At this time in early January, we love to discuss our resolutions, goals and plans for the year ahead. We avoid talking about the failed attempts of this time last year.. But we do feel a certain pride when something we set ourselves a year ago was achieved. I love wild swimming, in lakes, rivers and the sea. I was excited at the beginning of 2016 for the weather to warm and the season for optimum swimming opportunities to begin again. I wanted to explore many new swimming spots, including areas around the new city I was living in, Leeds. Over the year I took a lot of dips across England and further afield, which when I look at on a map I feel quite proud of, as I made special efforts to take part in an activity that makes me happy. Here are all of the ‘wild’ swims I did in 2016.
Hathersage Swimming Pool
The wild swimming year began at the same time as the year itself for me, as some crazy people at Hathersage lido in the Peak District had organised a ‘new years dip’. Whilst all my friends were suffering from deathly hangovers in bed, I awoke fresh faced and ready for the blitzing cold that awaited us. Even though the pool temperature was 7° and the air temperature was barely above freezing, me and my friend braved the cold and shocked our bodies jumping into the cold water. With no wetsuits it was certainly a plunge experience for me, though I did manage to swim a few lengths. Plunging your body into cold water like that brings some kind of thrill, and even though it took us a hot shower, a good few hours, a lot of car heater and a fast paced walk on the hills to warm up; it was worth it for our brief ridiculous moment.
This was my first sea swim of the year. It was early April and though the weather looks beautiful here, the water was freezing, which badly affected certain friends testicles… Porth beach is along the Newquay coastline in Cornwall. Newquay has a north-facing coastline which is a rougher sea than the southern coastline. Excellent for surfing, but not so great for us swimmers. Porth however, I would say is the best beach around Newquay for swimming. Its long headland shelters it from larger waves, and when the tide is in the water is calm, and you can swim to different rocky or sandy areas on either side of the beach. Thats on maybe a warmer day though. When we swam we couldn’t endure much more than a few minutes in the cold Atlantic ocean.
Carolines Lake, RSPB St Aidans
Now this swimming experience is a story in itself. When I first moved to Leeds I looked up close by wild swimming locations, and was waiting for the season to come about so I could visit a place that I’d been aware of since September 2015, Carolines Lake. It had a few reviews on wildswim.com so I knew it was legit, I even looked up the location on instagram to confirm that others had swum there, which they had. What I didn’t take note of was the dates of these posts…
I told my friends for my birthday I wanted to go swimming. I thought it would be really fun for everyone to do something unusual, since we spent most of our time playing pool or down the pub, (of course, the plan was to go to the pub afterwards – I didn’t want to go crazy with the unusual activities!). When we arrived at the lake however, we were greeted with this lovely message.
This sign was swiftly torn from the gate it was weakly attached to and hidden from the rest of the group, not by myself I must add. No, we did inform everyone what the noticed had warned, but we took it as more of a ‘rumour’, than a serious message. People had swam here before right? It must be safe. I called up the RSPB st aidens (the nature reserve where the lake was located) and was greeted by an extemely confused lady at the other end of the phone.
“I’m at Carolines lake” I said. “Carolines who?” the woman responded. “The lake! Your lake Carolines lake”. “My mate who??”.
The lady did seem to say no swimming, but it was more for the reason of ‘why on earth do they want to do that’ than with any toxicity issues. After attempting to explain our predicament I came to the conclusion that I was going down a blind alley and we should just brave the waters, avoid the algae and not put our heads in the water. Plan. Its my birthday, everyone is in a good mood. If we get ill, thats a problem for tomorrow to handle.
Aside from quite a generous helping of floating pond slime (possibly toxic algae), the water was quite nice. Most of the group went in, one with his iPhone still in his trunks. It was cold, but we had an adventure. And we really did deserve those pub drinks later.
Oh yes, I should also mention that though we didn’t necessarily make the most sensible decision, all my fellow lake swimmers and I suffered no health issues after out dip in the toxic lake.
Ilkley – River Wharfe, Illey Pool and Lido
I drove some friends up to Ilkley in the early part of the summer to go swimming. They have a pool and lido with a backdrop of the hills of Ilkley moor which looked like an ideal place to spend a summers day. There was also a river swim extremely close by, on a bend of the river Wharfe. I wanted to try both places while we were making the journey, so we started off at the river, then planned to head to the lido for another swim and shower after. The river ended up being our favourite. The day wasn’t quite as warm as we’d hoped, it even began to drizzle with cold rain as we walked to the spot, so we weren’t expecting a luxurious experience in the river. The water was a pleasant surprise though. It was quite shallow, enough to make it a manageable temperature, and after getting through a current part of the river (which was strong enough to stop a labrador from moving) there was a deep area to swim, between two shingle banks, like little river beaches. The river ended up being such a nice experience that it outdid the lido. Don’t get me wrong, the lido was fun, we had a beachball, we did penguin dives, and the lifeguard forgave me for going on the slide meant for children because I shouted ‘I don’t pay taxes I’m not a real adult!’. But its depth and size meant it was very cold, and as students, we all of course prefer a free experience, which the river of course was. I will definitely be returning there this summer for another river swim.
