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Dive into the wild: The joy and benefits of wild swimming in Plymouth

Who in their right mind would want to immerse themselves in cold water and then stand around outdoors for a while, not necessarily on a warm sunny day? Possibly throw in some rocky surfaces to wobble over, and some lovely seaweed to wear as a fashionable new hat?

Actually – a huge and growing number of souls are discovering the joys of ‘Wild Swimming’, along with all the health and social benefits that go with it. It’s a whole new Tribe! In this article, Mike Kinsey explores the benefits of this increasingly popular activity, along with some of the best wild swimming spots in and around Plymouth.

You must have found yourself picturing this: You’re surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of Devon’s coast, the sun casting a golden glow over the sparkling waters and the waves lapping gently against the shore. And you simply know that you must get in there…

It’s all incredibly sensory; take a deep breath of the salty fresh air, feel the refreshing sea breeze against your skin, and with a sense of exhilaration, you plunge into the waters. 

(More likely you edge in, bit by bit, accompanied by much making of noises! But let’s stick with the rosy approach)

The water slides around you, wraps you, suspends you. Gather your breathing and persuade yourself to relax…. And suddenly you are in a new world of sensation. The briny gives you that delicious floaty-ness (thats the tech term for buoyancy) and you’ll be amazed at how much your view of the world is altered when your eye line is just a few centimetres above the surface. Departing the land is also an amazing sensation – it’s the very best sort of escape!

In fact you are in an extremely ancient world – given that we all originated in the sea and then lived beside it for far far longer than we have been ‘modern humans’.

Welcome to the world of wild swimming, and aren’t we so very lucky here in and around Plymouth, where adventure and tranquility meet in perfect harmony. 

Wild swimming, also known as outdoor or open water swimming, allows you to experience the wonders of nature while immersing yourself in the sea or other natural bodies of water. It doesn’t have to be the sea, and may of our freshwater rivers have popular haunts.

One of the greatest joys of wild swimming around Plymouth is the chance to explore its stunning coastal landscapes, across the Sound and out a little to East and West.

From the idyllic beaches of Wembury and Bovisand, across to Cawsand, to the hidden coves and rocky outcrops toward Rame Head, as well of course the super spots along the Hoe and waterfront – the area is a treasure trove of aquatic adventures. Each swim becomes a journey of discovery as you navigate sea caves, possibly encounter porpoises or seals, and witness the vibrant marine life that thrives in and above these waters.

The benefits of wild swimming extend beyond the thrill of exploration. It has that element of pure adventure, of escape, of simply stepping outside the ‘normal’ realm. The salty seawater of Plymouth Sound not only invigorates the senses but also provides numerous health benefits. Swimming in the sea is believed to promote circulation, improve skin health, and boost the immune system. The saltwater’s buoyancy reduces impact on joints, making it an excellent choice for those with joint or muscle pain. Furthermore, the rhythmic nature of swimming in the sea has a calming effect on the mind, reducing stress and promoting mental well-being. Strangely enough, nothing hurts when you’re immersed! And that lasts until well after you’re out and back in the dry world. 

This week I set an early alarm as weather and tide were right – and visited a favourite spot just after dawn; I stood up to my chin(s) facing a rising golden sun over a glassy surface, feeling the light and the warmth grow and soak in to me. Didn’t feel cold at all. This was simply a most wonderful meditation, totally supported by the water, feeling the currents. Bliss. So was the hot chocolate in a nearby cafe afterwards!

As you embark on your wild swimming adventure in Plymouth, it’s important to be aware of the rules and considerations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

Firstly, familiarise yourself with the specific regulations in the area. Some beaches may have specific rules regarding swimming, so it’s essential to check for any signage or guidance from local authorities. This will be all about safety, and keeping swimmers and boaters separated. Keep an eye out for designated swimming areas or advice regarding tides and currents. You are unlikely to find lifeguards at wild swimming spots so a healthy dose of common sense is required, with safety always the priority. 

Before entering the water, assess the conditions, including the tide, currents, and potential hazards such as submerged rocks or strong waves. If you’re uncertain about the conditions or your swimming abilities, then perhaps that spot (at that time) isn’t for you. 

Joining a local swimming group or seeking guidance from experienced wild swimmers in the area could well be useful.

Respect the water and remember that cold water can be a hazard; alcohol and water are not a good mix, and cold water shock can be a killer. 

You don’t have to stay in for ages, and if you want to only go waist deep thats fine! If you’re shivering, you’ve been in too long. 

What to wear? Simple. Wear what works for you! Don’t feel obliged to only wear a simple costume; if you want to wear bootees, gloves, a wetsuit, a hat – do so! So long as you wear a smile as well. One thing to consider is visibility; depending on where you swim (help boaters to see you) you might want a bright swim hat and a day-glow swim float. 

