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Wild Swimming 101 - Where, when and how.

Welcome to our guide to wild swimming. Whether you're an experienced dipper or a newbie... we're sure theres a few nuggets here for you.

 

Imagine immersing yourself in the tranquil waters of a serene lake, the gentle flow of a river, or the invigorating waves of a secluded beach. Wild swimming in the UK offers not just a dip into nature's pools but a dive into a rejuvenating experience unlike any other.

 
As more individuals seek escape from the digital world and closer connection with nature, wild swimming has surged in popularity, promising adventure, serenity, and a unique sense of freedom whilst giving your mental health a boost.


This guide is your starting point to explore the exhilarating world of wild swimming, tailored for those ready to embrace the call of the wild dip

3RD ROCK Ambassador and close firned Holly wild swimming in the peak district

Our Ambassador Holly taking in the beauty around her whilst wild swimming at Glencoe

Isn't is just swimming? 🤷‍♂️

This is the first thing Guy, our co-founder said when speaking about wild swimming!

 

Wild swimming, simply put, is the act of swimming in natural bodies of water—lakes, rivers, and oceans, away from the controlled environment of heated chlorinated pools.

 

This adventurous activity stands out for its raw interaction with nature, offering swimmers not just exercise but an intimate connection with the environment.


What makes it wild to us is the hunt for secret magical hidden bodies of water, scouring maps and investigating all the blue bits, and being rewarded with feeling completely at one (and a little bit feral) dipping in some of Mother Nature’s best work. The joys of getting up close and personal with nature and any water dwelling creatures while you're at it, and swimming in the most breathtaking locations.


However, venturing into the wild waters requires more than just enthusiasm. It's essential to understand the legal landscape and practise respectful swimming that safeguards both the environment and local communities.

 

In the UK, the right to swim in open waters can sometimes be a grey area, governed by a mix of ancient rights, land ownership, and specific by-laws. Generally, navigable rivers and many coastal areas are accessible, but always check local guidelines and ensure you're not trespassing on private land.

Preparing for Your First Wild Swim 🏊‍♀️

Equipment Essentials: Begin with the basics— a swimming costume, and a towel. For safety and comfort, consider a wetsuit for thermal protection, water shoes for rocky surfaces, and a brightly coloured swim cap to be visible.

 

Safety gear like a tow float can offer a personal buoyancy device without hindering your swim.

 

Wondering what to do with your stuff while you swim? Alot of tow floats double up as a waterproof bag you can put your most important bits, but our top tip of the day is to leave your stuff in a bag on the shore, and place your used pants atop your belongings like a cherry. 100% success rate.

 

Acclimatization to Cold Water: The shock of cold water to the system is not to be underestimated. Start by gradually increasing your exposure to cold showers at home, and when you take your first dip, allow your body to adjust slowly, entering the water without rushing.


Health Considerations: It's crucial to assess your health before embracing wild swimming, especially if you have medical conditions.

 

The thrill of cold water can be invigorating but also a shock to the system. Always consult with a healthcare provider if unsure about your physical readiness

We asked Holly about any mistakes she sees when going wild swimming:

 

"I haven't really made any big mistakes (though my friend regularly forgets her towel, so I always take two if I'm meeting her!).

 

The closest we've come is wanting a spontaneous swim and going in underwear, drying off with a t-shirt afterwards!"

 

We all have that one buddy who frequently forgets things, make sure you make a checklist or something similar to ensure you have everything...especially if you ever choose to go on your own!

Finding the Perfect Spot 👌

Choosing the right location is pivotal for a safe and enjoyable wild swimming experience.

 

Beginners should look for spots known for their safety, accessibility, and beginner-friendly conditions. The UK boasts numerous such locations, from the calm waters of the Lake District to the gentle rivers of the Cotswolds.

 

Websites and apps dedicated to wild swimming offer valuable resources, providing details on water quality, access points, and user reviews.

