Swimming in open water is a very romantic idea. But while wild waters can look inviting, only confident swimmers should dip a toe in...
The best way to acclimatise is to start by swimming somewhere where the cold is the only jarring factor to consider.
Wild Swimming expert Jack Hudson – one third of the Wild Swimming Brothers – has picked four UK locations that are perfect for building confidence in open water. Here they are, in ascending order of difficulty – with some tips from his brothers scattered along the way.
1. Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland
"One of the things that might get you, when you go for your first wild swim, is the sharp jolt of plunging into cold water," says Calum Hudson.
"Sometimes it's hard to think of anything else besides: 'I’m really out of my element here.' The best way to acclimatise and to manage this shock is to start by swimming somewhere where the cold is the only jarring factor to consider. Then take your time, control your breathing and steadily ease into your swim."
The Fairy Pools on the isolated Isle of Skye are the perfect spot for learning to love the cold. Not only are these lucid pools aesthetically beautiful, but the water is calm and still enough to accommodate even the most uncertain of swimmers. Located at the foot of the Black Cuillins, close to the village of Carbost, the Fairy Pools are fed by the River Brittle and the rugged mountain springs. Sure they're close to the cold of an ice bath, but the water clarity sure makes up for any sharp intakes of breath.
Take a big enough mask and a wetsuit too if you really want to stay in and relish the magic – oh, and a good quality camera, you won’t want to forget this one!
Difficulty: Easy – if you have your wetsuit.
2. Serpentine Lido, London, England
As soon as you're used to the cold it might be wise to develop your stroke and learn your body's rhythms. Comfortable luxury is something that you seldom experience in the wild, but there are plenty of British lidos where you can swim in open water, without leaving too many home comforts behind.
London’sSerpentine Lido, encircled by the open greenery of Hyde Park, is a great spot for a few civilised 100m lengths in the company of the resident swans. Once you're done you can stretch out on the sun terrace or grab a bite to eat at the waterside tables of the Lido Cafe Bar. There's even a glass of wine going if you really feel like rewarding yourself.
The Serpentine Lido is open on weekends throughout May and seven days a week from June 1 to September 12.
Difficulty: Easy. Just don't offend the local geese.
3. Ullswater, Lake District, Cumbria
Now you've polished your stroke and steadied your breathing, it might be time to head out into deeper water. The nine-mile long ribbon lake, Ullswater, was formed in the wake of retreating glaciers and is now framed by lumpy green hills. The water is also encircled by jumping stacks, piers and cliffs, which see their fair share of brave jumpers throughout the year.
If you're looking for something more leisurely, there’s plenty of islands that you can swim to and pebble beaches for you to comb. Just be sure to avoid the chugging steamer boat that takes tourists across the lake throughout the day. Maybe get a support kayaker along to assist you if you’re unsure of the depths.
Difficulty: Moderate. The beaches have abrupt drop-offs so be prepared for varying depths.
4. Durdle Door, Dorset, England
Durdle Door might sound like something you'd gurgle as you came up for air, but it is, in fact, one of the most beautiful wild swimming spots the UK has to offer.
"Surfers remember their first wave like swimmers remember their first sea swim," says Robbie Hudson. "So why not make yours extra special?"
Located just off the curve of the landmark beach, the door itself is instantly recognisable as a tall limestone arch set apart from the aptly-named Jurassic Coast. The nearby beach is privately owned, but open to the public. Just park at Lulworth, walk over the cliffs and take the uneven rock staircase down to the shingle beach. Enter the water by way of the steep shelving and swim to the door. You might want to pause under the tall limestone arch, buoyed on the gentle sea. Then, after that, there’s plenty of open water for you to enjoy with the local mackerel!