One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Putting wild swimming on the map!

A deserved OS coup for the wonderful wild swimmers of Argyll. And what a photo.


This year all the Ordnance Survey maps are being re-branded with new cover photos and one of these (Jura & Scarba 355) features our very own Lottie Goodlet swimming the Sound of Jura against a backdrop of the famous Paps of Jura.  This really puts wild swimming “on the map” in a big way.  I can modestly tell you that I took the photo, but that was very easy compared to what Lottie did, swimming several miles across a strongly tidal stretch of water, dangerously close to the greatly-to-be-feared Gulf of Corryvreckan!

The new OS Explorer 1: 25 000 maps with mobile download included are available now.

The new Landranger 1: 50 000 maps will be available early next year.

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Just Add Water

A brand new, free, online wild swimming magazine. A couple of pieces written by yours truly.

Are Wild Swimmers Jeopardising Dartmoor’s Natural beauty?

Interesting piece. It’s not ‘wild swimmers’ at fault – we tend to be the ones who pick up litter. See Sophie Pierce’s Twitter campaign #quickpick

Wild Swimming News

The Western Morning News reports:

“Tourists’ Antisocial Behaviour is Jeopardising Dartmoor’s Beauty”

We need visitors but they’re not necessarily good for the environment, writes Martin Hesp…

An example lies on the desk before me on the cover of a quarterly publication called Dartmoor Matters, which is the mouthpiece of the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA). The head-line asks: “Is Dartmoor too popular for its own good?”

The publication’s editor, Fiona Senior, writes: “This is a strange question for the DPA to be asking, given that one of our objectives is the protection and preservation of public access to and on Dartmoor. Sometimes, however, there is a downside…” …like fly-tipping, fires and barbecues, abandoned vehicles (many burned out), off-road driving, livestock worrying by dogs, and so on…

The rangers say that £20,000 a year is spent by the national park authority in disposing of the litter, a figure that does not include…

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The Recovery Position

The fabulous Nancy Farmer’s take on winter swimming. Spot on!


This is the recovery position for winter swimmers, not for drunk people. Though addled brains, an inability to speak in long sentences and a tendency to throw your drink all over the place are common to both conditions. You probably haven’t known shivering until you have known winter swimming, And still I persist in finding it strangely amusing.

The Winter Swimmer's Recovery Position The Winter Swimmer’s Recovery Position

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Welcombe Mouth





Honey and I are in North Devon today on a work-related visit, and take the opportunity to return to one of our favourite beaches. Welcome Mouth is a part of that wonderful area of cliff on the North Devon/Cornwall borders where the earth’s crust has been pushed and snapped into points that rise up to 400 feet above the Atlantic. In dramatic terms, Welcombe plays Emmerdale to Hartland’s Wolf Hall. Here, there’s simply a fifty-to-one hundred foot cliff and a miniature waterfall whose spread and style hints at its ambition to be Speake’s Mill. The Atlantic breakers have crashed into these cliffs over millennia to erode fingers of rock that cleave the sand at 45 degrees and claw out to sea.

Mini Waterfall

Mini Waterfall

Drifts of pebbles form waves around the cliffs; smooth gulls’ eggs ringed with quartz, in a soft grey that must be made by Farrow and Ball.

It’s almost low tide, and there’s a fair swell and a drizzle that might be spray from the waves crashing along the reefs. The sea is opaque and tinted rich-tea-biscuit. We trot up the narrow sandy tongue to be splatted almost at once by excitable foaming water, marbled, crashing and sucking. It’s not too cold. I’m tempted to head beyond the break, but the backwash is hideously strong and I’m afraid that Honey, who’s nearby, will get caught and pulled into the break zone. Crazy diagonal waves jaywalk back out, so I don’t spend long with my feet off the ground.

A dog walker tells me she swims from May to October, and that the sand is only recently returning after the huge storms of 14 months ago, grouting the gaps between reef fingers.

