By Cath Harris

The benefits of open water swimming are "innumerable" says Calum Hudson, one of three swimming brothers for whom wild swimming holds a "special place in our hearts". "Switching from the pool to a lake, river or the sea boosts physical and mental health and gives us much-needed contact with nature", Calum adds.

"Many people are deterred from outdoor swimming by fear of low temperatures and perceived dangers but the cold water experience is actually one of the benefits", he says. "A lot of studies show that regular cold water immersion can relieve depression and stress; Charles Dickens bathed in cold water to cure writer’s block. It forces you out of the state you’re in and into the present.’

"It forces you out of the state you’re in and into the present.’

The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) agrees, celebrating the"‘rejuvenating effects" of cold water. And, according to swimwear retailer Simply Swim, open water swimming can lead to better circulation and much improved fitness because swimming outdoors is harder work.

Simply Swim highlights a study by Czech researchers that found that regular immersion in 14˚C water activates the immune system by sparking the generation of white blood cells. It could improve your sex life too, by raising sex hormone levels.

Swimmers at the edge of the water at DoverRelay Channel Swim, 2016

Summoning the courage to take your first dip can be as much a mental as physical challenge, however. The OSS recommends getting in slowly, wetting hands and face, and waiting for your breathing to calm. Then, setting a small goal, such as swimming to a tree or rock, can take your mind off how you feel. "Give your body a little time to react, and soon your circulation will start charging around and you’ll feel alive."

"Give your body a little time to react, and soon your circulation will start charging around and you’ll feel alive."

There can be hazards, including tides, currents, weeds and underwater obstacles, and the OSS recommends "watching the water closely for a while to see what’s happening". It adds: "Remember that you’re in an unregulated environment where things can change from day to day."

Water depth can also trouble those new to outdoor swimming. "But you never have to swim out of your depth," says Calum. "There’s always a shallow part and a gradual descent into the water. You don’t have to go beyond what’s comfortable; you can swim two metres from the edge."

Night SwimAspire Night Swim, 2015

On murkiness and unease at what’s below, Calum says fears are imagined. "It’s like a forest at night: you can be in a beautiful woodland in the day but at night you create your own horrors.

"In the UK and even in the rest of Europe there’s nothing dangerous in the water other than perhaps the odd grumpy swan.

"A lot of it is to do with relaxing and staying calm, and enjoying your environment. Adults often have high expectations when they start something new and it’s important to remember that the primary aim is to have fun."

- Loch Ness Relay, 2014

Britain has an abundance of open water venues including lakes, lochs and lynns, rivers, lidos and the sea and, with the right precautions, all offer a lot of swimming fun.

"Shrieking, grunting and fwaw-fwaw-fwawing for your first few strokes are perfectly natural accompaniments to a wild swim," the OSS says. "We don’t see a right or wrong way to swim; it is taking the plunge that counts."


You might also enjoy...

10 ways to make the most of time in the pool
Tips and advice from the coach of Hartham Masters and the ASA.

So, how did I get to this point?
Relay Channel Swimmer Stephen Bonner tells us how he went from never having swum face-down front crawl to swimming across the English Channel.

How to get in to outdoor swimming
Thousands of people would like to swim outside but don’t know how to get started. Simon Griffths from Outdoor Swimmer creates a brief guide on how to get into outdoor swimming.

Other swimming posts