With summer officially here (and hopefully staying put for a while) and temperatures sizzling, is there anything better than diving, head-first, into some of London’s under-the-radar wild swimming spots? Skip the packed beaches and instead find a chilled-out spot closer to home where you can cool off during this much-welcome summer renaissance.
While it’s a brilliant way to keep cool in the balmy weather, The British Medical Journal actually notes that wild swimming has a positive impact on our mental health, in the same way that forest bathing gives us a much-needed dose of nature therapy, wild swimming too helps us focus on key senses and surroundings, the splish-splosh of water and sounds of chattering coots and chirpy ducklings making us happier and calmer.
Writer Lou Stoppard explored the benefits of wild swimming in a piece for The New Yorker in 2019, speaking to the regular swimmers at Hampstead Heath Ladies’ Pond, with one revealing, ‘It’s a welcoming space… The pond can support you through crises. It helped me with the death of my parents. And with menopause, all the mood changes.”
Wild swimming is sometimes called open water swimming and it’s pretty much what it says on the label – the practice of swimming in a natural body of water as opposed to a swimming pool.
Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming says: “In our grandparents’ day, swimming holes were where people learnt to swim and congregated on a summer day – to paddle, picnic and play. Today there is a resurgence of interest in this traditional pleasure and people are learning to explore their rivers and lakes for swimming again.”
According to Greg Whyte, professor of applied sport and exercise science at Liverpool John Moore’s University, there are plenty of scientifically proven benefits of wild swimming.
“People often talk about increases in adrenaline with open water swimming, but dopamine, AKA the ‘happy hormone’, is the key drive. Exercise increases secretion of dopamine – a hormone that creates a feeling of euphoria, excitement and enjoyment. You get a greater surge in those happy hormones exercising outdoors compared to exercising indoors and particularly in cold water due to the stress it places on the body.”
“There’s evidence people who are physically active have lower suicidal ideation. Exercise brings about a very positive impact on mood. It improves vigour and reduces lethargy and depression. Open water swimming does that, too [as shown in this BMJ Case Report]. And because of the added benefits of being in cold open water, we see greater gains in those areas – greater improvement in mood and a more positive impact on depression.”
If you’re tempted for splash in the wild, these are the best places to go wild swimming in and around London, some of them you might have never realised were there at all.
Remember, it’s important to always check for local restrictions and hazards. While some wild swimming spots are open for everyone, others require some previous open swimming experience so be sure to research your destination and local council websites for the most up-to-date information before you go.
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