Michaela, another one of our wonderful ambassadors taking a dip in a wild lake in our LUNA bra top

Legalities & Considerations of Wild Swimming in the UK and Scotland

Of course we need to address the legal side of wild swimming. Taking a harmless dunk in some water shouldn't be an issue right?

 

Navigating the legal landscape of wild swimming in the UK is crucial for ensuring that your immersion in nature's waters is not just safe but also lawful.

 

The legal framework governing wild swimming varies across the UK, with specific considerations for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Understanding these distinctions is essential for every wild swimmer.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, the public's right to access inland water is more restricted. Much of the land, including rivers and lakes, is privately owned, and access for swimming is often at the landowner's discretion.

 

However, there are many traditional spots and navigable waters where swimming is customarily accepted. The key is to research and respect local guidelines, always seeking permission where necessary.

Scotland

Scotland is renowned for its liberal outdoor access rights, thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This act grants people the right to responsibly access most land and inland water, including for swimming, as long as they adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

 

This code emphasizes respect for the environment, the interests of other people, and care for your own safety. Scotland's approach allows for a wide range of opportunities for wild swimming, provided swimmers leave no trace and minimize their impact on wildlife and the environment.

Holly used to live in the Peak district before moving up to the wilds of Scotland, so who better to ask the difference between wild swimming in Scotland compared to the Peaks:

 

"I was never really in a "community" in the Peak, though I think there are a lot of groups up here that swim regularly and have meet-ups.

 

It was hard to find a good place with a large body of water in the Peak to swim in, as it's mostly dipping in river pools, and it's so much busier down there too.

 

Up here, it's easy to find a quiet beach on the loch to swim from, and if it's really busy there are plenty of islands to canoe out to and have to ourselves, spending the day exploring and swimming from.

 

Access hasn't been much of an issue as, in general, any signs here are safety warnings (and I am a very cautious person) rather than outright " no access" signs."

Safety for you & the environment

Irrespective of location, all swimmers should follow safety guidelines and environmental protection principles. This includes avoiding disturbance to wildlife, respecting private property, and ensuring that their activities do not negatively impact the natural habitat.

Navigation & permissions

For specific areas, especially in England and Wales, it's advisable to check access rights and permissions. Websites like the Outdoor Swimming Society offer resources and maps that highlight known swimming spots and any relevant access information.


Tidal Waters and Coastal Areas: Generally, the public has the right to swim in tidal waters and along the coast. These areas are subject to maritime laws, but swimmers should remain mindful of their safety, environmental responsibilities, and local guidelines, such as designated swimming zones and times.

Water Safety and Etiquette

Safety is paramount in wild swimming, not only for your well-being but also for the preservation of these natural wonders. Here are essential safety tips to ensure your wild swimming adventures are both enjoyable and secure:

  • Swim with a Buddy: Always swim with a companion for safety. Not only can you look out for each other, but it's also more enjoyable to share the experience.
  • Weather and Water Conditions: Before you dive in, check the weather forecast and water conditions. Avoid swimming in turbulent water and be cautious of hidden currents.
  • Know Your Limits: Wild swimming can be demanding. Start with short distances in familiar waters and gradually increase as your confidence and skills grow.
  • Visibility: Wear a brightly colored swim cap and consider a tow float. Being visible to other water users is crucial for avoiding accidents
Holly, a long-time 3RD ROCK Ambassador showing even in cold condiitons she'll tae a dip.

Holly take a cold dip wild swimming in Scotland - but not without the essential kit. Wearing gloves & boots helps more than you'd think!

Understanding Cold Water Shock and Hypothermia

Venturing into cold water can be one of the most invigorating experiences, yet it introduces specific physiological challenges that wild swimmers must be prepared for. Among these, cold water shock and hypothermia are critical to understand and guard against.


Cold Water Shock: This is the body's initial and involuntary response to sudden immersion in cold water.

