The swimming community is awesome and is not backward in coming forward. I get asked lots of questions both on Instagram and Twitter, and in real life. So, I thought it might be fun to publish the most frequently asked here and some of the answers I give. If you have a burning swimming question not answered here, do not hesitate to get in touch.
How can I get into wild swimming?
Go for a paddle! That’s what I always say when someone tells me they want to start wild swimming and don’t know where to start. Get to know the water slowly, building up your resistance to the cold and developing your confidence. Take off your shoes and socks and get wet, then go a bit further next time. There is a growing number of wild swimming groups across the UK and they’re generally a welcoming bunch, so reach out to one of them to start swimming regularly and safely.
If you’re quite nervous about getting started, then it could be a good idea to book a one-to-one session with an experienced swimmer, who can teach you the basics. The lovely Vivienne Rickman, who I enjoyed a mountain swim weekend with in Snowdonia last year, also runs wild swim water confidence sessions and I know they’ll be super informative and reassuring. Tell her I sent you.
Where did you get that swimming costume?
While I do have a vast collection of swimming costumes and bikinis, and I wear most of them fairly regularly, this question is usually directed at my purple one-piece emblazoned with puffins. This snazzy little number is from Batoko, a swimwear company that make their costumes out of recycled plastic waste. When you combine the colourful designs with the fact that they’re keeping plastic out of the ocean, it’s a win-win situation. I do love my puffins, but I have got my eye on the lobsters too – really cute.
Which lidos are open year round?*
There is definitely a distinct lido season in the UK, which stretches from May to September, when all the outdoor pools open and lido enthusiasts pack in as many as possible. A number of pools hold special events outside of this time, like full moon swims or Christmas dips, and others stretch out the season by welcoming cold-water lovers once they’ve switched the heating off – I’m looking at you Helmsley.
Despite this, there are several lidos that stay open year round, kept going by dedicated swimmers who prefer to get their weekly lengths in under the sky. I personally, have taken advantage of this at London Fields Lido, which stays open until 9pm, offering lots of opportunity to swim no matter what your other commitments in the capital might be. Whilst in London in winter, you can also check out Brockwell Lido, Parliament Hill Lido or Charlton Lido for a swim.
If you want to take your lido experience to the next level, then there’s always Lido Bristol and Thames Lido, which offer luxury swim sessions that can be combined with spa treatments or decadent meals. The times are quite restrictive for non-members, but if you’re looking for something a little special in Bristol or Reading it looks well worth the effort of reorganising your schedule.
And if you’re happy to travel further afield, I fully recommend Helsinki’s Allas Sea Pool. I swam there in February and it was life-affirming. As well as the cold-water pool, there’s also a heated pool and several saunas. What’s not to love?!
Can you just go and swim in the lakes in the Azores?
I approached swimming in the lakes of Sao Miguel in the Azores in the same way I would go about taking a dip anywhere else. I made sure it was safe and I was respectful of the awesome nature surrounding me. There’s nothing to say you can’t swim in the likes of Lagoa Verde, but it’s always important to think about water quality, routes in and out, and other things that could be lurking underneath the water. I was lucky enough to be travelling with my best friend who works for the Environment Agency, who did a quick web search to check the status of the water for me, but anyone can do this too.
There is a dedicated swimming zone in Lagoa Azul, which is watched over by lifeguards in the summer, making it a good place for a dip. There are loads of places to swim on Sao Miguel, not just the lakes, so you can decide what you’re most comfortable with – sometimes it’s nice to have the reassurance of lifeguards on duty and people around, and other times it’s the tranquility of a solo swim that is calling.
Isn’t it cold?
This is my most-commonly asked question. Cold-water swimming doesn’t appeal to everyone and the truth is I’m blessed with a body that doesn’t shy away from that delicious tingle. In fact, it’s that sensation that I love and keeps me coming back for more and why I don’t wear a wetsuit – I want to fully feel the cold water on my skin. But cold water should be respected. I did not just go and jump in a minus two-degree lake in Finland without having fully acclimatised first.
I swam through the winter in the Firth of Forth at Portobello, readying myself for that icy dip. May is a good time to start outdoor swimming, as the waters of the UK are starting to warm up and if you want to swim in the colder months, don’t stop when September comes. Your body will slowly adjust to the minute changes and before you know it you’re swimming at sunrise in February with frost on the sand and a bobble hat on your head.
*Obviously 2020 is a peculiar fish and not all lidos opened this summer/those that are open are operating under different arrangements