Swap bikinis for wetsuits for an invigorating weekend break, says Francesca Gosling.
With the looming prospect of Brexit sending holiday prices Boeing-high, it is no surprise that British holidaymakers are giving in to the lure of staycations.
The UK is home to swathes of gorgeous countryside, fairy-tale villages and breathtaking mountainsides waiting to be explored, and one trend taking on a life of its own is open-water swimming. With no expensive or bulky gear required, it offers a new adventure with minimum travel hassle – and it’s guaranteed to burn off a few calories.
“The only limit is your own imagination,” says Gabby Dickinson, founder and director of Gone Swimming (goneswimming.co.uk).
A passionate water baby from Anglesey, she built her wild swimming tour company five years ago after noticing a gap in the market for people who want a thrilling nature experience, but without the camping.
She now she takes groups of four to 12 – including couples, kids, grandparents, pets and people with disabilities – for swimming days around the most beautiful beaches and lakes in north Wales. And every trip comes with generous supplies of her excellent home baking.
“I wanted to go on a swimming holiday but there was nothing available that I wanted to do,” she says. “So I invented a trip where you can eat lots of cake, stay in cosy places, and just have a nice time.
“I ask my guests what kind of day they have in mind, whether it’s swimming in a cool mountain lake, near a waterfall, through the trees or in the sea, and I make it happen.”
The sense of freedom that comes from the bracing waters, she explains, has limitless rewards – even when it comes to mental health.
“A lot of my guests are recovering from or coming to terms with mental health problems and there has been a lot in the media about the benefits of swimming. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at 16 and always felt brilliant after I had been in the water.
“Sometimes I meet people who are nervous or scared, but once they get in their eyes light up and it builds their confidence; they feel they can do anything.”
With those words I can’t resist the chance to have a go, starting with a morning plunge into the waves at Black Rock Sands beach, steps away from Haven’s (haven.com) cosy caravans at Greenacres Holiday Park, Porthmadog.
After a gentle hour of seafront yoga – which I am now convinced is the ONLY way to do the downward dog – we steel ourselves for our first steps into the Irish Sea. At a late summer water temperature of 16 degrees, it’s not easy, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Once in, I’m instantly invigorated and paddle back feeling a million times lighter – and definitely deserving of some cockle-warming with Gabby’s Welsh bara brith tea loaf and seriously chocolatey tiffin cakes.
For our second swim we drive through the rolling, Lord of the Rings-esque hills of Snowdonia National Park to Llyn Dinas lake, a glassy-still expanse wall-papered with the craggy landscape of Snowdon.
It’s an entirely different and very peaceful experience. Just a few minutes simply floating in the secluded 15-degree rainwater-fed oasis makes me more relaxed than a day sweating on a busy beach – and the sense of achievement afterwards is deliciously satisfying.
Group days out with Gabby and the Gone Swimming team start from £65 per adult and £55 per child (with private options available) and prices include transport to locations, guided swims, wetsuit hire and changing robes, swim hat to keep, plus snacks and hot drinks.
While you can safely swim in many locations around the UK, Gabby recommends avoiding rivers as the current can often change much more strongly and frequently than you might think. Never go swimming alone and always check weather and currents before you dip.
WHERE TO GO WILD
To plan your own trip, check out the nation’s favourite areas at wildswim.com. Here are just a few of its highly-rated swimmer-sourced spots to get you started...
Goldiggins Quarry, Cornwall: Just another reason to visit Britain’s favourite holiday hotspot – aside from the cream teas.
River Thames, Port Meadow: Go horse-spotting from the water in this beautifully picturesque part of Oxford.
River Dart, Dartmoor National Park: Head to Holne Bridge to enjoy the very best of British country views and Devonshire wildlife.
Loch Morar, Scotland: Known for its silvery sands, you can easily access this peaceful Scottish oasis by car.
Langstrath, Lake District: You are spoilt for choice in England’s famous natural nirvana, but the crystal clear waters in this picturesque valley are a good place to start.