Wild Swimming in Great Britain (and Gym Vocabulary You Will Need)

La Gran Bretagna non è una meta turistica conosciuta per le splendide spiagge e il bel tempo, ma sempre più persone sfidano le basse temperature e in qualsiasi epoca dell'anno si tuffano coraggiosamente nelle sue acque, sia in mare che nei fiumi o nei laghi.

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Rachel Roberts

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Wild Swimming Great Britain

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Rivers and beaches in the UK are cleaner now than they’ve been for the last 150 years. As a result, there has been a return of a favourite Victorian hobby: wild swimming. That means swimming in lakes, rivers and the sea at all times of the year (within reason.) The popularity of wild swimming has increased immensely in recent years. In 2007 the Outdoor Swimming Society had three hundred members; today it has 25,000. Ten years ago there was only one annual mass swim event; today there are two hundred.

a healthy sport

For some swimmers, the attraction is finding a connection with nature in a technological world; for others it’s the health benefits. As Daniel Start, author of the book Wild Swimming: Hidden Beaches, says: “Immersion in water creates an almost zen-like state of presence and mindfulness. Regular wild swimming improves the mood, strengthens the immune system and burns through calories.”

Wild Swimming in Great Britain Lakes


So, where are the best places to go? The Outdoor Swimming Society’s website has a map of the best sites in the UK. Favourites include the River Thames which, just outside of London in Berkshire, is very clean and full of wildlife. The coasts of Dorset and South Devon are also popular and, for the toughest amongst you, Scotland offers a huge choice of beautiful beaches and lochs.


Flooded quarries are also popular, such as the Rosebush Quarry in Wales. People often think that there are dangerous currents in quarries, but this is hardly ever true. There may be cold water currents and if you suffer from cramp you need to make sure you can get out easily, but the most likely hazard is industrial pollution or submerged objects like old cars. Check the area carefully before attempting to swim there. Generally, if the water looks clean and appealing, it’s probably OK for you to swim there; if it looks cloudy or smells bad, then follow your instinct and stay out.


On the subject of safety, there are some important rules you need to follow. First of all, just because you regularly swim fifty lengths of your local swimming pool, don’t think you’ll be able to do the same thing in the sea or in a Scottish loch. Always take a friend with you the first times you go and wade in slowly: hypothermia can be a serious problem! Stay close to the shore and see how your body reacts. You need to be honest about your abilities and of course you can wear a wetsuit if you need one: the objective is enjoyment, not a near-death experience. If you do go alone, always tell someone where you are.

Wild Swimming open sea


Always check the weather forecast and abandon your swim if bad weather conditions suddenly arise. Respect for the environment and for others is of course fundamental. Be as quiet as possible so that you don’t spoil other people’s enjoyment and keep away from anglers and nesting birds. Don’t pick wild plants or disturb waterweed and try to leave everything as you found it.

do you want to wild swim?

Here is some vocabulary to help you interpret wild swimming websites and signposts related to safety.

  • High/Low tide – The moment when sea water is at its highest or lowest. Always check tide timetables for this.
  • Rip tide – a strong offshore current.
  • Wind chop – a disturbance of the surface of the sea caused by wind and leading to a choppy sea. This can make conditions difficult for swimmers.
  • Wind over tide – when the wind blows the waves in the opposite direction to the tide.
  • Caution: sudden drop off –This sign means that the sea starts shallow and suddenly becomes very deep.
  • Slippery rocks – probably the rocks are covered in wet seaweed. If you slip and fall you could easily break a bone.
  • Weir – if you see this sign, keep away. It is a small dam or barrier across a river that slows the current. There are often very dangerous currents at the bottom.
  • Private Property – don’t swim near this sign. Somebody will ask you to leave.
  • Danger, no swimming allowed – always take this sign seriously and never swim in the place where you see it.


Gym vocabulary in English
  • I’m thinking of…” indicates that you are considering something and would like to discuss it.
  • The ‘registration fee’ is the cost of joining the gym, which you only have to pay once.
  • Membership means you become a member of an organisation, in this case, a gym. Standard would mean the ordinary plan, suggesting there are other plans available.
  • An introductory offer is a service offered to new members at a reduced price.
  • "Try out" is a phrasal verb meaning ‘sample’ or ‘test’.
  • Facilities’ refers to the equipment and amenities available to members.
  • Trainers’ are the fitness professionals who work at a gym.
  • Fully-equipped’ means that the gym has all the machines you would expect to see, such as rowing machines, exercise bikes, weight-lifting equipment, etc.
  • A ‘steam room’ uses moist heat to help relax stiff joints and muscles, especially after a workout (gym session).
  • The ‘changing rooms’ are where you shower and dress. ‘Well-appointed’ suggests that the rooms are luxurious and have all modern conveniences.
  • Gyms often have an ‘induction’: an initial session to introduce new members to the facilities and help them with a fitness plan.
  • A ‘fitness plan’ is a routine aimed at helping you achieve your fitness goals, for example, losing weight, building muscle tone or general fitness.
  • Take through’ is a phrasal verb meaning ‘explain’.
  • A ‘personal trainer’ helps people achieve their fitness goals on an individual basis. 
  • You can make a polite suggestion by ending your request with “if that’s alright.
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