Behind the Turner Contemporary in Margate, UK, there’s a little stretch of beach that I like to swim at. At low tide, you can see Antony Gormly’s ‘Another Time,’ one in a series of one hundred solid cast-iron figures sited around the world. At high tide, the water laps up against the ramp used by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to drive down their life-saving vessels for patrols out on the sea. It is the perfect little spot to swim, cut off from the Main Sands by the Harbour Arm.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of plunging into a rolling tide with the sharp chill of the water and the bright sky above. “Wild swimming” is the practice of swimming for pleasure in natural waters, and it is a truly magical experience that immerses you in the wonders of the water. The tranquillity of being in the water and the scenic atmosphere create an unparalleled sense of peace and relaxation. The feeling of weightlessness as you float effortlessly in the water is exhilarating. It’s a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and connect with the natural world.
Wild swimming also has numerous benefits for both physical and mental health. Swimming is a low-impact exercise that strengthens muscles and improves cardiovascular health. The fresh air and sunlight also provide a natural boost of energy and mood-lifting benefits. But perhaps the greatest joy of wild swimming is the sense of adventure and exploration. There’s something thrilling about discovering a hidden cove or secluded patch of sand and the sense of accomplishment that comes with pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
In Waterlog, a memoir by Roger Deakin takes the reader on a journey through the author’s experiences of swimming in various bodies of water across the UK. The book delves into the history and culture of outdoor swimming in the UK, exploring the environmental and social issues surrounding it. Through his writing, Deakin celebrates the joys of swimming in nature and the profound connection it fosters between humans and the natural world. “When you enter the water, something like a metamorphosis happens. Leaving behind the land, you go through the looking-glass surface and enter a new world in which survival, not ambition or desire, is the dominant aim.”
Farther along the waterfront in Margate is the old Lido. The history of UK lidos spans over a century, as the first outdoor swimming pools became popular in the 1930s. They were built primarily in urban areas and offered an affordable way for working-class families to cool off during the hot summer months. However, the industry faced challenges during World War II, and the rise of indoor swimming pools and changing cultural attitudes towards outdoor swimming contributed to the decline of lidos in the latter half of the 20th century. In recent years, there has been renewed interest in lidos, and many historic pools have been restored and reopened to the public. Today, lidos are once again a cherished part of British culture.
But it’s not just in the northern hemispheres, of course. Outdoor public swimming pools hold a significant place in countries like Australia, too. These pools were established in the early 20th century to similarly promote healthy living and provide a social hub for various communities. Today, lidos have become an integral part of Australian culture, with one of the most famous examples being the Bondi Icebergs Club, founded in 1929 and still in operation. Despite facing numerous challenges, such as closures and maintenance issues, lidos remain a cherished part of the Australian way of life, attracting both locals and tourists alike to their refreshing waters and vibrant atmospheres.
Before embarking on a wild swim, it is crucial to ensure that you are fully prepared to do so safely. Here are five key safety points to keep in mind:
check the water conditions
Before entering the water, make sure to check the current, temperature, and depth of the water. If the conditions are not suitable for swimming, it’s best to wait for another time.
wear appropriate gear
Make sure to wear suitable swimwear and any other necessary gear, such as a wetsuit or swim cap. This will not only improve your comfort levels but also keep you safe and protected while in the water. On particularly cold days, water shoes and gloves work well to regulate your body temperature.
swim with a partner
It’s always best and more fun to swim with a partner or group, as this can greatly reduce the risk of accidents or emergencies. Make sure to establish a clear communication plan and keep an eye on each other at all times.
know your limits
It can be tempting to push yourself when wild swimming, but it’s important to know your limits and never swim beyond your abilities. If you feel tired or uncomfortable, exit the water and take a break.
respect the environment
Finally, it’s important to respect the natural environment and wildlife around you. Avoid disturbing any plants or animals, and never leave any litter or waste behind. By doing so, you can help preserve these beautiful and tranquil locations for others to enjoy.
On days when I take the slightly longer stroll back from swimming at Walpole Bay tidal pool, there’s a grounding sensation in my step. My hair is still wet, and my skin is scented with salt water; I feel at ease in my body and the world. Wild swimming can be a truly magical and transformative experience. So take the plunge and discover the joys and beauty of this unique activity for yourself. ■