Wild swimming encapsulates everything that I love – the outdoors, water, time with friends and family, refueling with chocolate, and of course, swimming.
Growing up in the Highlands, the outdoors was always my playground. We used to spend summers on the beach at Achmelvich, dancing with the tide in and out of the sea. I’ve always loved being in the water, whatever shape it took, lochs, seas, rivers or a bath! Although, my mum tells me I used to sit at side of the swimming pool crying when I was first learning to swim…
During the pandemic, wild swimming was my haven. I was fortunate enough to have so many incredible spots close to home and, more importantly, friends that were up for it too.
The benefits I get from wild swimming are endless. There are too many to list but here are the top four…
Whilst the reasons I love wild swimming aren’t in any particular order, I know that the benefit to my mental health is up there at the top and is part of why I return to the water time and time again.
There is something so simple about being in the water, I’m only ever thinking about being in the water when I’m in the water. No distractions, no mind chatter, no worrying, no thinking about what I have to do for work. All I’m thinking about is kicking my legs, the temperature of the water, the views, the vastness of it all and more often than not, “what was that that just touched my foot?!”.
The coldness of the water forces you to focus fully on yourself. You’re aware of every inch of your body, in the present moment, with nothing else to think about.
Beyond the mindfulness of the moment, the post-swim elation is pure joy. The happiness I feel after a swim is incomparable to anything else. It’s that pure, raw, simple happiness that I only ever get from being in the outdoors. I always have a deep appreciation for the outdoors after a swim.
Time with Friends & Family
A huge part of the pure joy I get from wild swimming is the time spent with friends and family.
During lockdown, my friend Cait and I spend our Sunday mornings swimming in the lochs and seas surrounding our homes in the Highlands. Early mornings, sunrise swims, snowy vistas, breaking the ice to get into the water. Sunday morning swims became ingrained in our lives. I also encouraged my mum to take the plunge over lockdown, and needless to say, she loved it too! The shared experience, the anticipation, the joy, fun and elation. The peaceful catch-ups post swim. The laughter.
Sophia (our lovely Outreach and Support Worker) and I have been venturing down to Wardie Bay in Newhaven to get our cold water fix recently. Discovering new places and new waters with new friends is up there as one of my absolute favourite things to do!
The rush to get dressed post-swim is an extreme sport. Dryrobe on, swimming costume off, layer after layer on, gloves, hats, jackets on top of jackets – all whilst your freezing cold hands aren’t moving the way they should, and your wetsuit shoes are stuck on your feet. But it’s all worth it, as there is no feeling quite like being all wrapped up, sitting beside the water with a flask of coffee and some chocolate while taking in the views.
The post-swim euphoria is almost tangible with your senses more awake than ever. There is a real sense of peace when you’re all cozy looking out over the water, a sense of ‘did we really just swim in there?!’ and a sense of achievement, especially with those freezing cold winter swims!
Discovering New Places with a Sense of Familiarity
Despite almost everything being different each time you swim – the water, the waves, the weather, there is a sense of familiarity. It feels like going home, for me, entering the water feels simple and comforting.
Last year, I travelled over to the Isles of Harris, Lewis and North Uist, and as soon as I pitched my tent on Harris, I was straight into the water. Ironically, I feel that swimming grounds me, it makes me feel more connected to a location and gives me a different perspective. You really get to know a place from the water, an outsiders view looking in towards the land.
Similarly, when I was in Orkney, we had walked out to the Old Man of Hoy and before we headed for the ferry, we just had to have a quick dip at Rackwick beach. To be in the water that we had just spent so long looking at from afar was magical and the views were incredible. Again, it left me feeling so connected to the location, beyond surface level.
The benefits (both physical and mental) are endless, the joy is immeasurable, and the fun is immense – I absolutely adore open water swimming.
Before diving head or feet first into the water, a reminder that swimming in open water can be dangerous, especially if you’re not used to the cold. So always remember to be wary of currents, depth, and tides, know your limits, swim with a friend, be careful when entering the trickier spots and always have warm clothes (and chocolate!) for after. And remember that all waters are legally accessible as long as swimmers uphold the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
And as my favourite little Disney character says, just keep swimming!
Fern Urquhart, Venture Scotland Volunteer Co-ordinator