Wild swimming this summer? Daniel Start reveals the hazards to avoid

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Dips in cold seas, rivers and lakes are appealing for those trying to cool off. But an expert has today warned about the little-known dangers


Dips in cold seas, rivers and lakes are appealing for Britons trying to cool off in the 35°C (95°F) heat. 

However, an expert has today warned about the dangers thousands of people are unaware of when they go swimming outdoors.

Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming and Wild Guide Wales, claims swimming in the sun is the perfect way of keeping people happy.

But in a piece for The Hippocratic Post, Mr Start spoke of the dangers of currents, rash-causing algae and a fatal disease from rat urine in water. 

Dips in cold seas, rivers and lakes are appealing for those trying to cool off. But an expert has today warned about the little-known dangers

Dips in cold seas, rivers and lakes are appealing for those trying to cool off. But an expert has today warned about the little-known dangers

In recent years wild swimming has enjoyed a revival. 

It began as a quirky hobby; but now thousands of swimmers of all age, including a large number of older women, are moving from swimming pools into open water, be it Britain’s seas, lakes and rivers. 

Around the country more than 175 mass swimming event are taking place in chilly open water this year. 

Each summer brings warnings of the dangers of taking to chilly, or even icy cold water and newspaper reports of drownings.

To stay safe, never swim alone and remember, if this is your first time, stay or swim close to the shore.  

There’s nothing inherently dangerous about wild swimming, but cold water does reduce your swimming ability, at least until you get used to it. 

So stay close to the shore and increase your range slowly. 

Dangerous cold water 

Cold water will dramatically decrease your range at first, count on being able to swim a tenth of the distance you can in a warm pool, so practise in a safe zone and increase your range slowly. 

If it’s your first time swimming in cold water, enter the water gradually to see how your body reacts – beware of ‘cold shock’ which can bring on hyperventilation.

When you get out, it can take longer than you think to warm up, so have plenty of clothing ready, and ideally head straight off on another walk or run.

Currents 

Currents can be especially powerful directly under large waterfalls or weirs – never jump directly into the tumult below big waterfalls or weirs. 

WHERE CAN YOU GO SWIMMING IN BRITAIN? 

Britain is blessed with a fantastic range of locations for swimming. Cornwall, Dorset and Pembrokeshire are famous for coves, sea caves and rock arches. 

There are many freshwater venues too, from the tarns of Wales, waterfalls pools of the Lakes and wooded lakes of Sussex. 

Writers as diverse as Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann and Shelley have ‘sought a cold water high’.

All wild-dippers know the natural endorphin high that raises mood, elates the senses and creates an addictive urge to dive back in. 

However the world seemed before a swim, it looks fantastic afterwards.

In the sea, don’t swim from headlands unless you understand tidal currents, and don’t swim in high surf conditions – off shore rip currents can form around cove edges and along sandy beaches, in between the surf breaks, and they can carry swimmers out to behind the surf line (where they then dissipate). 

If this happens, exit the current by swimming parallel to the shore, and come back in on the surf. The same is true if you are caught in a fast river –swim to the shore or side where the water will be calmer.

Algae, swimmer’s itch and Weil’s disease 

Other health hazards can include blue-green algae, sometimes found in lowland lakes in hot summers (best avoided as it can create a rash), swimmer’s itch (if you spend a lot of time wading through pond weed where snails breed) and, in extremely rare cases (more chance of being knocked over by a bus), Weil’s disease. 

This latter illness is caught from rat urine, mostly around urban waterways. It enters the skin through open cuts and wounds (wear a waterproof plaster if you have a cut).

It is easily treated with antibiotics but can be very serious if left to develop untreated – see your doctor if you develop flu like fever within a week of wild swimming.

Wild swimming is a superb way to break down barriers and build an instant sense of comradeship. 

You will be feeling fantastic when you get out, and keen to go back in, so plan your route to take in a few more dips too.

Your first time wild swimming is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable days this summer. 

Daniel Start is the author of Wild Guide: Wales (Wild Things Publishing, £16.99), published 2018, also available on Amazon

This article originally appeared on and was reproduced with the permission of The Hippocratic Post





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