Wild Swimming in Totnes and South Hams
Wild swimming has become a common phrase, and yet what really is wild swimming and why has it suddenly become so popular in the UK?
Caroline at Chartsedge is an enthusiastic Wild Swimmer all year round and often goes with her daughter swimming in the beautiful rivers around Totnes and in secret coves on the coastline of the South Hams. Her colleague Miles however is a bit of a Jessie and you will only find him in the water at the height of Summer!
Essentially wild swimming is swimming in any natural bodies of water – whether it be a lake, pond, river, or the sea. It is appealing because it provides the refreshment of a cooling dip whilst enjoying the beauties of the natural world, it is free and available to all.
Is wild swimming allowed in the UK?
As tempting as it may be to jump into any water, wild swimming is not allowed everywhere in the UK. In England and Wales, a “right to roam” law means most lakes and rivers are open to swimming but there are some exceptions so it is important to confirm that you have access before you start swimming. However, you can swim in most public places and open spaces as long as it is not trespassing and unless the law is clarified
In Scotland, all waters are accessible as long as swimmers uphold the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which states that people must respect the interests of others, care for the environment, and take responsibility for their own actions.
Where to swim in and around Totnes
There are many places to swim around Totnes without having to go to the coast. We found this informative piece by The Outdoor Swimmer which gives some great suggestions
This is a good article from The Guardian about swimming in and around Totnes.
There are many Facebook pages which introduce like minded wild swimmers, Devon Sea Sloths is a good one for the South Hams
What safety precautions do you need to take before you go wild swimming?
When the proper precautions are taken, wild swimming can be a safe and fun way to enjoy the outdoors. But in order to ensure you don’t get hurt and you are properly protected from the elements, some precautions should be taken.
First, you should always swim with a partner, or tell someone where you are going. Even if you have swum in the same spot many times before, accidents happen and it is important that someone else knows where you are.
Second, dressing appropriately for a dip in the outdoors is necessary – although it may sound refreshing to wade in naked, swimming outfits are recommended – and sometimes required. Natural water can be cold and a swimming outfit or a wetsuit can protect you from hypothermia, which can come on gradually. Always have warm, dry clothes nearby for when you get out of the water. In addition goggles are also something to consider as they can protect your eyes in the murky water.
If you are swimming in a new spot, it is important to check the depth of the water and the current before getting in and diving should only be done with great caution, as branches and rocks can be hidden beneath the water.
What are the potential risks associated with wild swimming?
Even if you take the proper precautions before wading into natural waters, insects and water-borne diseases still pose a risk. When swimming outdoors, you need to be extremely careful to watch out for ticks. If a tick bite goes undetected, there is a risk of developing Lyme disease. Ticks infected with Lyme disease are all over the UK, according to the NHS, so make sure to do a thorough search of your body after wild swimming.
Leeches also pose a risk to people looking to cool down as they are typically found in freshwater. Although there is thought to be only one variety of blood-sucking leech in the UK, leeches are found throughout the nation. To protect open wounds from becoming infected, outdoor swimmers should always cover cuts with plasters.
The Benefits of Wild Swimming
The UK has an array of swimming spots to choose from that guarantee an enjoyable and refreshing swim. It’s a simple, low-cost hobby with minimal gear needs. Getting involved can be as easy as downloading the map of the best wild swimming places in the UK, grabbing a cossie and heading off. Many new and veteran open swimmers joined open-water swimming groups, and there are even organised trips to favourite swimming spots along the UK’s extensive coastline
According to Outdoor Swimmer magazine’s annual report, searches for the term “wild swimming” – which refers to “swimming (or dipping) in rivers, lakes, pools, the sea etc; typically in more out-of-the-way locations with no lifeguard supervision,” according to magazine founder Simon Griffith – increased 94% between 2019 and 2020. Wild swimming presented an opportunity to get some exercise, explore the local countryside and even visit new places in search of different waters.
But fun is not the only reason people are taking up the hobby. It seems that swimming and being outdoors is not just beneficial for your physical health, but it may also be beneficial for your mental wellbeing. A study published in British Medical Journal Case Reports provided the first case report that cold water swimming may be an effective treatment for depression. The theory behind this is that one form of stress – ie the shock of cold water – adapts the body for another, in this case the stress response associated with depression and anxiety. However, while outdoor swimming may help your physical and mental health, it should not see seen as a cure-all.
As more diverse groups of people discover outdoor swimming, the results from ongoing research about its mental health benefits will become more comprehensive. Currently, a team at the University of Portsmouth is closely monitoring cold-water swimmers and gathering testimonies from members of the Outdoor Swimming Society about the benefits of cold-water swimming for conditions that include depression, anxiety, arthritis, menopausal symptoms, MS and migraines.
With more Brits than ever taking up outdoor swimming for health reasons, they are also enjoying the sense of community the hobby brings with it. As Simon Griffiths said: “Swimming is not just something you do. Being a swimmer is something that you are.” And what a truly wonderful feeling that is!
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