March 19, 2021 3 min read
Thinking of taking up wild swimming? Outdoor swim guide Suzanna Cruickshank explains why you really shouldn't bother ...
1. The kit
Ostensibly wild swimming is free. You just need a towel and a swimsuit and away you go. Hell, you don’t even need a swimsuit. It’s lauded as one of the best most inexpensive sports there is. But like any other outdoor activity, you won’t truly fit in with your new swim buddies till you have all the kit. The sports cloak, impractical for anything other than standing around in. Several sets of goggles because they always leak. A witty logo swim cap. A bobble hat for your Instagram photos, plus the hat you actually wear because the bobble hat is soaked through. Waterproof camera for blurry selfies– if you didn’t take a photo did it even happen? A brand new flask and mug. And that’s before we have talked about wetsuits and their associated paraphernalia. Wild swimming is expensive. Don’t do it.
2. It’s muddy
That pricey sports cloak you have just bought? It’s about to get covered in mud. As a rule of thumb the more awkward a place is to perch and change, the better the swim. Find the wettest, muddiest river bank, or the most ankle-breakingly boulder-strewn mountain tarn and you will see what I mean. Is a cosy lakeside changing hut with hooks and benches too much to ask?
A reliable method of taking the temperature. © James Kirby.
3. It’s always cold
Even in summer, dear God it is cold. You are better to get a friend to slap your naked torso a few times with a damp towel and then jab your feet with some rocks. That will get your blood racing and you won’t even have to get wet.
4. There is always cake
So much cake, it actually undoes any benefit of the aerobic activity of swimming, which is less than you think because you spent so much time taking selfies.
Great Gable. © Stewart Smith.
The brand name has entered swimmers lexicography as a catch-all description for the swishy house-sized sports cloaks that you have to wear post swim, lest you be ostracised by your swimming mates. But there is one problem. They don’t actually dry you, so as well as your mammoth robe, you need a towel too. Trade descriptions anyone?
6. Other swimmers
“Wild swimming? Pah! In my day we just called it swimming.”
Looking south from Glencoyne Bridge. © Stewart Smith.
When gear reviewers write about outdoor kit they will often call it ‘bombproof’. The idea that you can take a certain pair of trousers, backpack or waterproof jacket to the gnarliest terrain in the filthiest weather, and the fabric will take everything you throw out it and still come back for more. Step forward the wetsuit. Never knowingly described as bombproof, and subject of countless “how do I repair…?” threads on social media, wetsuits cost a small fortune and come with a garment care list as long as your arm. If you can wrestle the damn thing on without putting your back out, congratulations. If you can get it off again without punching yourself in the face, you are a better person than me. Oh, by the way, wild swimming purists will call you a wimp if you do choose to wear a wetsuit. You’re welcome.
“You’re not getting in there are you? You must be mad!”. All those witty comebacks you practised at home suddenly evaporate the moment someone asks “Is it cold?”
Brown Howe. © James Kirby.
You’ve seen a cool photo of a 'grammer lazing in stunning waterfall, and you want to know where it is. But the poster won’t say. Their reason? Protecting the local environment. The truth? It’s a knee deep rocky puddle that takes a good photo and is pointless for swimming.
10. Articles about wild swimming
The Guardian has never knowingly published a weekend supplement without a feature on wild swimming. If we are not talking about how great wild swimming is, we are writing about it. Top tens of wild swimming seem to be particularly popular …
For more about how truly terrible outdoor swimming really is, pick up a copy of Suzanna's guide to Swimming Wild in the Lake District.
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