I have to say that before the first lockdown, the slightly murky, industrial looking estuary that is a five-minute walk from my house, wasn’t really calling to me in terms of swimming. But it’s funny how a pandemic can change your outlook on things.
I’m not new to outdoor swimming. My first dip was in lake Bala in Wales in my nappy after my parents failed to talk me out of it. Since then I haven’t been able to keep away from water. I think like many people, I find water very calming and so naturally I have taken up hobbies like, diving, surfing, sailing and paddle boarding. Before the pandemic, I used to swim several times a week at my local pool but when that shut down I wondered how I could fill the gap.
A friend and I were walking along the beach one sunny day and decided, desperate times, desperate measures, why don’t we just go swimming in Southampton Water? And so, since March 2020, we have been swimming once a week to escape childcare duties, lockdown monotony, and the four walls of our houses. In the summer we would swim past Netley Castle with cans of G&T in our tow floats to keep them cool and we would enjoy these on the beach afterwards watching the sun go down. The murky looking estuary we had taken for granted had become very important to us.
As the days turned colder we decided to challenge ourselves to swimming through the winter. You might think that lockdown is a challenge enough but I have loved the challenge of leaving the house early on a Sunday morning during wind, rain, shine or even snow to walk down to the shore and then walk into the freezing water. I enjoyed it so much I went on celebratory swims at Boxing day and New Year too.
Thousands of others have realised the benefits of outdoor swimming during the lockdown and it has become very popular. Along the way we’ve met likeminded people who we would all turn up to swim at high tide. Some people swim in wetsuits others prefer standard swimwear (also called skins), some people buy purpose made kit like dry robes, and others make do with what they already have such as dressing gowns or big coats and there are a broad range of ages from those in their 70’s to others a bit younger but all with big smiles. Nearly every time we go swimming we collect new Netley Swimmers as passers-by ask us about what we’re doing, what it’s like, can they come or just yell encouragement at us or tell us we’re mad.
When I look out on a Sunday and see a grey day outside I know that when I get down to the water there will be something that happens that makes that swim great, whether it’s a seal turning up to swim with us, my swim buddy bringing citrus morning buns or homemade sloe gin or just the sunshine twinkling on the beautifully still clear water. Once I even found a bit of shipwreck! And failing that there is always a hot chocolate laced with rum to look forward to afterwards.
There are safety considerations, and if you’re thinking of taking up outdoor swimming then make sure you do your research first to understand the area you want to swim in and gain an understanding of tides, currents, pollution or other hazards. Know your limits and stick to them, both swimming ability and how to handle the cold. The Outdoor Swimming Society have lots of great tips if you are new to outdoor swimming. There is plethora of purpose-built safety equipment available such as tow floats and you can find plenty of tips on YouTube on how to make your own dry robe out of a shower curtain, or advice like how to handle overly friendly swans!
My swim buddy and I have decided that we’re not going to stop swimming, even when were allowed back into pools, as lets face it, pools are not quite as exciting and rarely contain seals or castles. We’ve set ourselves new challenges but most importantly, we have learnt to just enjoy each and every swim, whether it be an invigorating five minute dip or a more leisurely half hour wallow in the sun.
If you want to find out more about my outdoor swimming adventures (and shipwrecks!) you can find me on Instagram @wreckybeccy or follow the hashtag #netleyswimmers.
Where can I go outdoor swimming in Derbyshire?
Go Dive are based in landlocked Derbyshire but our more local friends and customers can still get swimming outdoors. Our local outdoor swimming venue is just a few miles from the shop.
Whether you are new to open water swimming, a casual swimmer or a pro, Spring Lakes is the perfect place for you. Take a dip in their beautifully clear, spring fed water. Swim into lake 2 during the warmer months and float away from everyday stress. Socialise with swimming family and make some new friends for life whilst enjoying a hot drink and a slice of cake in their Waters Edge café. Spring Lakes aim to offer open water swimming all year round at more flexible times for all swimmers. A lifeguard will always be on hand whilst you swim. Give it a go! We did and we highly recommend it.
Discover other Derbyshire outdoor swimming venues here.
Shop for open water swimming, and other water sports products, here.