What is wild swimming and why is it good for you?

There has been an increasing amount of chatter recently on ‘wild swimming’ and its benefits. An immersive dip is said to aid the body as well as the mind as we grapple with the pressures of life. So what is wild swimming and what exactly can it do to improve your health?

What is wild swimming?

In a nutshell, wild swimming is taking a swim outdoors in a natural environment such as a river, lake or the sea. When I was young and growing up on an Island we used to call it simply ‘swimming’. But hey, it’s now a ‘thing’ and its increasing prominence has meant that many more people are taking the plunge. We are lucky to have our own wild swimming lake here at Longlands, so if you’re a novice it’s a great place to dip a toe in the water and try it out…

Do I need a wetsuit?

Of course the temperature of the water will depend on what time of year that you swim. If the water is between 0-6 degrees, immersion is going to have an extreme effect on your body (breathing will be rapid and skin will sting). For the uninitiated a wetsuit might be welcome! Here at Longlands we are proud of our green credentials and are fans of B-corp clothing brand Finisterre for the same. They stock quality wetsuits for varying degrees of cold water so if you’re thinking of swimming in the winter check out their product line. Fair weather swimmers will be just fine in a swimsuit. Lakes and well established rivers will be around 17-20 degrees in a hot summer, which will feel a little fresh when you jump in, but will soon feel pleasant.

Why is it so popular?

I’ve seen journalists and broadcasters documenting their dips in lakes, water holes and the sea over the last few months and all report feelings of invigoration and wellbeing. One of my favourite wild swimming social media feeds is that of part-time journalist and vicar, Reverend Kate Bottley. It’s not a feed dedicated to wild swimming but is peppered with plunges in marvellous arrays of hats ranging from a deerstalker to a bobble hat. I have to admit to being a seasonal salt-water swimmer and start swimming from May, finishing up in September without using a wetsuit. The shock of the water temperature and a heightened awareness of my surroundings is why I love it.

Is wild swimming good for me?

Yes! There are many benefits to wild swimming, both physical and mental. A plunge into cold water has long been known to be good for you, which is why many professional athletes take ice baths (bbbrrrr!). Cold water therapy makes the blood rush away from the skin towards the vital organs in an effort to conserve body heat. The result is that waste matter is flushed out and circulation boosted so that nutrient filled, fresh blood is pumped back to both your vital organs and brain. So that’s just one of the physical boosts, what about mental? The stress hormone cortisol can be decreased through cold water submersion, thereby boosting levels of serotonin and dopamine, both hormones linked to a positive mental state. And, of course, letting the experience consume you clears your mind and allows you to observe your natural surroundings.

Our Longlands Lake

Our lake at Longlands is a very peaceful place to swim, being surrounded by woodlands and, of course, we are located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The water that fills the lake comes from a spring up in the moors – you can’t say fresher than that! Enter the water slowly and carefully, wearing swim shoes if possible, and strike out across the lake to enjoy a refreshing swim on a warm day. As you relax in the water, float on your back and take in the wide expanse of sky above you. There is a small jetty on the lake and we would ask that you don’t run across it so as to avoid slips and falls. We would also advise against jumping off of the jetty into the lake. In cold weather the temperature of the water could be such that your body starts to inadvertently hyperventilate, taking in water to the lungs and so increasing risk of drowning. The old proverb ‘look before you leap’ serves as a gentle reminder that you cannot see under the surface of the water so are unaware of any hidden dangers when entering rapidly…

Our lake is not only used for wild swimming. We have a boat moored alongside the jetty called Little Bird and she is used by guests that enjoy boating. If the lake is being used for boating, we would ask that you wait for it to clear before taking your swim. Thank you!

Wild Swimming Devon

River Torridge, Torrington Common

There are several opportunities to swim at the River Torridge as it takes a meandering 48 mile route from north west Devon down to the estuary at Bideford. Torrington Common is a popular spot where the water is around a metre deep, pebbly and fast flowing. This is also the birthplace of fictional otter, Tarka, in the book of the same name, by Henry Williamson.

Wild Swimming Exmoor

River Lyn, Long Pool at Watersmeet

Heading out north east from Longlands, towards Lynmouth, there is a wild swimming spot at Watersmeet called Long Pool which is part of the East Lyn River. Park up at the car park opposite the National Trust restaurant and tea room and take a stroll through the ancient woodland. There are a series of shallow plunge pools along the way as you follow the river downstream to the Long Pool which is tucked underneath a waterfall for added magic!

Badgworthy Water, Badgworthy Pool near Malmshead

This part of Exmoor is known locally as Doone Valley, Badgworthy Valley being the official name. A memorial stone in honour of Richard Doddridge Blackmore, author of novel Lorna Doone, can be found along the river here. There is a small, but deep,  plunge pool at Badgworthy Water underneath a shallow waterfall. Parking is available nearby, and there are also tearooms too, to warm yourself post plunge.