WILD SWIMMING & IT’S Ilk.
Wild swimming sounds exactly what it is, jumping into a lake or river and swimming. Simple it might sound, strange and odd it might appear, but in its own way it offers a doorway into nature that can not be experienced in quite the same way by any other methods.
Before setting out to enjoy your challenge there are things that need to be considered, and safety precautions that need to be in place. For instance the water is going to be far colder than the air around you, so it is easy to misjudge the temperature difference. Now for those that are acclimatised to the cold, this poses no problem, but for the rest of us it does.
I recommend that a wet suite be purchase, this will not only keep you warmer and stop you entering into the realms of hyperthermia, but it will also provide a level of buoyancy. If you like me are not the worlds greatest swimmer, then a life jacket of some sort that is both effective and comfortable, as a floatation aid should be worn. The twin bar, blow into a one ay valve it to inflate sort, seems to me to be the best for this type of adventure, because it is available when or if needed but otherwise is not going to detract from the feeling of being at one in the water with nature. That feeling of pleasure and freedom from everything is the prime aim for the wild swimmer, along with the pleasure that such activities and new experiences can provide.
Next is the question of where to swim?
The first consideration is legality, some places are privately owned and to enter might be construed as trespass. Others are protected by law, for instance nature reserves of any sort, swimming will be both damaging to the reserve and could be construed as causing criminal damage or threatening protected species Something most definitely to be avoided; after all you only want to enjoy the adventure not damage what exists, you want to be a part of something that you could not normally experience, to enjoy the simple pleasures of being a part of something much bigger than yourself, to pass unnoticed by all; so think carefully and plan well.
So once you have narrowed down your options, found a suitable place, then take a look at the Ordinance Survey map, because you do not want to encounter immovable objects, dangerous currents or rapids, well mostly, some wild swimmers seek out these obstacles deliberately. Having narrowed you choice even more, then it is decision time, consider if the place is not local you will need to travel to it. A car parked at the start point will leave you cold, tired and facing a long trek to get back to it. A car parked at the end of your intended swim will become an asset to you, one that you most certainly will find to be moist welcome in all respects.
This of course means walking to your selected starting point on the river. Though a lake offers the wild swimmer less of a confusing option; though lakes can tend to be even colder than rivers at times, so be careful.
Having decided on your site, next comes the necessities, I have already outlined some but there might be others that will make you feel safer, and though this is called wild swimming, it is not intended for the armature to endanger themselves by not thinking through exactly what they are going to do or undertake. Set your own limits, know your own strengths and play to them. A structured build up is essential in any pursuit or sport, especially dangerous sports they make such preparations essential.
Tell some one where you are going and what you intend to do. Take a phone with you. There are plenty of 100% waterproof containers that will protect delicate items. Consider that you might well be tired and cold when you have completed the route, so have a blanket and warm clothes food and drink etc and plenty of petrol to run your engine as its heater will be very welcome. Be certain that your car is in good order and that you park it sensibly. With all of this set in place then now you are at the point that you can undertake your desired swim.
If you are using a wetsuit when entering the river the sudden cold might still come as a shock to your system, acclimatise yourself to the water. Also, standing on a river bottom might seem harmless but there are many potential problems, for example broken glass. It is highly recommended that some sort of suitable footwear is worn at all times, after all, most river waters are a little on the murky side and as such dangerous items can not be clearly seen through the water. If you have decided to swim without the benefit of a wet suite then caution is even more essential, as hyperthermia is easily entered into. The air is warmer than the water remember, and it will not take long for your extremities to shut down. Your body senses cold at approximately four times the rate that it senses warmth. Limbs will close off sensation as blood supply becomes restricted, be aware of the changes in your body, monitor how you feel, be sensible; if you are not sure then get out.
A first wild swim remembered.
Mid-day I entered the water for my first ever wild swim: This was not planned, what had been the intent for the days events was a simple canoe down the river Wye’s rapids. A quick but unexpected tussle with some white-water (I lost concentration for a second) and the canoe was capsized; the water level was low so rather than bash my head all the way down on the river bottom I evacuated from the canoe.
Now canoeists will think this daft, but to try to Eskimo Role the canoe under the circumstances, just felt wrong and would have been extremely difficult if not impossible to complete, getting out once the spray deck had been released was hard enough to do.
Having departed from the canoe I was carried along down the river by the white fast flowing water, just another piece of float-some held for awhile in its grip. The canoe I let go of as it seemed more likely to hit me than I was to collide with a rock. The river would slow further down once the rapids ended, also further down in the calmer waters there were plenty of people to recover the canoe and indeed its paddle if needs be. I let go of the paddle as well, mostly because holding it made for my drifting oddly and it was likely to drag me into the rocks.