When you do your Daniel Craig or Halle Berry impression and emerge gloriously from the waves, think about how you’ll deal with warmth and getting changed. 

Respecting the environment is crucial when engaging in wild swimming. Plymouth boasts an abundance of natural beauty, and it’s our responsibility to protect it. Avoid littering, use biodegradable sunscreen to minimise pollution, and refrain from disturbing wildlife or damaging fragile ecosystems. Leave your wild swimming spot as you found it, preserving its beauty for future generations to enjoy.

Plymouth is blessed with several outstanding wild swimming locations that cater to various preferences and abilities. Here are a few noteworthy spots to explore – you will know or find more!

Plymbridge WeirNestled within Plymbridge woods, this swim spot is a true gem. Park your car at the Plymbridge Woods car parks and take a serene woodland walk with the river accompanying you on the right. Follow the black dashed line on the map, and before you know it, you’ll find a delightful swim spot stretching around 150 meters.

Plymbridge Island: Just a short stroll away from the parking area at Plymbridge, Plymbridge Island awaits. Starting from the Wrigleys side, meander down the road for approximately 500 meters. Spot a small wooden bridge on your right and cross it. After the bridge, descend to your left, and voila! You’ll discover an ingress point where the current creates a fantastic endless pool. Perfect for playful swimming adventures!

Mountbatten Beach: For an incredible swim on the Plymstock side of Plymouth Sound, head to Mountbatten beach. As you approach from Hooe and pass the roundabout, park your vehicle shortly thereafter. Its one of the last free parking spots to exist! Descend the wooden steps that lead you to the beach. High tide offers the best swimming conditions, as its a bit rocky at low tide. Oh, and don’t forget to check out The Galley Cafe conveniently located nearby in the hangars! Plus – this is dog friendly all year round, so if you like to take your furry friend too – this is a great place to go.

Bovisand Beach: Picture sandy shores and breathtaking views; that’s Bovisand Beach for you. Sandy, it’s kind on the feet and has a very gentle gradient. Take a scenic walk down the cliff path from either side to access this stunning destination. You’ll find good cafes up at either side. Great for a sunset swim as you’re facing West! It’s worth the effort, trust us. Just remember the postcode PL9 0AD to find your way there.

Wembury Beach: With toilets, a cafe, and National Trust car parking, Wembury Beach is a popular choice. However, it’s important to note that the waves can be powerful here, hence its popular with surfers. Currents can also be strong. Exercise caution and enjoy the beauty of this spot. The postcode PL9 0HR will guide you to this picturesque beach.

Mothecombe Beach: Prepare to be enchanted by the beauty of Mothecombe Beach. A vast expanse of sandy shoreline awaits, accessible via a delightful 10-minute stroll down a woodland track from the car park. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of this remarkable spot with the postcode PL8 1LB.

East Tinside BeachA really popular place to swim at any time of day, make your way down from Madeira Road to the big white steps at East Tinside Beach. There is a dedicated swim zone marked out by yellow buoys which restricts boat traffic entering the area. Don’t swim out further than the buoys as you’ll come into conflict with boats. Don’t miss the swim rafts! If you’d like to be sociable, then Saturday mornings at 10.30am and on Thursday evenings at 6pm are good times to mingle with others. There is a shower (new this year) in place beside the beach. There are basic-but-free loos below the Terrace c are, and of course lots of other cafes nearby.

Tinside Lido: This iconic and very popular saltwater pool is situated right on Plymouth’s waterfront. With its Art Deco architecture and panoramic views of the sea, it offers a unique and delightful ‘fairly-wild’ swimming experience. And it doesn’t depend on the tide!

Firestone BayAlso known as Devils’ Point is a popular place to go with all the family. There’s a small sea pool too. It’s recommended that the best time to swim is at high tide due to the rocky bottom and amount of seaweed. This is an official swim zone marked by yellow buoys which limits boat traffic. It was also formally designated by Defra as an official bathing site last month. The recognition ensures the water quality is regularly tested by the  Environment Agency and made publicly available. Park at Devils Point and walk back along the road. This is a very popular and well used location, you’ll find all the advice you need from amongst it’s users!

Cawsand: Over on the Cornish side of the Sound (drive around, or take the regular ferry from the Barbican) this gorgeous village has a pleasant beach and a marked swhttps://www.intocornwall.com/engine/azabout.asp?guide=Kingsand+and+Cawsandim zone. Next door at Kingsand is a similar spot. Great place for cafes and lunch too!

Penlee: If you’re up for a walk, go from Cawsand about a mile and a half along the Coast Path toward Rame, find Queen Alexandra’s Grotto, then find the tiny cove down the giant steps below. It’s one of those ‘secret places’ that will reward your effort!

So – all you have to do now is………go get wet!

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