 

Symptoms can include a gasp reflex (an uncontrollable inhalation, which can be dangerous if your head is underwater), rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and blood pressure. These reactions can lead to panic, disorientation, and, in severe cases, drowning.

 

Cold water shock occurs within the first few minutes of exposure and can affect even the most experienced swimmers.

Acclimatising to Cold Water

To reduce the risk of cold water shock, gradual acclimatization is essential.

 

Begin by splashing water on your face before entry to trigger the mammalian dive reflex, which helps your body adjust to cold water.

 

Enter the water slowly, allowing your body time to adapt to the temperature. Breathing exercises, such as controlled, deep breaths, can help manage the initial shock responses

Hypothermia

Unlike cold water shock, which is an immediate response, hypothermia occurs over a longer period of exposure to cold water.

 

Hypothermia sets in when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing a drop in core body temperature.

 

Initial symptoms include shivering, slurred speech, and clumsiness, progressing to confusion, drowsiness, and, in severe cases, unconsciousness.

 

The key to dealing with hypothermia is early recognition and response. If you or your swimming companion start to show symptoms, it's crucial to get out of the water immediately and warm up gradually.

 

Remove wet clothing, use warm blankets, and consume warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated drinks. In cases of severe hypothermia, medical attention is necessary

Preperation & prevention

Wearing appropriate thermal protection, such as full wetsuits or even just boots and gloves (see the image below), can extend your safe exposure time in cold water. Always monitor your time in the water and listen to your body, cutting your swim short if you begin to feel excessively cold or show any signs of hypothermia.

 

By understanding the risks of cold water shock and hypothermia, wild swimmers can take proactive steps to acclimatise safely and enjoy the exhilarating experience of wild swimming with minimal risk.

 

This knowledge empowers swimmers to respect their limits, prioritise safety, and fully appreciate the invigorating connection with nature that wild swimming offers

We asked Holly if wearing gloves actually makes much of a difference:

"Yes, gloves are great! They make a huge difference, my hands still get very cold but don't go bright red like they did without gloves. I also have Raynaud's so they help with circulation.

 

The other thing I've found helps keep Raynaud's at bay and warm hands up is having a hot drink afterwards, from a non insulated cup so it heats your hands up as well.

 

Neoprene boots are also an essential for me, both in terms of warmth and getting in/out on uneven or stony ground!"

3RD ROCK Ambassador Holly Rees showing off an amazing wild swimming spot in tthe UK.

Holly being pretty chuffed with this incredible UK wild swimming spot

Afterdrop - a must know for wild swimmers

Afterdrop is a critical condition that every wild swimmer should be aware of, especially when acclimatizing to cold water.

 

It refers to the continued cooling of the body's core temperature after you have exited the water.

 

This phenomenon can be particularly dangerous because it can lead to a false sense of security upon leaving cold water, only for your body temperature to continue dropping, increasing the risk of hypothermia.

How afterdrop occurs

When swimming in cold water, blood vessels in your skin constrict, and blood flow is redirected towards your core to protect vital organs and maintain core body temperature.

 

Once you exit the water and begin to warm up, blood vessels near the surface of your skin dilate, and colder blood from your extremities circulates back to your core, causing your body's internal temperature to drop further.

Symptoms & signs

Symptoms of afterdrop include intense shivering, coldness, and in more severe cases, slurred speech, lack of coordination, and confusion, which are also signs of hypothermia.

Preventing and Managing Afterdrop

  • Gradual Warming: After exiting cold water, warm up gradually. Abrupt warming can accelerate the afterdrop effect. Use warm, dry clothing, blankets, and if available, a warm (not hot) environment.
  • Active Warming: Gentle physical activity can help generate body heat internally but avoid vigorous activity which can circulate cold blood more rapidly.
  • Warm Liquids: Drinking warm, sweet beverages can help increase your internal temperature and provide a needed energy boost.
  • Avoid Hot Showers Immediately: Jumping into a hot shower right after exiting cold water can worsen afterdrop by accelerating the return of cold blood to your core. Wait until you’ve warmed up a bit with external methods before taking a warm shower.

