Christina here. There’s a lot of talk about wild swimming these days. It seems to be a recent concept, even though the practice is as old as time. The term just means swimming outside in a body of natural water – lakes, rivers, waterfalls or the sea. The main thing is that it isn’t man-made. The phenomenon is increasingly being romanticised (at least here in the UK) as it becomes more popular, with lots of people extolling the virtues of going back to natural bathing in this way. Perhaps because we were all shut in for so long during the pandemic, the freedom of swimming outdoors seems extra special. And I agree – it is!
I’ve long been a huge fan of freshwater bathing in particular – I much prefer it to the briny sea, although I’ll happily swim anywhere. Unlike the ocean, though, the water in lakes and rivers isn’t salty so you end up feeling really clean and refreshed. There is no need for a shower afterwards and even your hair will be extra soft.
I spent almost all my childhood summers in a cottage by a lake and was probably in the water more than I was out of it. School finished at the beginning of June and we would move out to the cottage soon after, staying until classes began again in the autumn. Sometimes we went out there for weekends before that though, and if I was allowed, I could be found swimming as early as May when the water was very chilly indeed. I think the coldest I braved was 16 degrees Celsius and since I was a skinny little kid, I usually emerged more or less blue (or so my mother claims). It didn’t stop me as I am, and always have been, a complete water baby.
Calling it wild swimming seems a tad pretentious to me, but if it gets more people interested, I’m all for it. Obviously it’s healthy and a great way of exploring the outdoors. Often it can provide solitude, peace and quiet if you can find a less frequented spot. And for those who are always on the look-out for a challenge or adventure, wild swimming can definitely give you that. Especially if you choose to do it during the colder half of the year. There are also some spectacular places in which to swim. Personally, I’d love to find a small waterfall with a pool beneath it – that sounds perfect!
I’ve never tried ice/winter bathing, but those who have say it makes every part of you feel truly alive. I felt that way just swimming in a cold lake during the summer, so I can imagine it’s ten times more refreshing in winter. I doubt I’ll ever try it though. That would be a step too far for me.
Some people seem to think the health benefits can include curing things like addiction and mental illness as well. Experiencing nature in this way can have a calming effect, so perhaps that is the thinking behind this. There is no doubt that it is extremely enjoyable and very relaxing. And one of the best things about it is that you don’t need any expensive gear – just a swimsuit and the ability to swim. There are those who use wetsuits – understandable for instance if you’re braving the freezing cold ocean – but I’ve never tried that. Apparently, you can also get special wild swimming changing robes! I suppose if you’ve swum in the North Sea in winter, or something equally challenging, that might be a good idea.
Swimming in any form is a great way to exercise (and incidentally the only sporty activity I’ve ever enjoyed as you don’t get sweaty!). It is low impact and helps with both a cardio workout and muscle strength. You can push yourself or just do it for fun. Is there anything more wonderful than just floating on your back, being rocked by the water that cradles you? Bliss!
Naturally, one has to choose a safe spot in which to swim. There are lots of places where tides and currents are extremely dangerous. Even strong swimmers can easily get in trouble in such situations so it is always best to do some research first.
During a recent trip to Sweden, I couldn’t resist a dip in a local lake. It’s not often you get a heatwave over there, but when you do there is nothing better than a swim in one of the thousands of lakes that dot the landscape. Most of them are not very deep and warm up quickly. The one I found was a very pleasant temperature and I was able to walk straight in. None of that timid dipping of one toe after another, trying to become used to the chill before immersing myself.
In historical romance novels, outdoor bathing is an often used trope, especially for a first meeting between the hero and heroine. And although it wasn’t in the original book, who can forget Colin Firth’s impromptu swim in the TV adaptation of Pride & Prejudice? I had a similar scene myself in my story Highland Storms and it was a lot of fun to write. Having the hero or heroine stumble upon the other while they are taking advantage of some forest pool or river always adds a little spice to a story. I’ve read countless Regencies where this occurs and I always enjoy them. It seems especially daring at a time when everyone was supposed to be covered up from top to toe and even a bare ankle was deemed immodest.
I’ve also used bathing and/or swimming in many of my other stories, most recently Tempted by the Runes where the hero and heroine have their very own hot spring at their farmstead in Iceland. Now that is the ultimate wild swimming experience!
Are you a fan of wild swimming? If so, what is your favourite spot?
And do you have any favourite swimming/bathing scenes from books you've read? Any recommendations?