Honey Engulfed

Honey Engulfed

East Okement and Taw

Sophie swims the gully, E Okement

Sophie swims the gully, E Okement

Sophie’s walk on a gorgeous but cold day, taking in a few hot swimming spots. We start in the East Okement, being wholly unable to resist the top waterfalls. Clear water with a turquoise tint, and sun-spots the colour of barley sugar. The water’s very, very cold. The dogs are ecstatic, bounding between river and rock and leaf mould, panting, steaming and snuffling.

E Okement Falls

E Okement Falls

Someone finds an eviscerated Tawny Owl, which Rachel slings in a bin liner for later examination. It swings sadly in its makeshift body bag beneath her rucksack as she walks up the cleave towards Nine Maidens. There we play around with some gorse stump foraged by Kari and which resembles labia, rather appropriately for the stone circle that is most probably a paean to a moon goddess, perhaps Artemis or Hecate.

There’s a rather surreal twenty-first century army ambush occurring in the middle of the track where we’re heading, so we’re asked, very politely, to wander elsewhere. As we cross below Belstone Ridge all hell breaks loose, except there’s more smoke from Alex’s e-cigarette than from the grenade below.



Taw Marsh is stunning in the spring sunshine, weeds wafting green beneath the surface. We’re all thinking of the pre-Raphaelite Ophelia, and Kari decides to recreate Millais’ version with Linda and some bracken. Linda lies supine in the water playing dead, which at that temperature is no mean feat. As Rachel pushes her off and leaps out of the way for the picture, Lily and Fudge photo bomb before the hair floats downstream. Less Lizzie Siddall than Dartmoor Moses.

As we leave, we realise we’ve left Philippa, Linda’s ancient historian friend, behind… We call her with whistles and she returns, thrilled at the discovery of some black and glittery rock that she’s sure is a type of tin ore called cassiterite. This reminds me, as Anna has just pointed out, why it’s fun to walk and swim with such variegated people who together form a human encyclopaedia.

Dartmoor Ophelia with Dogs

Dartmoor Ophelia with Dogs

Hot Tub Swim from Argyll

Double Dart Double Dip

Helen Leaps

Helen Leaps

Sharrah today is middling in flow, fairly nippy and somewhat Harry Potter; as the clouds clear it’s bright and sunny, but still rain falls as if from space. Our new swimmer Lorna, friend of a friend, shows us all up by diving straight in off the pointy rock wearing only a swimsuit, gloves and boots. It takes me a good two minutes to get above the waist.

Lorna Dives In

Lorna Dives In

Waiting for Paddlers

Waiting for Paddlers

We stop at elephant rock for the kayakers to descend, a great view from close up, and chat to the two alongside while we wait. Then it’s a quick swoosh down the cascade, ice-cream neck, and out. Ten minutes is plenty as this is only my second skins swim of the year.

As ever, Honey manages to crash bodily into both Jackie’s and Helen’s biscuits, scoffing several with the speed and lack of finesse of an American eating competition winner.

On the walk back we divert to Black Rock where Lorna, Allan and Helen leap into bubbles and play around again. Allan strips half way and does a skinny circuit of the falls, bottom glowing like the moon through white foam, before slinking out.

Allan Walks on Water

Allan Walks on Water


Dahab Ninja Wipeout

Egyptian Ninja Wipeout

Trying to avoid getting wet...

Trying to avoid getting wet…

A last-minute call to dip at Mothecombe, and boy is it worth the trip. It’s mid-flood and surfy, the spectacular estuarine break is at its peak, and a strong, chilly wind cuts through our prematurely spring-like clothing. Rachel, Linda, Honey and I make our way to the shelter of the disused tidal pool. Honey thunders off after a tall dark and handsome flat coat retriever while the three of us change.


Failing to stay dry…

The rip drags at our legs as we teeter in, shivering, so we cross closer to the surfers and into the teeth of the wind. The water is muted turquoise and cold, but made icy by the wind chill. We contort into dance shapes to stay dry as we wade deeper; wild swimming oxymoronic behaviour if ever I saw it. Linda is resplendent in her Dahab souk hooded neoprene singlet, while Rachel is wearing a mini ra ra skirt and a purple flowered hat. As I float between Egyptian Ninja and Devon Cream Tea Lady a large wave breaks over my head, dousing the Dali dreamscape.

