“You’ve got your wetsuit on inside out!’
It’s a raw spring day and I’m preparing to jump into the murky Thames in Walton, Surrey. The water sits at around 7C. But first, it seems, I need to dress myself properly…
I’m here to meet Calum and Jack Hudson, two thirds of The Wild Swimming Brothers (big bro Robbie lives in Berlin). These down-to-earth northern boys share their exploits – from swimming across Norway’s Saltstraumen and Moskstraumen, the world’s strongest whirlpools, to paddling the 90 miles of the River Eden in Cumbria – with their 12.3k Instagram followers.
Jack, the youngest, has just written their first book, Swim Wild, which is part adventure story and part ecological manifesto, as well as an insightful and inspiring look into why people ‘swim wild’. It comes at a time when outdoor swimming is booming in popularity. I’m here, slithering into neoprene on a muddy riverbank, to investigate further. And while the water doesn’t exactly look inviting (though I’m assured it’s clean), their enthusiasm is infectious.
‘We’ve never swum here before,’ says Jack, ‘so this is new for us too!’ The boys find a safe location for a dip using the Outdoor Swimming Society’s invaluable online map (wildswim.com), which can help you find your nearest crowd-approved wild swimming spot. They also show me how to choose easily accessible points for entry and exit, avoiding high banks or anywhere with too much vegetation. ‘Keep that willow tree in your sight,’ says Calum, pointing towards the tree that will act as our finishing line, ‘but don’t panic if you miss it, just stay calm and get out downstream. Unless you carry on and end up in France…’
The cold shocks me like an electrical current as I ease in but I spare a thought for Calum, whose wetsuit is ripped – not only under his armpits but right across his backside. ‘It’s a little bit uncomfortable!’ he yelps. The hardcore Jack, meanwhile, is just wearing trunks. With the current pushing us along, it becomes apparent this is going to be more pleasurable float than exhausting swim. Swerving to avoid swans, I scull on my back, watching the reeds on the riverbank flash by. Unbelievably quickly, we’re done.
Warming up in a café with a coffee, I’m buzzing. I can’t believe how easy it was to find a – free! – wild adventure so near to my London home. In this claustrophobic, technology-obsessed world we could all do with more nature and excitement in our lives that doesn’t involve big, expensive trips. ‘You’re woken by a little machine, you get in a tin and travel to another big tin, you sit in that and look at screens, you go home and look at more screens,’ says Calum. ‘Outdoor swimming is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to re-wild yourself a little.’
‘The outdoor swimming community is really nice and swimming’s a real leveller,’ says Jack, ‘Anyone of any age or weight can swim. In fact, a bit of extra weight is often a real advantage!’ So what are you waiting for? It’s time to leap in.
Swim Wild (Yellow Kite) is out now