The UK is laden with an incredible number of rivers, lakes, waterfalls, coves, caves and beaches – but unfortunately most of these beautiful and natural swimming locations remain largely underused. In fact, we probably don’t even consider them to be swimming locations. What happened to outdoor swimming? Why do most of us prefer confined, chlorinated pools to open skies and rain-fed spaces in which to practice our doggy-paddle? In the early 1900s there were river swimming clubs and lidos all over the country, but it seems outdoor swimming died out as indoor pools came in. As a result of our highly urbanised lifestyles, many of us simply lack the confidence and know-how to reverse this attitude.
The OSS – Outdoor Swimming Society – was set up in 2006 by founder Kate New to support and encourage swimming outdoors. If you’ve ever looked hesitantly at a sparkling river on a hot summers day while wanting to jump in, then your first step could be here. The OSS has thousands of members all over the UK and coordinate many open water mass swims over summer that anyone can join. You can sign up to the OSS newsletter, to receive free news of every aspect of open water: events, safety, training, art, literature and ecology. Or you can join join the movement on OSS Facebook and take part in free social swims and talk to the collective.
The mission of the OSS is expessed so well in the PATRON STATEMENT by Robert Macfarlane, that we had to repeat it here:
“To enter wild water is to cross a border. You pass the lake’s edge, the sea’s shore, the river’s brink – and you break the surface of the water itself. In doing so, you move from one realm into another: a realm of freedom, adventure, magic, and occasionally of danger.
The Outdoor Swimming Society is there to give people a passport to a different world, or worlds. Once you see open water as something to be entered, rather than driven around, flown over or stopped at the brink of, then even familiar landscapes become rife with adventure. Britain seems newly permeable, excitingly deepened. Every lake or loch or lough or llyn is a bathing pool, every river a journey, every tide or wave a free ride. As a wild swimmer, you become an explorer of the undiscovered country of the nearby, passing through great geological portals (Durdle Door in Dorset), floating over drowned cities (Dunwich) and kelp jungles (The Scillies), spelunking into sea-caves (The Llyn Peninsula), or stroking out into the centre of cold Loch Ness, where the water is ‘black as space’.”
On the off-chance that terms such as moving from one realm to another, floating and spelunking fail to move you, this Guardian article describing the top ten wild swimming spots around the UK, surely must.
For a slightly different perspective around the same topic, we also love the work of independent filmmakers Sophie and Liberty from islandsandrivers.com. They find inspiration from bike rides, being by water, making things and meeting people. Although their short film Murmuration was doing the rounds on the social media circuit some years ago – the simple beauty of the film still captures our imagination. This summer, this could so easily be us in the silly hats
If all of that isn’t enough, further reference, information and advice can also be found here: www.wildswimming.co.uk. If you’ve been pondering swimming outdoors in the UK, but still haven’t managed it yet – it’s definitely time.Subscribe now by email and get new posts sent directly to your inbox!