FEATURES,  Readers' Swims

Wild swimming for beginners!

Last summer I made it my mission to swim in the lakes of the Lake District. There are 16 according to Wikipedia, so I decided to work on those. Of course anyone who has been to a pub quiz will know that the only ‘lake’ in the Lake District is Bassenthwaite Lake, but I thought that’d be too easy! You can find information about access to the lakes on www.lakedistrict.gov.uk, and there are three which you can’t swim in – the reservoirs Thirlmere, Haweswater and Ennerdale. This left 13.

So Charlie (my boyfriend) and I planned to set off in August, hoping for good, warm weather. We are quite experienced open water swimmers, but used to the home comforts at our local lake of hot showers and cafe. The day before we set off, news reports warned of a month’s rain in two days – typical! This didn’t put us off too much – after all, you don’t notice the rain when you’re in the water swimming, but we were apprehensive about changing before and after swimming.

I’ve seen many pictures of wild swimmers and I’ve always been jealous that there are people out there who can bear such low temperatures in just a swimming costume and even look convincingly like they’re enjoying it. That’s not us, so we each took two wetsuits and a large bucket for wet kit. We were away for a week, so did multiple swims on some days, in fact we kept our wetsuits on between some of the lakes and got curious looks from other drivers who noticed! For every swim we wore swimming hats and took an orange Chillswim buoy to make sure other lake users could see us.

While in the Lake District we stayed at youth hostels (www.yha.org.uk). Most of them have a camping area so we pitched our tent. Youth hostels usually have a drying room, which was very helpful for drying out the wetsuits, and self-catering kitchens for making big bowls of recovery pasta!

During our week in the Lake District we managed to swim in 11 of the lakes, having swum in Windermere for the Great North Swim mass event, and we decided to leave the smallest (Brostherwater) to do another time! We will definitely be coming back to the Lake District.

Here are the lakes we managed!

1. Coniston Water – enter on the north side as there is less boat traffic, and a car park.
2. Esthwaite Water – park at the south side, there is a car park close to the lake, visibility wasn’t great, but quite a few features to use for sighting.
3. Grasmere – parking is difficult, but there are laybys close by (east side). Swim to the island in the middle of the lake, we spotted a heron there!
4. Rydal Water – look out for safe spaces to park on the road. Rydal is quite reedy and fairly shallow as it is nearly the smallest lake.
5. Ullswater – get in at the west corner, there is a car park at Glencoyne Bridge.
6. Derwent Water – avoid the ferry routes! Enter from the south east side from the car park. Very clear water here.
7. Bassenthwaite Lake – The north side is the best for getting in, the bottom is mainly rocky / stony.
8. Loweswater – parking is difficult, but worth it as this is quite a secluded lake where no powered craft, kayaks, etc are allowed.
9. Crummock Water – enter from the road about two thirds down the east side, there is a rocky outcrop if you can find it where you can lower yourself into deep water! Great visibility here.
10. Buttermere – this lake is very green with some great plant life, enter from the south east side.
11. Wastwater – the coldest of the lakes we swam in! The views are fantastic in the water and out, but it’s a bit of a trek from the rest of the lakes.

Hints and tips

* Take plenty of change for car parking
* Buy a few cheap pairs of flip flops to make getting into and out of the water more comfortable when it’s a bit stony
* Take a roll of bin bags for changing out of your wetsuit on, this avoids the wetsuit getting mucky, and for keeping your car seats dry if you drive from one lake to another
* Take a couple of nice large towels, for keeping as much of your dignity as you can manage!
* Wear tinted goggles for sunny days to protect the eyes.

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Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.