Monitoring and Assistance: It's essential to monitor yourself or anyone experiencing afterdrop for worsening conditions, as hypothermia can develop.

 

If symptoms of hypothermia persist or the individual's condition does not improve with initial warming measures, seek medical attention promptly.

 

Incorporating an understanding of afterdrop into the wild swimming preparation process ensures that swimmers can take proactive steps to enjoy their adventures safely.

 

This knowledge empowers individuals to not only embrace the thrill and beauty of wild swimming but to do so with an informed and respectful approach to their health and safety..

Our ambassador Holly going for a dip in the ocean...solo

Wild swimming solo is beautifully tranquil, but don't be mistaken - it can quickly turn dangerous... just be careful out there dippers.

Solo swimming safely

While swimming with a buddy is always recommended for safety, there may be times when you choose or need to swim solo.

 

If you decide to embark on a solo wild swimming adventure, taking extra precautions is essential to ensure your safety and peace of mind:

 

  • Inform Someone: Always let a friend or family member know your plans. Include details like your location, expected entry and exit points, and estimated return time.
  • Use a Tracker: Consider carrying a waterproof, GPS-enabled device. Some devices allow for real-time tracking and have emergency signaling capabilities.
  • Visibility Gear: Visibility is even more critical when swimming alone. Wear a brightly colored swim cap and use a tow float. Some floats come with storage space where you can keep your phone in a waterproof case, allowing for emergency calls.
  • Stay Close to Shore: When swimming solo, avoid venturing too far from shore. Swimming parallel to the shore allows you to exit the water quickly if needed and makes you more visible to others.
  • Know Your Limits: Be conservative with your distance and duration, especially when swimming alone. Overestimating your stamina or underestimating the water's conditions can lead to dangerous situations.
  • Weather and Water Conditions: Double-check the weather and water conditions before heading out. Solo swimmers should be extra cautious and avoid swimming in challenging conditions.
  • Emergency Plan: Have a clear plan for what to do in case of an emergency. Know the signs of hypothermia and how to respond to cramps or sudden illness.

Swimming solo can be a profoundly serene and empowering experience, offering a unique connection with nature.

 

By following these safety measures, you can enjoy the freedom and tranquility of solo wild swimming while minimizing risks.

 

Remember, the beauty of wild swimming comes with a responsibility to yourself and the environment, ensuring every swim is not just enjoyable but also safe.

Jess, the co-found of 3RD ROCK wild swimming wearing 3RD ROCK sustainable swimwear

Jess, 3RD ROCK's co-founder, doing her best starfish impression whilst wild swimming right near our studio in the peaks!

Weather, Water Conditions, and Environmental Concerns

Understanding and respecting the impact of weather and water conditions on wild swimming is crucial for both safety and environmental stewardship.

 

Beyond the immediate effects of weather, such as storms or cold snaps, swimmers should also be aware of less visible factors affecting water quality, including agricultural runoff and sewage releases.


Impact of Weather on Water Conditions: Weather plays a significant role in determining the safety and enjoyment of wild swimming.

 

Heavy rainfall, for example, can dramatically change the landscape of your chosen swim spot, affecting water levels, currents, and visibility. It can also exacerbate the risk of runoff and pollution entering the water system.

 

Before planning a swim, check the weather forecast and avoid swimming during or immediately after heavy rainfall.

A note from Holly on staying environmentally friendly when wild swimming:

 

"Washing your kit between different bodies of water is essential.

 

If you plan to swim in multiple areas in a day, using fresh kit at each venue is best as it can be difficult to clean on the go (and as a bonus you don't have to put on soggy swimwear!)

 

This ensures you don't bring different species of flora and fauna into areas they shouldn't be, preserving existing aquatic ecosystems, and helps stop the spread of invasive species."

