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A guide to outdoor swimming in the UK

Written by Fiona

December 08 2019

Outdoor swimming is fast growing in popularity in the UK and this article will offer tips on how to find the perfect swimming spot.

Outdoors swimming is also known as open water swimming or wild swimming. And many people are realising the health benefits of wild swimming. These include claims of improved sleep, better circulation, less ill-health, such as colds and viruses, boosted mood and a faster metabolism.

To get started with outdoor swimming it’s important to know how to stay safe and where you can go for a dip.

Where to go wild swimming

In the UK, you can swim in the sea, lakes and rivers although the laws in each country is a bit different. Scotland has the enviable Scottish Outdoor Access Code that legally allows people to roam – and swim – relatively freely in the countryside and in open water so long as they do so responsibly. So, in Scotland it’s possible to swim in lochs and rivers across the country with a large amount of freedom.

Across the rest of the UK, it is more complicated. There is no legal right, as such, to swim in open water but there are many places that people do access. It’s a question of finding the right places and behaving responsibly.

For example, there are lakes and sections of rivers that are considered private property and these should be avoided, or you might need to pay to access these.

Also, many swimmers suggest that as long as you are not trespassing, then you can swim in most public places and open spaces. It’s also said to be legal to swim in any “navigable” waters, which means waters that are open to boats. Read Is it legal.

Once you do find an area of water to swim in, there are other checks to make, including whether the area is subject to strong currents and avoiding reservoir outflows and canal lockgates, for example.

To stay safe, you should swim with other people and they will show you some of their favourite places to swim. At first, stay close to the shore and then, as you gain in confidence and skills, you can venture into deeper water.

Swim with a brightly coloured float for safety. Credit: Danielle

Join The Outdoor Swimming Society

Offering a range of great guides, information, blog posts and updates for free, the Outdoor Swimming Society is a great resource for anyone looking to take up outdoor swimming as a hobby.

The society has members based across the UK and offers regular updates on the latest events, rules, advice and other developments in the outdoor swimming space.

You can also use your membership as a chance to meet new people who are also interested in outdoor swimming and really immerse yourself in your new hobby.

Join a swimming group

There are plenty of open water swimming groups that offer the chance to swim in a group and learn the skills. You can also take open water swimming lessons. Even if you are a competent swimmer in a pool, heading into open water has different challenges.

Buy a boat to explore waterways

One great way to explore local waters in your area of the UK and find the best outdoor swimming hotspots is to buy a boat. Owning your own boat will give you the freedom to navigate local rivers and canals so you can see where the best outdoor swimming areas are.

An inland boating option that’s great for those who want to travel throughout the UK is a narrowboat, as these vessels are large enough to live on for several days as you traverse the country in search of the perfect swimming spot. There’s a variety of narrow boats for sale throughout the UK so you can find your ideal temporary home for when you want to go in search of far-flung outdoor swimming spaces. 

Stay safe by swimming with other people and looking out for each other.

Get the right gear

Some people choose to swim in a wetsuit, while others swim “skins” (in only a swimming costume). A swimming wetsuit is designed to keep you warm in cold water and also allow the freedom of movement for swimming.

Other items that you might want to consider, especially in winer, include a neoprene swimming hat, gloves and socks. Many wild swimmers also tie a brightly coloured float to their body so that can be easily seen by other people.

Swimming goggles are a necessity, too. Choose goggles that are designed for open water and cold water, although you could also use the same goggles as you would in an indoor pool.

A towelling robe for after the swim is a good idea. When you come out of the water, the chances are you’ll be a bit shivery. It is important that you can get warm quickly, and say warm. .

Outdoor swimming is a great way for nature lovers, thrill seekers and swimmers of all ages and abilities to get active, enjoy some fresh air and learn more about the UK’s beautiful water habitats. These tips should help anyone who’s looking to take up outdoor swimming to get started and enjoy many fun years swimming in outdoor destinations around the country.

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