other people. For others, going with just one person means they can advise you more closely. The more important thing, Sadie says, is not to put yourself in a position where you feel uncomfortable.
Keeping yourself safe while wild swimming boils down to one thing: “use your common sense”. First and foremost, this means going with at least one other person and make sure someone knows where you’re going. This is especially important the first time as cold water can cause a reaction and get you into difficulty. On a similar vein, it’s a lot safer to finish your swim before you start feeling cold or sluggish. If you do feel this way, you’ve been in too long.
If you are new to wild swimming, it’s also important to know where it is and isn’t safe. Know your local area and look at where other swimmers are to find a good entry point into the sea and safe spaces to swim. Tourist information and online sites can also help advise.
The joy of wild swimming is that it’s a way of keeping fit that anyone can have a go at. Both Sadie and Michele stress that the groups are really welcoming to new people and nobody will think you shouldn’t belong.
“A lot of people, especially ladies, are probably put off because of their body shape and actually you really shouldn’t be because it doesn’t matter.”
Michele agrees, saying “It’s for anyone, not just for fit people. Doesn’t matter what size you are or what age you are. There are kids and eighty year olds.”
Persuaded you? To find out some walks you can add a wild swim too, follow the links below:The Lakes of the Lake DistrictRivers of the Yorkshire DalesThe North Yorkshire Coast
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