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Taking the plunge into new waters

Taking the plunge into new waters

Have you ever been enjoying a picnic next to a river on a beautiful sunny day and thought how much you’d just love to jump in?

Well more and more people are embracing wild swimming, taking to lakes and rivers across the UK for a refreshing and invigorating dip while embracing the countryside around them and keeping active.

The UK wild swimming community has helped to create map of UK which shows the range of wild swimming locations in the country, and has been visited by more than one million people since it was created in 2007.

The Guardian recently published the top ten wild swimming locations including Goldiggins quarry, Minions, on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall and the River Thames, Pangbourne, in Berkshire, and said that the secluded beauty of wild swimming in the UK made for the perfect alfresco dip – and you're never too far away from great campsites, castles, gardens, pubs and restaurants either.

The great thing about wild swimming is it’s free and you get to see some of the most beautiful parts of the country, or world. You’ll gain a heightened awareness of the importance of keeping our waterways clean and pollution free, and embrace water conservation. But it’s important to remember some important rules before you hurl yourself into the nearest river.

There is only an explicit legal right to access water in some English and Welsh lakes and rivers.

Swimming rights in other countries are often customary and based on longstanding tradition according to the website Wild Swimming.

Places where it’s often fine to take the plunge occur where there are public rights of way, such as footpaths or common land, and where they meet lake shores, riverbanks, bridges or fords.

Be aware of fishermen. The last thing an angler wants as he’s about to catch a salmon is for some over-enthusiastic wild swimmer splashing about and frightening off the fish. Always give anglers a wide berth, most particularly at popular fishing times in the mornings and evenings.

Be careful not to trample on salmon spawning gravels, particularly in autumn when eggs are buried by the fish and be sensitive to other people who might be enjoying a quiet family picnic.

There are an increasing number of no-swimming signs in a more and more popular bathing places. This is to cover local councils, Environment Agency and other management bodies in case somebody has an accident in their waters and decides to sue. In fact most lawyers now advise management agencies that unless lifeguards are provided at every waterway, lake and river across the country, they must forbid swimming. This is sad news indeed for those who love nothing better to splash about in the open air. But many landowners are wary about people using their rivers and lakes in case they choose to sue.

If somebody asks you to leave a private river or lake then it’s important you respect the landowner and leave politely.

Swimming is a great source of exercise in itself and being in the open air can improve your mental wellbeing and mood. Swimming, being a low impact sport, is kind on your joints and therefore it suits all age groups as you can tone up without putting undue stress on your bones.

The idea of swimming outdoors is far more appealing during the summer months, but there are people who will swim no matter what the weather, in all conditions. The Outdoor Swimming Society offers this helpful advice for taking the plunge in chilly waters:

  1. Take the plunge - Much of the acclimatisation process is mental - knowing the moment of immersion will feel cold, and embracing it anyway.
  2. Exhale as you jump in – cold water makes the ribcage contract making swimmers feel they can’t breathe.
  3. Wait 90 seconds. You might not enjoy the pleasure of outdoor swimming immediately. Give it time.
  4. Find a rock or tree to swim to. This can help you warm up, and give you a focus.

It’s always important to ensure your safety before you go swimming. It makes sense to go with one other person at least, so you can look out for each other. Make sure you know the water, and that it’s safe, with no currents or hidden shelves. If you’re leaping in beware of rocks and hidden dangers underneath the surface.

If you follow all the safety advice then swimming outside can be a real pleasure, and you can always take your picnic.

Maybe after you’ve worked up an appetite by swimming, you can go for a nice family walk, ensuring that you’re getting plenty of exercise without even realising it. And if you’re lucky there might even be a welcoming country pub at the end of it all!