October challenge: outdoor swim
‘…being by and in water is more than just a pleasure, it is at the core of our human condition’ ~ Sir Alistair Hardy, 1950s
I have swum off most of the coastline in Britain. From the luscious coves and clear turquoise waters of Cornwall and the furious surf of Newquay, to the crowded, golden sands of southern Kent; from the biting January waves of Southend-on-sea to the gasp-inducing depths of the Firth of Forth, to the crystal clear, invigorating waves off the north coast of Scotland. Sea swimming has a wonderful draw about it, to be held weightless by the world, to look out to the adventure-laden horizon and feel the power of the ocean rising and falling.
Recently my outdoor swimming has extended to inland waterways; though I always categorised these as ‘too boring’, in the past year I have swum in the ponds at Hampstead, the Thames at Hampton Court Palace, the Avon at Warleigh Weir, the Lea Valley Lakes and the River Dart.
Water holds heat, so tends to lag about a month behind the seasons. Swimming in April can be foolhardy; though the air has begun to warm, the water hasn’t had a chance yet. The heatwaves of last May had not yet warmed the Avon and a morning swim at Warleigh Weir under a glorious sun soon sent me shivering to the shower. Over the summer, the Hampstead ponds are full, and the upstream Thames is crowded with picnickers desperate to cool off. By October there’s a glorious quiet, and still enough heat in the water to enjoy. Author and publisher Daniel Start has styled himself as an authority on ‘wild swimming’ – though, of course, wild swimming is just swimming, his excellent website gives advice as well as signposting people to some glorious spots around the UK.
But why swim? In Daniel’s words, ‘When you slip into the waters of a shimmering ocean, swim along a willow-lined river or plunge into a mountain waterfall, you are doing more than just enjoying one of nature’s greatest and healthiest highs. You are opening up a whole new world of magical adventures – adventures that are abundant in in our wet and seabound country, and bring on a whole new way of exploring our landscape without masses of kit of clutter.’
If these ‘wild’ spots don’t appeal, there are plenty of lakes and ponds with changing facilities and showers. Or even if that doesn’t appeal, try an outdoor heated lido. It counts, just.