Are you frustrated with merely dipping your toes into the water?
Feeling the call of the wild from a faraway loch? Raring to revel in a river? Wild swimming may be for you!
We all know that swimming is great exercise, super fun, and generally an activity beloved by kids of all ages. This summer could be the perfect chance for you and the children to limber in a lake together.
What Is Wild Swimming?
Well, by all accounts, it's a totally different experience to lane swimming in a pool, and one that kids might enjoy more because of the freedom it affords. You can plot your own path, and you don't have to worry about crashing into the person ahead of you. Or having to politely slow way down behind them whilst you wait for the next opportunity to dash ahead (I'm a big swimmer, I get it).
Wild swimming -- also known as open water and/or outdoor swimming -- takes place anywhere that is not a swimming pool. This could be a lake, a river, a loch, the sea, or a reservoir. No chemicals, no concrete (well, okay, a reservoir will have some, but you get our drift), no lane ropes. Very possibly plants, fish, and other living things -- perhaps a duck or two, maybe even a heron. It's for all abilities and all ages, providing you have the swimming knowhow and skill to swim in areas where you might be out of your depth.
Safety is of paramount importance, particularly if swimming with younger children. It's very likely that you will be out of your depth at some point, so consider whether your kids are strong enough swimmers to be able to handle this.
Wild swimming is intended to be fun, but there's no supervision in the form of a lifeguard, so necessary precautions must be taken by you in order to maintain everyone's safety at all times. Always consider your own and your children's abilities, and supervise them at all times.
Be aware that, due to the 'wild' nature of wild swimming, lakes or ponds might be shallow near their banks, but suddenly get deeper. There may also be natural hazards in them, like sharp rocks. Footwear is therefore advisable to when wild swimming (see below for further advice on what to wear and bring).
Expect insects and other wildlife, and consider how this will affect your kids. The water will be colder than in a chlorinated pool environment. It may also be choppy, depending on the weather. Be sure to bear all of this in mind when planning your wild swimming trip. Fun is important, but safety is paramount.
Why Wild Swimming?
Not quite sold on the idea of swanning off to a nearby lake to swim with a .. uh .. swan? (Sorry). Aside from the benefit of a more Covid-safe environment, there are loads of other reasons why wild swimming is something to consider.
Better sleep: swimming in cold water stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your body responsible for repair and relaxation. This should promote a heightened sense of contentment, and lead to better sleep.
Better circulation: cold water swimming also promotes blood rush to our organs, which makes the heart work faster and aids circulation.
Boosted metabolism and immune system: cold water also makes you work harder to keep warm: your body converts more energy from fat in order to kickstart your metabolism and keep your core temperature stable, all of which has the added benefit of increasing calorie burn. The cold water also shocks your immune system, which increases white blood cell and antioxidant production in your body.
Endorphin rush: the stinging sensation of cold water pushes your brain to release endorphins, hormones that have a marked effect on your physical and mental wellbeing.
Okay, We're Sold, But What Do We Wear?
There are a few items that will help get you going.
Silicone hats: yep, you hate them, we hate them, your kids hate them, probably your third-cousin-twice-removed hates them, but they're important for two reasons. One: warmth, and two: safety. Pick a bright colour so that you're as visible as possible, the more garish the better. It's worth it, we promise. At the least it'll make for funny family photos.
Wetsuits: these need to be well fitted, so as to not bog you down in the water. The best-fitting wetsuits will help you stay buoyant -- which keeps you safer -- and warm. We all know that, even in the summer, the waters around the UK are never going to compare to, say, the Mediterranean.
Booties and gloves: you'll need kit that enables you and your kids to swim, but still stay warm. Boots are especially important for health and safety.
Goggles: Tinted or mirrored lenses are by far the best in case you hit lucky and swim on a day when the sun is out in full force. As someone who has had/lost/grown angry with many pairs of goggles over the years, I would definitely advise trying on as many pairs as possible to get a feel for what brand really works for the contours of yours and your kids' faces -- though that might be one to leave until the risk of coronavirus transmission has lessened.
