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Remember the heady days of endless childhood summers, when you might spend an afternoon building dams in a weedy stream, picnicking beside a local river and taking a dip in the fantastically chilly water?

Whether or not your childhood looked like that, the concept of wild swimming has really grabbed our imagination again in recent years. With the advent of cleaner waterways thanks to Environment Agency regulations, and fantastic books and websites dedicated to finding the lost spots where our grandparents learned to swim, alfresco bathing is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. The opportunity to escape the everyday pressures of modern life, enjoy a microadventure and reconnect with nature and each other is an automatic draw. And with the unusually lovely weather we’ve experienced this summer in the UK, its not just been the beach that has beckoned my gang to don our swimmers and take the plunge.

River leap: Wild swimming

Wild swimming with young kids has to look a little different, only in that one should take precautions to ensure the kids are kept safe. Wild swimming should be part of every childhood; there is a freedom and magic in watching your child expressing their inner Huck Finn, swinging off a rope tied around a handy branch before taking an exhilarating plunge into a chilly body of water. Here, being brave and setting an adventurous example by taking the plunge yourself is both essential and rewarding!

So where should one begin?

Local knowledge goes a long way. Wherever you are, be it in the wilds of central France or on your own doorstep, if you’re not on home turf speak to locals and see if you can find the lesser known spots tucked away from the masses. There are some great books such as Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming series which will inspire and guide you to the best locations. Look for gentle, unpolluted waters with easy and safe access points, and if you happen on some handy overhanging branches or a magical waterfall consider yourself truly blessed! Either way you’ll undoubtedly find some lovely countryside and the kind of experience that family memories are made of.

Wild swimming fun

A few things to bear in mind from a safety point of view:

  • Keep an eye on the kids at all times. And weak or non-swimmers should stay well within their depth. Wetsuits can keep them from getting cold (which reduces swimming ability) and also aid buoyancy a little.
  • Watch out for passing boats and other water based traffic. Check for obstructions beneath the surface. Never jump or dive into water without knowing depth and what’s below.
  • Check out water quality before you go if possible. Some rivers in particular can carry a fair amount of pollution at certain times, for example after heavy rainfall.
  • Choose a spot with easy access in and out of the water.
  • Avoid strong currents and fishermen!

Essentially, use your common sense to suss out any pitfalls, but enjoy the wildness and adventure of finding your spot and experiencing swimming as it was, before the advent of noisy and chemical public swimming pools!

Further resources:

Wild swimming: Paddling in the Alpine river

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