Scheveningen Beach, The Hague
During a roadtrip we coined ‘Euro 2k16’, visiting various places in Belgium and The Netherlands, we took a detour en route from Amsterdam to Bruges in The Hague. We knew there was a beach, so we had a little investigate. The beach was massive, long and flat, so it was windy. This meant the sea was cold and the waves were big, so not ideal for swimming, but a worthy experience to have swam somewhere other than in England. I think we enjoyed sandcastle building more than the swimming, but again, braving the cold gives me a proud feeling, kind of like I just conquered a fear. Scheveningen reminded me of cross between how I imagine Los Angeles, and Skegness. I hope thats not taken as an insult though… I thought this place was extremely peaceful, and enjoyed seeing all the paragliders – maybe I should return and try paragliding next.
Cley next the Sea
I went on a weekend holiday to Blakeney in Norfolk with my family, during which the weather was amazing. This, combined with the sea air, made me want to go swimming so badly, but the estuary in Blakeney was just too shallow for a swim. Instead, one afternoon some of us drove to the nearest official beach, Cley next the sea, for a swim, while the others stayed in the hotel to watch the Wimbledon final. The beach was shingle like others in the area in Norfolk, which meant the water was quite clear for the English sea. Small waves made the water good for swimming, and the long flat beach seemed like it went on for miles. While staring into the distance of the coastline, we spotted a looming grey raincloud, which sure enough was over our heads just at the point we were getting out. In typical British weather fashion, the sky over the hotel about 2 miles down the road was crystal clear, blue, with not a spot of rain in sight.
The Latitude lake
In potentially the hottest temperatures of the year, swimming in the lake at Latitude festival was the most refreshing feeling. To get in the water you had to jump off a platform, but that was just what we needed. I think they were holding swimming lessons too.
Okay.. I just dipped a toe. But the intentions were there and it was awesome to see. I believe its worth noting because seeing Loch Ness was part of my first ever visit to Scotland. Loch Ness is so deep you could fit the empire state building in it, lengthways. Learnt that from a real scotsman I did; accent and all.
After spending a long weekend volunteering with Oxfam at Boardmasters festival in Newquay, we were all feeling a bit groggy. It was hot, I was annoyed at having to do everyones washing up. But the thing that would make me feel better was right outside the flat we were staying in. The cool ocean of Whipsiderry Beach, another one of Newquays finest beaches. Again, the boys who accompanied were not happy about the temperature of the water, so they went to do some on-land cave exploring while I did some water based exploring of my own. I came across a couple of jellyfish, but on the whole that swim was lovely. And I was out for ages, so felt like a badass for enduring the cold.
RaceHub at Six Hills
Six Hills golf club is a spot in Leicestershire I first visited the year before. Its purposely used for triathlon training, so you don’t get any funny looks for swimming. Everyones really nice, they have facilities, and its also a really beautiful place. The lake is designed to be swum in circuits around the central island, but we just lazed around in the water for the most part, followed by watching a beautiful sunset over the lake.
King Lears lake, Watermead country park
The problem with Six Hills is that its only open for swimming at certain times on certain days of the week. One day it was boiling hot and I was lying in the garden thinking I just had to find a place to swim. Honestly I thought I would’t find anywhere spontaneously because where I live I usually have to travel for a while to get to a good spot, but I got lucky finding this place. In Leicestershire again, this lake is in Watermead country park, close to Six Hills. Going there on a sunny afternoon alone was so peaceful. There were other swimmers in the water, the water was calm and warm enough to stay in a long time, I swam from the jetty area to the statue of King Lear and back again. The next week I took my mum, who also liked it. Also here is the place I swam with ducks. They are so much faster than they look. I couldn’t keep up. I think this spot is one of my new favourite places, even took the lilo out for a spin.
Szechenyi Thermal Baths, Budapest
After years of wanting to go to Budapest, I finally persuaded someone to go with me. We visited these baths on a winter holiday, which made the thermal aspect all the most luxurious. Szechenyi were the ones we chose to visit because of the huge range of pools and the outdoor area, which had jacuzzi jets and fountains amidst the almost freezing outdoor temperatures. It was a brilliant end to the wild swimming year – on a much more relaxing note than how it started. Hungary is famed for its natural thermal waters, theres a whole load of interesting history about it, which we unfortunately did not pay enough attention to on the boat tour we went on the previous day. Too busy drinking cheap beer and living the life.
I often find places to swim on wildswim.com, so massive shoutout to the people who run that site – I wouldn’t have found half these places without the wildswim map. The concept behind the site is basically a community of swimmers who plot places to swim on a map and describe their experiences in these places, with warnings and other advice. These descriptions are so useful, so hopefully me writing my experiences with some of the spots I have swam in will be of use in helping others who love wild swimming find cool swim spots too. I’ve had a lot of fun dragging my friends to these weird and wonderful places in 2016 and I look forward to more of the same this year.