Wild Swimming in Cornwall
In Cornwall we are lucky to have an abundance of places to enjoy wild swimming in the cold water. We spoke to Lydia, Bethany and Max, founders of Wild Swimming Cornwall, to find out why we should all be trying it.
Sounds, well, cold! Talk me in?
There’s so many physical and mental benefits to wild swimming – a sense of community, self-care and an affinity with nature through cold water to name a few.
Immersing yourself in cold water actually makes you more resilient to stress, as your stress receptors are strengthened by the adrenaline rush. This leaves you better prepared mentally for what life throws your way, whilst also boosting your confidence and helping you to realise that you are capable of overcoming challenges if you set your mind to it.
This is a large part of the reason that the three of us have adapted wild swimming as part of our lifestyle; it has been a critical part of us overcoming personal challenges in life and our individual struggles with mental health, whether anxiety, agoraphobia, PTSD or depression.
And what about physical benefits?
You can expect to experience increased metabolism due to the production of more brown fat cells than white fat cells, which burn more calories and increase heat production.
You can also expect increased immunity, blood circulation and of course, improved fitness and physical strength.
It even helps us to experience less pain!
I’m almost convinced! Anything else to persuade me?
We like the affinity with nature it gives us. We’ve also become more environmentally conscious – we see the impacts of plastic pollution during each trip to the beach and take anything we find away with us.
One of our favourite things about wild swimming is that it is an accessible form of exercise for people of all ages and demographics. Suspension in water alleviates the stress put on bones and muscles experienced during other forms of exercise, making it easier for people who struggle with arthritis and reduced mobility to participate in a rejuvenating form of exercise.
It’s also free! As long as you can swim it doesn’t matter what your social status or income – there’s a real sense of community in sharing the joys of nature with others.
Do I need any kit?
No! Well, you’ll probably want a swim suit unless you find yourself at a nudist beach! Some swimmers also choose to wear boots/neoprene socks as the bottom (particularly if you’re swimming in a river) can be sludgy but we don’t usually find that at the beaches in Cornwall.
If you’re planning on swimming anywhere near boats (or out of your depth for any distance) you might also want to to consider a tow float and brightly coloured swim hat so you can be seen more easily.
The kind of swimming that requires a tow float is obviously not recommended for those that are new to wild swimming, and you’ll need to be confident of water safety and your own ability. If you want more information on how to go about training for and participating in longer swims check out Lynne Cox’s Open Water Swimming Manual.
Plus, no matter what time of year, it’s always worth taking a warm hat, jumper, pair of socks and a coat for after you get out of the water to help you warm up quickly and prevent your core body temperature from dropping. A flask of tea or coffee will also go down a treat!
How often do you get in?
We find ourselves in the water several times a week all year round, favouring no wetsuit. The physical and psychological benefits are hugely amplified by experiencing the rush of adrenaline our bodies release when they enter into cold water.
However, this is not to say that you can’t wear a wetsuit, particularly if you have poor circulation and struggle to regulate your body temperature and it is important to make sure that you don’t stay in the water for too long otherwise there is an increased risk of hypothermia or cold water shock.
Now is the perfect time to give it a go, as the sea is around 13 degrees Celsius, whereas it can be as low as 9 in the winter. In the winter, even thirty seconds is enough, whilst on warmer days (October is typically warmest) we may be in for fifteen to twenty minutes. Each person’s body is different, so it is important to know your individual limits and to know that mostly you won’t feel the cold until after you leave the water.
It’s best to start out slowly and build up how long you’re spending in the water gradually over time. Our #30daysofswimming challenge is the perfect way for people to build up their resilience to cold water and to get to know their limits over the course of wild swimming every day for a month.
What’s the challenge, and how do we join in?
We are encouraging people (from all demographics and genders) to get into the water every day for 30 days so that they can experience the benefits of wild swimming and really get to enjoy what it has to offer.
At the moment there are a lot of groups and retreats encouraging women to participate and we are hoping that our page and the #30daysofswimming challenge will lead to more men participating too.
We also want to offer a place to positively encourage each other and commend each other on our progress. We have had quite a few people participate and it is amazing to watch! Share your progress via social media by tagging us at @wildswimmingcornwall (#30daysofswimming).
Is it a solo pursuit, or is a group better?
The RNLI’s advice is that you go with another person in case you encounter any form of trouble.
It’s also really important to respect the ocean and to know that there are risks such as rip currents, pollution, debris, tides, marine creatures and more. We don’t want to scaremonger, but it’s important to be aware of these things just in case something goes wrong, to have an emergency plan in place and to head to lifeguarded beaches where possible.
Remember to swim parallel to the beach rather than out towards to sea and for less confident swimmers to stay within their depth (so that you can stand and touch the floor).
See our website (and the Muddy beach safety guide) – ultimately each day is different and therefore the risks are too, so it’s important to conduct your own risk assessment (water conditions, temperature and weather conditions) every time you go for a swim and to know your own limits.
Any Cornish groups I should look up?
Imogen Money of @im_fitness on Instagram takes people in at Falmouth each weekend, there’s a group in St Mawes and Bude too, and various other groups that you can find on Facebook such as the @bluetits that host swims and swimming events around the country including Perranporth, Porthtowan, Portreath, Newquay, St Agnes and Plymouth in Cornwall, as well as Porthleven’s Salty Sisters.
If you’re nervous, going with a group is an excellent way of overcoming your fears and entering the water in a supportive environment. There are also Open Water Swimming coaches such as In The Wet Stuff based on the Roseland who can help give you specialised training in a safe environment.
Alternatively, swimming retreats are an excellent way to build confidence over the course of a few days whilst taking some time to relax. For example, the Salt Sisterhood and Sophie Hellyer offer several retreats a year in Cornwall.
How can I acclimatise to cold water?
To reduce the risks of cold water shock, it’s advised to gradually enter the water over the course of two to three minutes, particularly when you’re first starting out.
To build up your resilience to the cold you can also prepare yourself by taking cold showers, to start with you can turn your shower to cold at the end and gradually increase the length of time. Incorporating deep breathing practices is also a great method to remain calm in cold water. Check out Wim Hoff’s Vice documentary if you want to discover more techniques and see the lengths of human endurance in cold water.
Go on, I’m convinced – where should I wild swim in Cornwall?
The most important aspect of choosing somewhere to swim is that it is safe. This can be at a beach or inland (rivers, quarries, lidos).
For inland spots in particular it is really important to ensure water is not polluted and that there are no hidden obstacles under the water. Though of course, these are risks in the ocean too.
A middle ground might be to start with one of these tidal pools which is exposed at low water, or start with one of the following well-known wild swimming spots.
Goldiggins Quarry, Bodmin Moor
Golitha Falls, Nr Liskeard
St Nectan’s Glen, Tintagel
Polperro Bathing Pool
Treyarnon Bay Rockpool
What’s your favourite place to swim?
It’s difficult to suggest any one location in Cornwall to swim as we have so many amazing places and the conditions vary day to day, but anyone who has followed our social media will know that we are huge fans of the Helford River.
All images ©Max Cambell