Wild swimming has overtaken gluten intolerance on the list of things we really don’t want to hear about anymore. An exception should be made for those brave souls quietly doing the front crawl up and down the icy shoreline in the same swimsuit they wear on the beach in the summer. Let’s call them the tame swimmers. Unlike the wild ones, they just get on with business in hand without fuss or the need for attention and they deserve our respect.
But the people who enter the water wearing North Sea-diver-thickness wet suits with gloves, shoes and knitted hats just so they can bob about for three minutes in the same position before rushing out and enveloping themselves in a dry robe and hot chocolate really need to give it a rest.
Like so many other things, lockdown is to blame. Before that, anyone who ventured outside to swim was called, wait for it, a swimmer. Then along came the pandemic and swimming pools closed their doors. As a result, the people who spent most of their time in the leisure centre jacuzzi before heading into the café for three hours of coffee and cake were forced outdoors and wild swimming was born.
Since then, it has developed a cultish momentum with some estimates suggesting up to three million people were taking to the water during the pandemic when other exercise options were limited. Then one day someone shared a picture of a dip on social media and the gates of hell were opened. To date, there are nearly 700,000 posts on Instagram with the hashtag ‘wild swimming’. Most of them feature no swimming whatsoever, just a procession of suspiciously neat and coiffed individuals living their best life at the water’s edge.
I know this is a thing because last autumn I was walking the dog on a fairly empty Portobello Beach in Edinburgh, when I noticed a woman walking out into the sea until it reached her knees. She stopped, positioned her selfie stick, took some pictures and then walked back up the beach to get dressed without even getting her bikini wet. It seemed a lot of effort for a few likes but I guess that is the nature of narcissism. She probably just wanted to be seen as on-trend, part of a tribe of people identified as being outdoorsy, adventurous and healthy.
And there are plenty of studies pointing to the health benefits of swimming outdoors. From improving circulation and white blood cell count to stimulating the lymphatic system and releasing endorphins which boost mental well-being, it’s definitely better for you than sitting at home eating a family bag of crisps. Although I’m not sure if that applies south of the Border where water companies discharged raw sewage into English rivers 372,533 times. That alone should be enough to keep mouths shut about wild swimming before, during and after.
So if you’ve spent the past freezing week in the waters off the coast of Scotland, well done you. Congratulations. Good effort. Just please spare the rest of all the details because if we wanted to know, guess what, we’d do it ourselves.