April 22, 2020 4 min read
For thousands of years people have taken to open water to improve their health and fitness and to seek tranquillity of mind. But where do you begin a wild swimming adventure?
Outdoor swim guide Suzanna Cruickshank moved to the Lake District in 2006 on a whim and has been in love with the area ever since. Her new guide to Swimming Wild in the Lake District peals the lid on the fifty best secluded swimming spots across fourteen lakes in the National Park. Illustrated with beautiful photography and featuring overview maps, the book contains all the practical advice you need including access by car or public transport, safety advice and the essential kit required. In this interview Suzanna discusses what makes a good swimming spot, and the freedom and presence of mind that can only be found in the depths of open water.
What first drew you to wild swimming?
Initially as another thing to do in the outdoors. I spent a lot of time walking and hadn’t swum since I left the Midlands. There wasn’t a decent pool nearby so I got in a lake out of sheer curiosity. I started taking short dips, and, after a while a friend took me for a proper swim. I realised I was actually not bad at swimming in cold water and started swimming further and exploring more locations.
Where is your favourite place to swim, and why?
I have favourites for different seasons and reasons. I have the most affection for Derwent Water and a morning swim from the boat landings is unbeatable. For holidays I tend to go to the coast as I love the heft and bounce of the sea, and swimming with an endless horizon.
What is your number one top tip for someone who is a wild swimming beginner?
Take a friend. Things are always better with a friend and you have someone to share the joy as well as watch out for each other.
Wild swimming is considered by many to be a great remedy for stress, as well as healing injuries, improving mental health and reducing the likelihood of catching a cold – do you agree?
As someone who gets an annual winter cold I firmly believe the evidence relating to your immune system is anecdotal! However, if you are physically able to, I think swimming is a great way to recuperate from injury as your body is fully supported in the water, taking the pressure off your joints. I’m cautious about promoting wild swimming as a fix-all cure. Ask any park runner, weightlifter, painter, potter, baker, hillwalker, birdwatcher etc. They will all tell you that their chosen activity has improved their mental health or relieved their stress. The key factor is investing time in an activity that makes you feel good about yourself. One aspect where wild swimming differs from most other activities is that the effect is instant, that short sharp shock of the water can invoke a buzz, 'a swimmer’s high’ that lasts long after you have finished your swim.
What is your favourite aspect of swimming outdoors?
Freedom. You are entirely unconstrained in the water. It’s the only place or activity where I feel 100% comfortable and present.
How do you identify a good swimming spot – are you always on the lookout?
Absolutely. I can’t walk past water now without pausing to check it out, or memorising road signs when I am driving so I can look them up later. There are many factors for a good swim spot and the depth of the water is usually a clincher for me - the deeper the better. Ideally, have a look around the area you intend to swim and see if there is anything that could affect the quality or safety of the water like discharge pipes or weirs. I prefer somewhere away from a busy path or area so I’m not likely to be disturbed. I’m always conscious that a passer-by may not be expecting to see a person undressing in public. It might be offensive to their attitudes or beliefs and we should be respectful of others in the outdoors. Sometimes you can’t tell how good somewhere is going to be 'til you get in and that is part of the fun.
Water cleanliness is important in enabling people to get involved in wild swimming. How do you think this might change in the future given increasing awareness of climate change in addition to the UK’s departure of the EU, which has been responsible for much of the legislation trying to improve our beaches and water quality?
I feel sad and a bit scared to be leaving the EU, I worry about the detrimental effect this will have. However, swimmers are not scared at coming forward and taking direct action whether it is to litter pick the area they swim or to make a case for better access. If leaving the EU means we have to do more things for ourselves such as protecting and promoting clean water then maybe it will inspire a wider sense of responsibility.
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