Wild Swimming South Devon – Swimming in Cold Water

Wild swimming in South Devon, and yes those are the words that put more than 75% of you off – cold water swimming! If you’re the type of person who only likes to dip your toes in the water when in the Seychelles this is not the post for you!

Wild Swimming or swimming as my Dad calls it!

When I think about it I have always been a bit of a cold water swimming fan, I had just forgotten that I was.  Family folklore tells the story of my poor Dad having to wade in to get me when I refused to get out of the sea on Banna Strand on a cold October half term afternoon when I was 6 years old. Btw if you haven’t been to Banna Strand (Tra na Beannai) you really should, it’s still one of my favourite beaches, miles of gorgeous soft yellow sand and gentle rolling waves, beautiful dunes….

Why is Wild Swimming good for you?

Last summer to combat the Lockdown Blues I started swimming in cold water. I am incredibly lucky to live in South Devon and have access to the sea, rivers and Dartmoor so finding somewhere suitable is pretty easy. I started with the kids, they had been moaning that I didn’t come in with them any more, so I joined them.

Gingerly at first, okay if I’m being totally honest it was the threat of being splashed by all three boys at once that got me into the waves. It was freezing, I felt like getting straight out but they wouldn’t let me. And then it happened, two minutes of being in the sea my body said to itself, you’re not going to die, so I relaxed and started to swim and found that I was actually enjoying myself.

Where can I wild Swim in South Devon?

As the Lockdown measures eased crowds started arriving, quite understandably, to the South Devon shores, so we took to the Moors for our dips. Now the thing about swimming on Dartmoor is that the rivers are really quite cold, even in the middle of a lovely heatwave. My best tip – get in quick and start swimming. The more you move the quicker you warm up and the longer you can stay in. There are loads of great places where you can park and swim or if you want a little bit of solitude and don’t mind a walk you can usually find a secluded spot, even in the height of summer [you’ll find our favourite spots listed in the information guide at Anchor Cottage].

Wild Swimming for mental health

2020 was a gloriously hot summer but as the temperature started to drop I made the decision to carry on swimming. It was just making me feel so much better. The first lockdown had affected me much more than I thought it would. It wasn’t that I couldn’t actually welcome any guests to Anchor Cottage, or that the home schooling for three outdoor boys meant hours in front of screens, or that I couldn’t see my family as they lived too far away.

I’m just a person who loves to get out and do stuff, I like hugging people, I enjoy crowds, I love to host. Being stuck at home and being told when and where I could go out just got me feeling a bit down. I know there are lots of people who would be much more comfortable if most social interaction was done by zoom, and that’s really good for them, I’m just not that person.

But as soon as I got in the sea or the river and swam my mood lifted and the positive effect lasted all day long. I had found my natural antidepressant. So I roped in a few mates and we committed to swimming once a week throughout the year.

Is Wild Swimming safe in the winter?

Cold water swimming is safe but you need to follow some basic rules and understand the water that you are going to swim in, tides, flows, currents, rips as well as the weather will all impact your swim. I found the Outdoor Swimming Society is really helpful.

Here are my tips but I’m not qualified and strongly urge you to read up or find someone to guide you if you are new to cold water swimming or the area.

  1. Speak to a local and ask them if there are any dangers, the Yealm is an area of SSI (Special Scientific Interest) because of the rich marine life but this does mean lots of sharp oyster shells that will cut your feet.
  2. Buddy Up – I only ever swim on my own at a beach with either lots of people – I always tell them I’m going in and they’re always very supportive even though they think I’m mad – or with a lifeguard. It’s also loads more fun swimming with someone else!
  3. Go into the water gradually so that you can get used to the temperature slowly, jumping straight into water below 15° can cause a ‘gasp reflex’
  4. Keep aware of your environment, wind, rain, tides can all quickly impact your conditions making an idyllic swim suddenly dangerous.
  5. Swim for enjoyment, the magic will come from being outdoors immersed in nature, you’ll have more fun and encounter less risk if you do what feels comfortable and safe.
  6. Get warm gradually. It’s important to increase your temperature slowly so I like to take a flask of tea and warm up from the inside first. There’s another great article about hypothermia here.

What to wear wild swimming?

October 2020 – I fished out my old 3mm wetsuit and headed for the beach with towel. As the weather and the water got colder I added neoprene booties, gloves and a wooly hat to my armory.

We had a warm Easter but the water was still pretty chilly in April so I wore a wetsuit over a swimsuit and then took the wetsuit off as soon as I was comfortable. The wetsuit finally came off at the end of May but the boots and gloves stayed on until two weeks ago at the sea. I got cramp in my toes which made me realise that swimming along the beach rather than away from it was a very smart move. The boots are back on and I must admit I did also wear gloves when I swam in the Dart last week just so that I could have a longer swim but I wouldn’t bother in the sea now.

Is Wild Swimming Good for you?

Yes! Obviously I can only speak for myself but…

Wild Swimming in South Devon is extremely good for you, go on give it a try….

Want to book Anchor Cottage and get swimming this year? Check availability now.