Take the plunge

The sum­mer will see hun­dreds of hol­i­day-mak­ers take their an­nual dip in the sea, but for an in­creas­ing num­ber of swim­mers, be­ing out­doors has be­come the norm

Norfolk - - Health & Fitness - WORDS: Re­becca MacNaughto­n

From coasts and rivers to lakes and li­dos, the UK is blessed with stretches of wide, open waters. Over the years, these have be­come home to an in­creas­ing num­ber of swim­mers look­ing to meet, greet and hone their strokes year­round, com­bin­ing the pos­i­tive ef­fects of swim­ming – in­clud­ing im­proved sleep, toned mus­cles and low­ered blood pres­sure – with fresh air and stun­ning views.

The Out­door Swim­ming So­ci­ety (OSS) of­fers a com­pre­hen­sive com­mu­nity for swim­mers to con­nect – both on­line and in real life – and pro­vides ad­vice and sup­port to every type of swim­mer. “It’s about jump­ing in, join­ing in and im­mers­ing your­self in na­ture,” says Ella Foote, OSS Am­bas­sador. Since it was formed in 2006, OSS has grown to over 27,000 mem­bers and has re­ported a steady 30% in­crease year on year. It holds a num­ber of events each year – “not races,” points out Ella, “but jour­neys up and down rivers” – and man­ages the site wildswim.co.uk, which crowd­sources the best places to swim at home and abroad.

Ella her­self has been swim­ming for the last 12 years, and sports a var­ied “swim CV”. The of­fi­cial swim sea­son runs from April-Septem­ber, but for the last three years she has braved the wa­ter year-round. “You can see every tiny de­tail about how a river fluc­tu­ates,” she says. “There’s more weed and it’s much greener in sum­mer, but the wa­ter is clearer in win­ter.” River swim­ming al­lows Ella “to smell, taste and feel the sea­sons”, some­thing she has done across the coun­try, from Devon, Corn­wall and Dover to Nor­folk, Suf­folk and the Orkney Is­lands. The wa­ter is full of sur­prises and, she re­as­sures me, “the River Thames is not what you might think”, but can be crys­tal clear in her home county of Berk­shire. A re­cent trip to Black Moss Pot, near Stoneth­waite in the Lake

District, was “like an emer­ald” she says, with deep, green wa­ter.

Such ex­pe­ri­ences are part of the at­trac­tion. The com­bi­na­tion of wa­ter and green space is known as green and blue ther­apy, and is proven to have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on men­tal health. “The sense of calm, the still­ness – it stays with me long after a swim,” says another swim­mer, Joe Mini­hane. His de­but mem­oir,

Float­ing: A Life Re­gained, fol­lows in the strokes of nat­u­ral­ist Roger Deakin, and charts his wild swim­ming jour­ney across the UK as he con­quers his anx­i­ety. A low-im­pact, all-body work­out,

‘The sense of calm, the still­ness – it stays with me long after a swim’

Joe finds that swim­ming pro­vides him with an an­chor to the present. “The after-ef­fects are a lot like a mas­sage,” he says. “I strug­gle to find the same sort of feel­ing in other forms of fit­ness.”

Although the sug­ges­tion of cold wa­ter might, at first, dis­suade you, its ef­fects are proven. Cold wa­ter im­mer­sion can re­duce blood pres­sure, tighten pores and im­prove cir­cu­la­tion, as well as in­duce an over­all sense of calm. “It can be ad­dic­tive,” says Joe, “but re­quires prac­tise as you al­low your body to ac­cli­ma­tise.”

Among his first swim spots were Toot­ing Bec Lido and the Hamp­stead Ponds, both of which he dis­cov­ered while liv­ing in London around seven years ago. Hamp­stead was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant, from the rit­ual of get­ting there to the peo­ple it at­tracted. “The whole ex­pe­ri­ence of swim­ming out­doors has a great sense of com­mu­nity. It is body and men­tal health pos­i­tive – there’s no sense of com­pe­ti­tion.” Hamp­stead still re­mains one of Joe’s favourite spots to swim in, along with Bry­her on the Isles of Scilly and Gelde­ston Locks in Nor­folk.

Where you choose to swim is cru­cial to your over­all ex­pe­ri­ence, and while Ella her­self prefers to swim in more nat­u­ral ar­eas, she be­lieves li­dos – sup­ported by life­guards – to be a great start­ing point for those want­ing to swim out­doors. Rep­re­sent­ing “his­toric mo­ments in Bri­tish his­tory”, they were first pop­u­lar in the 1930s and are now ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a resur­gence. Sites across the coun­try have been re­stored in­clud­ing East Sus­sex’s Salt­dean Lido, due to open later this year, and Thames Lido, in Read­ing, opened at the end of 2017.

Part of their role at the OSS is to en­cour­age re­spon­si­ble swim­ming, and the first step for any­one, says Ella, is to en­sure that you can swim. “Get back into the pool if you have to,” she sug­gests, “just to re­gain your fit­ness. Then fig­ure out where you want to swim.” Along with li­dos, lakes are a good start­ing point. “En­sure you can get in and out safely,” she says, “par­tic­u­larly with rivers, which have steep slip­pery banks, and be pre­pared for af­ter­wards, too. You need to get dry, dressed and warm after every swim.”

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