Devon Cream Tea Lady

Devon Cream Tea Lady

On Skinny Dipping (OSS Version)

IMGP5036 I’d already written this piece on Skinny Dipping when artist and OSS member Natasha Brooks posted her film Blue Hue on the OSS Facebook page. In the film Natasha swims and floats naked in a wintery Llyn in Snowdonia while discussing her love of swimming wild, free from boundaries between her body and the environment. Natasha’s film is undoubtedly Art, a canon in which nudity is acceptable. But everyday nudity does not always receive the same welcome.

A while ago I blogged about a trip up the river Dart on a sweltering summer’s day, during which we encountered male nudity in the form of two opportunistic skinny dippers and a yogi in the tree pose. I jokingly entitled the post Hot Naked Men and Cool Dartmoor Water. Adverts for Russian Brides suddenly appeared on my blog, which my iPhone blocked owing to ‘unsuitable content’. On checking the stats I discovered the most frequent search terms are ‘naked swimming’ and ‘skinny dipping’. An interesting comment on the schism between those who strip, leap in and enjoy the feeling of cool water on their bodies, and those who misread their purpose.

Last summer in Northern Ireland a couple of men were threatened with arrest for skinny dipping:

“There are young children in these areas too…You could end up with a criminal record and placed on the sex offender register (sic)” said a police spokesperson (The Daily Telegraph, 30 July 14).

Meanwhile a couple were arrested for skinny dipping, in East Lothian. Nudists can be prosecuted under the Public Order Act for ‘outraging public decency’, although rules vary by country in the UK, and in England skinny dipping is specifically excluded from this offence. Clearly there’s little room for objectivity here.

In Scandinavia, there is a space in society for non-sexualised nudity; there naked adults routinely share saunas with naked children. Perhaps swimmers are in a position to create a similar space in our confused country, where pop culture reveals an overtly sexualised aesthetic made officially decent by the addition of a bikini or some hot pants.

Once you’ve plunged yourself into a moorland brook on a stormy day and sensed that surging energy through your wetsuit, you develop a desire to feel it more directly. It’s a matter of time before even a swimsuit dulls the senses and skinny dipping becomes inevitable. What does this represent but the exposure of one’s body and soul to nature, a baptism, a metaphorical sloughing of the skin? It’s this that Natasha’s film (and the numerous positive reactions to it) shows so beautifully.  Yet it goes still deeper.

Skinny dipping is often seen as cheeky and rebellious in that peculiarly British saucy seaside-postcard way. But it’s also seditious in that you can’t sell kit to people who aren’t wearing anything, and we live in such a commercialised environment that a product-free activity becomes subversive in itself. Meanwhile, the routine media shaming of imperfect celebrity bodies regulates our behaviour and our views of what’s shocking (cellulite!)

As a wild swimmer I know that a friendly covering of blubber helps me to withstand the nip of cold water. I can forget to shave my legs (or shave one and lose interest as a friend did recently). I can strip and leap in with alacrity, knowing that the men and women I’m with are too busy enjoying themselves to judge my physique. The experience can be bracing, exciting, sometimes painfully cold, and sensual in the literal meaning of that word, where each nerve ending responds and the movements of our bodies echo the paths of the currents.

Perhaps the careless exposure of un-photoshopped flesh and unstyled wet hair conspire to engender horror both at the thought of one’s own mortality and at the lack of concomitant marketing opportunities. While confusion reigns over nudity, what our culture finds truly shocking is the display of bodies in all their diversity, freed from the triumvirate of religion, advertising and the gym. The beauty in skinny dipping comes from how it makes us feel, whether we’re young or old, fat or thin, or anything in between. We plunge together into waves and lakes and waterfalls and gorge on life and cake while our minds float away. That’s liberation.

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