31 Days Wild Swimming
Throughout July, Charlie Young, a Marine Scientist and Presenter, along with her friend, Wildlife Camera Op. Ben Harris completed a personal challenge of swimming in a wild body of water every day. Here is what a month of wild swimming taught them.
As the world began to wake after lockdown, I started looking for adventure closer to home. With traveling restrictions in place and the beach a bit too far away to travel to, Ben and I found ourselves at a local river taking advantage of our new found freedom.
I had read about the health benefits of wild swimming just a couple of months before and had been eager to try it out. After weeks cooped up inside, a challenge like this is just what we both needed.
As soon as I got in the water for that first dip, the weeks of stress were instantly washed away. The cold comfort of water enveloped me in a calm embrace, and like a tonic, it soothed my soul and centred my mind. I couldn’t wait for all the swims to come.
During the first week of our challenge our commitment was tested. It rained every day and summer temperatures didn’t peak much higher than 16 degrees. Often chilled and soggy, even before we got in, we would have to push through our reluctance but were never not rewarded. Each cold dip felt as refreshing as one on a sun-baked afternoon and just days into swimming, we had already seen so many things people don’t get to see. Dragonflies and kingfishers danced above our heads whilst fish puckered at the surface creating ripples like soft raindrops. All around us was a world full of life and all on my doorstep.
Swimming very quickly became part of our daily routines. After two weeks of swimming getting into cold water got much easier and each swim became a ceremonious way to baptise the day and re-set after work.
Before this challenge I hadn’t spent much time in or around rivers before. Growing up next to the ocean I never felt the draw to them. Whenever I saw a river I thought it always looked dirty and uninviting. Not something I would want to swim in!
It’s a beautiful thing to have your mindset changed about something. This challenge meant I got to know rivers, a completely different place in nature to one I had explored before. I now realise that my previously bleak outlook on them wasn’t wrong, but is only a reality because we don’t look after them.
According to The Rivers Trust only 14% of rivers in England are considered to be in good ecological health. Plastic pollution, run-off and raw sewage all plague our waterways. In 2019, environmental NGO’s discovered that raw sewage had been discharged 200,000 times into rivers across the UK and not just during heavy rainfall. Although neither of us got ill from our challenge, we did experience days with obvious signs of pollution. Normally we would probably choose not to get in, but as were committed to swimming not matter what, we would just be sensible and not dunk our heads under on these days.
Despite the experience of pollution shedding light on the state of our rivers, it didn’t detract from the benefits we both felt swimming every day. A daily dose of nature mixed with some physical activity helped improve my concentration and productivity ten-fold, and my overall mood was significantly lifted.
This challenge gifted me with so much more than a daily activity to help get both my mind and body back on track after lockdown, but taught me that rivers are an oasis on our doorstep and time spent in the water is infinitely good for the soul.
With wild swimming becoming an increasingly popular activity, I urge people to reciprocate the gift they provide us of a soothing escape with love and care for them. For those concerned about pollution, check out The Rivers Trust interactive map for water quality ratings before you dip and always use your common sense. If the water doesn’t look right, don’t get in. But don’t let this put you off. If you do choose to swim you will be rewarded with an experience you can never get if you stay with two feet on firm ground.
To learn more about rivers and how you can help, here are some useful links:
Canal and River Trust – https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/
The Rivers Trust – https://www.theriverstrust.org/what-we-do/projects/
Surfers Against Sewage – Petition: https://www.sas.org.uk/endsewagepollution/