Agricultural Runoff

Agricultural runoff refers to water leaving farm fields due to rain or irrigation. As it flows, it can collect fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste, carrying these pollutants into nearby rivers, lakes, and streams.

 

This runoff can significantly impact water quality, leading to algae blooms, reduced oxygen levels, and harm to aquatic life. For swimmers, this means potential health risks and poor water conditions.

 

It's advisable to avoid swimming in areas known for intensive agriculture, especially after rainfall, when runoff levels are highest.

Sewage Releases

In some areas of the UK, the infrastructure struggles to cope with heavy rain, leading to the release of untreated or partially treated sewage into waterways.

 

This practice, while regulated, poses significant health risks to swimmers, including exposure to bacteria and viruses.

 

Awareness campaigns like Surfers Against Sewage offer real-time alerts and maps showing sewage discharges, helping swimmers make informed decisions about when and where to swim.

Choosing Safe Swimming Spots

To minimise risks, select swimming spots with good water quality records. Local environmental agencies and wild swimming communities often provide updates on water quality, including tests for pollutants and bacteria levels.

 

Opting for locations away from agricultural and urban runoff sources can also reduce exposure to pollutants.

Personal Responsibility and Environmental Advocacy

As swimmers, embracing a role as advocates for clean water and environmental protection is vital.

 

Supporting initiatives aimed at reducing pollution, improving sewage treatment, and promoting sustainable farming practices can lead to healthier ecosystems and safer swimming conditions for all.

 

By understanding and considering the broader environmental factors affecting water quality, wild swimmers can make safer choices, protect their health, and contribute to the conservation of the UK's beautiful waterways.

 

This expanded awareness ensures that the pursuit of adventure remains in harmony with the principles of environmental stewardship and community well-being.

 

Equally important is respecting the environment and local wildlife. Practice "Leave No Trace" principles by taking all your litter home, avoiding disturbance to wildlife, and being considerate of other users and local residents.

 

Wild swimming offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature; let's ensure our adventures safeguard these precious ecosystems for future generations.

The Wild Swimming Community and Additional Resources

Embarking on your wild swimming journey introduces you to a vibrant and supportive community.

 

Across the UK, groups and clubs bring together enthusiasts of all levels, offering a platform for sharing tips, experiences, and organising swims.

 

Engaging with this community can enhance your wild swimming experience, providing camaraderie and collective wisdom on the best spots, safety practices, and environmental stewardship.

 

For those eager to delve deeper, a wealth of resources awaits. Books like "Wild Swim" by Kate Rew and websites such as the Outdoor Swimming Society offer comprehensive guides on locations, safety advice, and inspirational stories from the wild swimming world.

 

Apps like "Wild Swim Map" provide user-generated insights into hidden gems and local favourites, making it easier to explore with confidence.

Our conclusion

Get out there and have a dip!! Wild swimming in the UK is an invitation to explore the beauty and serenity of nature in its most unfiltered form...plus it's great for the gram.

 

It's a journey that promises not only physical rejuvenation but a deeper connection with the environment and a sense of community among fellow swimmers. It's like an ice bath, but social, way more fun and you're out in nature...oh and it's cheaper!

 

As we embrace these adventures, let's approach them with respect for nature, commitment to safety, and an open heart to the experiences and connections they bring.

 

Whether you're taking your first dip or seeking new waters to explore, wild swimming opens a world of discovery. Dive in, the water's fine, and the experience is unmatched.

 

We've written this guide to equip beginners with the necessary knowledge (plus maybe teach more experienced dunkers a few things) and confidence to safely enjoy wild swimming, fostering a responsible and passionate wild swimming community.

 

Whether you're drawn to the tranquil lakes, flowing rivers, or the vast ocean, the UK offers a wealth of natural swimming spots waiting to be explored. With preparation, respect for nature, and a spirit of adventure, the world of wild swimming is yours to discover.
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