Wild Swimming in Northern Devon: Top Tips and Where to Go
Wild water swimming is one of the activities that has flourished over the last 12 months with regular bathers asserting the benefits to physical and mental health.
You only need to visit the beach to see groups of swimmers in robes with hot drinks and snacks after a session, whilst local swimming groups are reporting an increase in interest, demand and membership.
Whether you are a hardcore cold water immersion enthusiast or like an occasional summer dip, North Devon is an ideal place to take part. It may be the rolling breakers at Hartland Quay, Saunton, Putsborough or Westward Ho! which appeal, or more sheltered bays such as Combe Martin, Hele or Watermouth Cove. Either way the North Coast of Devon has it all.
Be Healthy and Happy
From the sense of achievement and braving the initial cold, to being at one with nature and enjoying the camaraderie of taking part with friends, this activity certainly seems to have an addictive nature.
There is no doubt that the last few months have been difficult for many, but the escapism of plunging yourself into the swell seems to be a viable therapy for more and more people. The mental health benefits of cold water swimming is well known, but little research exists to date. This is why our friends at CHILL UK, cold water immersion specialists, are teaming up with Portsmouth University to study the phenomenon. Initial findings appear positive, and we await a final report with interest.
Be Safe and Prepared
Safety is of utmost importance and we would always encourage newcomers to swim with the more experienced, whether that is in a group, on an introduction course, or with friends. It is not an activity to do alone, and HM Coastguard have reported an increase in people getting into difficulty.
Taking risks with the sea can be fatal. So, understanding the weather, tides and currents, identifying a safe spot, learning to acclimatise, protecting yourself from hyperthermia and warming up post swim are vital elements. The Active Devon free webinar is a great first source of information. Click here to access. The Outdoor Swimming Society website is another good resource.
I am by no means a regular, but I do enjoy the experience when I can. For me it’s the waves; bringing back childhood memories of family holidays and playing in the sea. When you are buffeted about and bracing yourself for the next one, there is no space for the other daily pressures. It is total escapism.
Waves can turn your experience into the most thrilling time, picking up a ride on a breaker, or plunging through the foam to emerge the other side adds to the fun. Equally, waves can easily disorientate the swimmer and become unmanageable.
Local CHILL Lifeguard Jaz Bennett says:
“Understanding waves, the size, type and effect is important. As well as tides and the hidden rip currents, you have to learn to read the water.”
Only the experienced swimmers should swim out of their depth.
Make the Most of the Whole Experience
Whether to wear a wetsuit or not is a personal choice, some say it’s cheating but as well as providing some protection from the cold, a wetsuit will offer some buoyancy. Without a wetsuit, the rule of thumb regarding duration is one minute per degree water temperature so wearing one allows a longer experience in the cooler months.
The post swim drinks, shared biscuits and chat are an integral part of the event. Huddled in your robe with steam coming from your hot drink, taking in the views; it’s great to informally debrief the experience and plan the next dip.
Written by Neil Blackburn – Project Officer for North Devon and Torridge