This left me floating along carried at quite a pace by the tumbling water; I used my hands to steer as much as I could as the current to carry me, far too quickly for my pleasure I would soon passed out of the reach of the rapids. The wild rolling ride had reached its finale for now. I had deliberately entered into a pool of back eddying water, I swam three strokes and halted, my feet resting securely on the rocks of the river bottom.
I looked down the river from my pool of safety and calm water, watching the river foam created by the rivers raging tumble, wondering if I wanted to walk the remaining mile or so to my camp, wet through, and soaked in a way I had never felt before. I did not, I decided want to walk, so that was what can really be called the first point of my first wild swim. I re-entered the raging water, having checked that my inflatable vest had some air in it to add some small level of buoyancy. I wore a helmet which seemed wise to retain, after all the water was moving quickly. I breast stroked away from the bank swiftly being caught, almost instantly grasped by the living flowing current.
It carried me onward, my adventure had begun. The water swirled around protruding rocks; they had been worn smooth by centuries of erosion. Canoeists had been using this stretch for years and so I expected a reasonably safe decent. I rode the river, carried onward towards the calm of the main stream once the rapids had been passed.
The river slowed as it widened out, the narrow raging waters were behind me, soon the river showed me a different side of its temperament, a winding, lazy, slow moving wander through the impressive scenery followed. The rough rush through the rocky canyon of my rapids ride was past, only a memory, finished. Gone was the chatter of the water as it swirled around the rocks, which tried in vain to hold its flow back. Gone was the frenzied twisting and turning as the river accelerated both itself and me towards the lower calmer portions. Gone was the heart racing rush, the flood of adrenaline that matched the surge of the river as I roared out of all control, held floating just above the shallow river bed.
In a very different way the swim was equally as enjoyable, I relaxed into it calmed by the restfulness of my companion, my heart rate slowed as I let the water carry me onwards into the slowing peace, I felt lost to the world, hidden mostly from sight, the waters caressed me and together we rolled on together.
That was the point that I discovered the feeling of freedom, of one-ness with the river. I swam breast stroking my way down the centre of the river, at one point I turned onto my back and floated. My new position allowed me to look up and admire the canopy of trees high above me lining the banks trailing out over the water. Looking at the bank from water level added a whole new dimension to my enjoyment of the day.
I passed canoeists who offered me assistance; I waved them away wondering if I would catch my lost craft. A few minuets later I saw it rammed up against a tree root its bow reaching for the bank, of my paddle there was no sight. The canoe was going nowhere and I was overtaken by the delight of being immersed in the river. The canoe could wait, I drifted slowly on past. Noting where I could recover it later.
Further on I rounded a bend, the campsite I was utilising would be about half-a-mile further on, It had a landing bay of concrete a sort of jetty protruding into the river, but just beyond that was a shallow sloping bank made of stones. I decided to meander down to that bank and exit from there.
I could get changed into dry clothes, perhaps warm up a little before having to recover my canoe. As I lazed with my head and shoulders just cresting the water making my decision to continue onward, a swan landed. It had swept in behind me with its feet out stretched, its wings extended; it landed not five feet before me. Swan’s are not the most grace full of birds when they land, they tend to career into the water, then fold there wings and stop. Almost as soon as they have landed they start top paddle, making progress through the water look effortless it is almost as though they want to escape from their landing point, perhaps they hope that know one will have noticed. I felt the water thrust as this swan paddled on ahead of me, something that I would never have experienced had I not been in the water myself.
The swan turned to the far side, I require to land on the nearside and so we parted company. I feeling that I had gained much more than the swan had from our meeting. Ducks paddled towards me, three of them in a close group; something I have often encountered when canoeing. This time we were at the same level, the ducks split ignoring me, other than to pass to either side of my head. They had rejoined when I turned over again to see behind me. Two experiences that I could never have obtained, two memories that would live in my memory for the rest of my life most likely.
The concrete landing stage loomed up, I was twenty-feet out and had been spotted by a group of my own trainees. They pointed and laughed and called out to me, what fun for them to see one of their instructors minus his vessel floating by, I ignored them. I noticed that one of them held my paddle, so at least that was not lost. I called to them to fetch my canoe that would teach them to laugh. They launched a canoe and set of up river against the slow flow that now carried me down to my beach landing point.
Others followed my progress from the shore making certain that I was all right. I edged closer to the bank, swimming once again rather than relying on the current. Something moved sharply beneath me, a splash filled my vision and then the fish was gone. I landed and stood up looking back along the river, a smile of pure pleasure fixed to my face. I had completed my first wildswim; there would be many others over the years to come, though mostly they would be much better planed in the future.