‘Wild’ swimming – isn’t that just…

… swimming outdoors?

I’ve read three of Roger Deakin’s books, Waterlog, Wildwood and Notes from Walnut Tree Farm. He lived an unconventional life in rural Suffolk, was a Guardian journalist and naturalist writer. For me his books are gentle observations of the natural world, with anecdotes and pithy comments about people he meets on the way and the state of the world.

In Waterlog, Deakin sets out to swim the length of Britain via as many lakes, rivers and lidos that he can find, from the Atlantic. For many people he kindled a desire to visit quiet lakes and slightly inaccessible rivers. Fresh water swimming, for me, has a different feel to being in the sea, sometimes literally. The river bed can be a bit soft and gooey and fronds of underwater plants tickle your legs. Often lakes and rivers will be colder than the sea, even in the height of summer. I’m not that keen on swimming in the Ouse for the aforementioned reasons and I know that there can be sewage run off at times (so keep your mouth shut), but a mountain lake or river is a different prospect.

Probably my most memorable, and potentially disastrous, lake swim was in the Spanish Pyrenees. In the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park trails lead up through valleys to lakes surrounded by mountain peaks. After a baking four hour uphill hike, with not quite enough drinking water, my wife and I reached an exquisite crystal clear blue tinted lake. The snow capped peaks in the distance should have given us a hint, but, hot and sweaty, we donned our swimmers (how demure) and stood on the surrounding boulders. With a cry we leapt in. The water was heart-stoppingly cold (but very clear). As I surfaced, screeching, I also realised that the exit boulders were large and rounded. After much scrabbling and cursing we were out, frozen, scraped and a bit giggly. Nothing a rub down and cold baked beans straight from the tin didn’t cure though.

This incident has taught me to be a little more circumspect about swimming outdoors. Last summer my wife and I went to Snowdonia National Park. The weather, on the whole, was ‘beautiful’ (I think most weather has its own beauty) and the day we climbed Yr Wyddfa particularly so. Blue skies and puffy white clouds. As we dropped off the summit we decided to stop for lunch by a lake just off the path. Before long we were in it, and the only ones. I wonder if people walking the path though we were mad or wishing they were swimming too. It’s not often that hot in North Wales.

A couple of days later we walked the Watkin Path. This leads up to the summit but our intention was to find the swimming holes. It was another hot day and armed with lunch, a flask and swimmers we walked the trail. The swimming holes are not hard to find. They are a series of cascades into pools deep enough to jump into (test the temperature first though!) and you can sit in the shallows, in the shade or under the waterfall. It is sublime.

Occasionally other walkers would arrive, strip off and jump in, whooping. The lovely thing about fresh water swimming is the clean tingling afterglow. Go wild!