Where Can We Go Wild Swimming In Or Around London?
Below are a selection of locations where you can currently go open water swimming with the kids. At the time of writing, the popular locations of Hampstead Heath Ponds, the Serpentine, West Reservoir Open Water Centre, and others, are closed because of guidance around Covid-19, so check in advance as and when they may open.
In the meantime, these are options we've found for you to get splashing.
Merchant Taylors' School Swim Lake
Situated in the grounds of a private school near Watford, this venue is a fresh water lake with a 750m and 400m loop, favoured by both beginners and athletes. A full water safety crew patrol in kayaks ready to support you in the water, with extra safety team members at the water's edge.
Currently, because of coronavirus rulings, all sessions must be pre-booked on the website, social distancing must be adhered to, and any groups must be from the same household.
Under 16s are allowed to complete the 400m lap solo, but must be confident swimmers. Under 12s must be accompanied at all times by an adult from the same household. All 12-16 year olds will be asked to complete a monitored 100m loop on their first session. £8 entry.
Swim sessions are every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evening from 5pm-8pm. Saturday and Sunday sessions are 7am-11am.
Address: Merchant Taylors’ School, Sandy Lodge Road, Moor Park, Northwood, HA6 2HT
Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre
If you're looking for somewhere east, this centre is an option for both open water swimming and heaps of other water sports, including kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.
Sessions must be booked in advance in accordance with their coronavirus policy, and the toilets and changing rooms are closed. Social distancing must be adhered to, and swimming caps are mandatory.
There's a 300m loop and a 500m loop, with swimming in an anticlockwise direction. Slots are 1 hour, with weekday sessions starting at 10am, 11.30am and 1pm; weekend sessions start at 9am, 10.15am and 11.30am. Sessions cost £8.
Address: Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre, 235a Westferry Road, London, E14 3QS
Tri20 Swim Centre
The centre is situated at the Reading Lake Hotel, just off Junction 11 of the M4.
Sessions must be booked in advance on a first-come first-served basis. Social distancing must be adhered to, no rental of equipment is available, and facilities like changing rooms and toilets are closed. Only those aged 14+ will be allowed entry.
Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday slots are an hour from 7am-10am, Tuesday and Thursday slots are an hour from 5pm-8pm. Sessions cost £8. The centre has two loops of 450m and 700m.
Address: Tri20 Swim Centre, Reading Lake Hotel, Pingewood, Reading, RG30 3UN
Swim Lakeside Essex
This facility is situated at Alexandra Lake, Essex, and is a clean, sheltered venue for open water swimming. The watersports centre is newly renovated, and the facility will be open from 17 July 2020 after lockdown closure.
Social distancing must be adhered to, and there are limited toilet facilities. Outdoor lockers are available, but bring your own padlock. Swimmers must be over 11, and under 16s must have an accompanying adult. All swimmers must be able to complete a 400m continuous swim.
Sessions must be pre-booked, and will be released 3 weeks in advance. They use an app-based system that requires you to collect a NOWCA safety wristband at reception. This logs your training details but also tracks your safe entrance and exit to the water. Sessions cost £8.50.
Address: Alexandra Lake, Lakeside Shopping Centre, West Thurrock, Grays, RM20 2AB
Guidance Around Coronavirus?
Swim England, British Triathlon, and the Royal Life Saving Society UK have all drawn up key safety advice for wild swimming. Lockdown restrictions for open water swimming lifted on 13 May, and the advice since has been focussed on practicing extra caution when swimming in lakes, rivers, or the sea, so as to prevent any swimmers getting into trouble and putting strain on busy emergency services. If swimming in the sea, be aware that there are no RNLI lifeguards currently operating.
Alice grew up in London where she's now based, but she's happiest by the sea, or reading somewhere snuggled up with her 5 dogs. She has two younger sisters who keep her on her toes, and is passionate about all things art, literature, and culture - she's written a short collection of poems and continues to edit scripts for theatre, tv, and film on a freelance basis.