It's the night before Halloween as Kari and I enter our seventh hour of driving to the Lake District. Wind flaps agaist the wet canvas of a passing lorry and the sky is the colour of wet concrete. There are another 43 miles to go. 'We could go for a swim when we get there?' I venture. 'We could,' says Kari, peering through sheets of rain.
And so it is that...Kari and I struggle into our wetsuits by the boot of the car, which we've parked half in a puddle. Water pours from our B&B's scaffolding and every now and then a gust of wind slaps it into our faces.
Wetsuited-up we pick our way through a wood to the shore. The path is dry and springy with pine. We can hear the wind coming in rushes, blowing in such sharp forceful bursts we fear for falling branches. We walk with our arms above our heads as protection...
We reach the beach and wade in. Cold burns my ankles. The bay is sheltered and dark, clumps of grasses moving like seals in the water. We have to shout to be heard. 'It shelves quickly here!' Kari reports with a splash as she plunges to her waist. We surge forward, gasping, in jolting breaststroke. We swim past a driftwood tree, smoothed of all bark and bleached silvery in the water. Cold numbs my neck and a cruel trickle of water makes its way right down the center of my breastbone.
We leave the shelter of the bay and go out around the headland. The water looks black until we put our faces in it, at which point round stones shine white underneath. I flip over and swim on my back, looking at the outline of undulating hills. When we kick our feet wind picks up the spray and splashes it back into our faces. It's your archetypal dark and stormy night. We stay close to the shore.
Fifteen minutes later and we're done, and walking back up the path. Even though it's darker now everything seems brighter and sharper: the pine needles on the forest floor individuated, the curve of the path more delightful. The wind comes at the trees above us in deafening bursts, like surf through shingle...
Later that night, we lie in our £25 twin beds with peach dado rails, damask apricot curtains and pearly headboards. Outside the rain pours off the roof, too much for the drains. We have two bright ideas: one to hold a charity swim for breast cancer called Breaststrokes; the other to found an Outdoor Swimming Society, to spread the word about wild swimming.
Sometimes it takes weeks for a holiday to liberate one's thinking about life. Sometimes, with wild swimming, all it takes is one night.
From Wild Swim by Kate Rew, OSS founder and director.
An evocative description of the joys and inspirational effects of a classic wild swim in stormy weather, at night; the very swim that inspired Kate Rew to found the OSS. You might envisage yourself undertaking such a swim, but how do you go about it safely? Risk management is about common sense; however, common sense is something you need to develop, especially if you've rarely or never swum outdoors.
Wild wimming is much like every other outdoor sport: climbing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking. There are risks but they can be moderated. The official UK statistics on water-related deaths show that swimmers do not feature as often as some people think, and put the risks into context. Of the 389 water-realated deaths in the UK in 2013, 59 were swimmers, while 126 were described as walking or running. For a detailed breakdown see:
There are no set rules when considering undertaking any outdoor activity; conditions can change rapidly and dramatically, and individual ability, fitness, knowledge and experience will always play a large role in what’s doable. So it’s vital to be able to judge the conditions on the day, and to understand your own capabilities. Nobody else can tell you what’s safe and what’s not.
As an outdoor swimmer you need to ask yourself certain questions before getting in:
Will I get too cold?
Is it legal?
Is it clean?
Is it safe?
Am I safe?