The craze for wild swimming

Wild swimming is a great way to cool off in a heatwave – and good for your mental health too. 

Moraca river canyon, Montenegro
The River Moraca in Montenegro: a popular spot with locals

"It was a prelapsarian afternoon at Hampstead Ponds [in north-west London] at the height of last year's heatwave that first got me hooked" on wild swimming, says Madeleine Howell in The Daily Telegraph. But it's not just a way to cool off it might even help with mental well-being. Wild swimming has been associated with sleeping better and feeling happier. "It certainly works for me."

"The secret is to swim at least once a week, gradually extending your time in the water," Dr Heather Massey, a researcher at the Extreme Environments Laboratory at the University of Portsmouth, tells Howell. Summer is a good time to start when the water is warmer. But "always get out if you are uncomfortable" a wetsuit is advised in water that's below 16C.

Dipping a toe in Lewisham

Beckenham Place Park lake © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Beckenham Place Park: a haven for cold swimmers

More and more people are dipping their toes in "the cold-water swimming craze", says Ellen Scott in Metro. Last Saturday a 285m-long Georgian lake that's up to 3.5 metres deep in places opened to the public at Beckenham Place Park, in Lewisham, southeast London.

Originally created in 1800 by the owner of Beckenham Place Mansion, John Cator, and later filled in, the lake has been restored as a haven for cold-water swimmers over the age of eight as part of a multi-million-pound regeneration programme. Entry costs £3 for adults book in advance at ptpcoaching.co.uk/beckenham-place-park. There is also a "non-lifeguard splash zone", which is open all the time and free for all.

Cooling off in Montenegro

This is "where people come to cool off", Vuk Djuki, a keen swimmer, tells Tinsley. He gestures to "a deep limestone cleft filled with turquoise water beside a restaurant just south of the city", where locals sip coffee in the shade. "I ask Vuk if he'd care to join me for a swim," says Tinsley, but he declines. The water still isn't warm enough for the locals.

Undeterred, Tinsley ambles down to the water and sits on a submerged step, "watching ducklings explore the pitted edges of the rock".

"Looking down, I'm amused (and a little horrified) to see hundreds of tiny fish gathering around me, nibbling at my legs," she says. "I push quickly away and swim out into deep water, then tread water as swallows swoop overhead, taking sips from the pool." Despite Vuk's reservations, the water is far from cold.

Camping in the forest

Peneda-Geres National Park, Portugal.
Peneda-Gers National Park is a wild-swimming paradise

Naturally, there are warmer options for wild swimming abroad. Sarah Donaldson took her family camping to the Minho region of north-eastern Portugal. Just outside the Peneda-Gers National Park "a major destination for wilderness-seekers" lies their first stop, Lima Escape (lima-escape.pt), a campsite "on a hillside over a wide bend in the river Lima", she says in The Observer. The campsite isn't small, but it is peaceful "even in August". What's more, the best spots for camper vans have "terrific views".

Peneda-Gers National Park is "a wild-swimming paradise". "In the mornings, we swim from the small beach of mud-coloured sand at the foot of the campsite. We take short treks into the surrounding oak and pine forests to nearby fern-fringed "lacs" small, clear spring-water pools where the water is breath-catchingly cold", says Donaldson. The river Lima is also perfect for pootling about in kayaks.

Recommended

A way round Covid-19 travel restrictions
Travel and holidays

A way round Covid-19 travel restrictions

Assuming travel to your intended destination is allowed at all, why not just rent the whole hotel? Chris Carter reports.
15 Jan 2021
Five stylish English spa hotels
Travel and holidays

Five stylish English spa hotels

Chris Carter reports on five of the best English spa hotels for you to revitalise your body, mind and soul when the lockdowns end.
8 Jan 2021
Four offbeat hotels in Scandinavia
Travel and holidays

Four offbeat hotels in Scandinavia

From a retreat made of ice in Sweden to a treehouse in Norway. Chris Carter reports
24 Dec 2020
Three of the best places in England to see in the New Year
Travel and holidays

Three of the best places in England to see in the New Year

Wave farewell to a dispiriting year, and welcome in the New Year at these uplifting destinations in England.
18 Dec 2020

Most Popular

Bitcoin: fool’s gold or the new gold?
Bitcoin

Bitcoin: fool’s gold or the new gold?

With bitcoin hitting new highs last week, and close to becoming a mainstream investment, is it really gold for the 21st century?
15 Jan 2021
The MoneyWeek Podcast: bitcoin special
Bitcoin

The MoneyWeek Podcast: bitcoin special

Merryn talks to bitcoin experts Dominic Frisby and Charlie Morris to get the lowdown on the cryptocurrency to find out why it's such a huge global phe…
15 Jan 2021
Leasehold reforms promise the end of a nightmare for many homeowners
Property

Leasehold reforms promise the end of a nightmare for many homeowners

Horror stories about unscrupulous landlords profiting from a legal relic of the feudal era are about to get a happy ending, says Simon Wilson.
16 Jan 2021