We all know that feeling when we jump into cold water. It takes your breath away, stings your skin like sharp needles, and for a moment you can’t imagine anything more uncomfortable. Yet as quickly as the sensation hits you, it passes. A warm numbness settles over your body, then when you leave the water and reach for your towel, your skin feels hot and tingly. In fact, you feel really good!
This is just one of the attractions of wild water swimming. Read on for many more, and some great places in Snowdonia where you can try wild swimming for yourself.
Why go wild swimming?
Seasoned wild swimmers will enter cold water without a wetsuit and will regale you with the many health benefits: a sense of elation and relaxation; a soothing of aching muscles; and an all-round sensation of feeling good. What’s not to like?
Then there’s the practical side of the pursuit. You don’t need to spend lots of money on gear, and so there’s no need to lug it all with you either. It’s just you and nature in perfect harmony.
Finally, it’s a different way to explore the landscape and immerse yourself in nature; see surrounding hills and forests in a new light; plunge beneath the surface and see another world, too.
Then there’s the sense of calm isolation. Chances are, most of the time it will only be you in that cold water. Swim from the shore and feel truly alone, with only the sound of you splashing gently in the water to keep you company.
Wild swimming: how to get started
It’s well worth stating the obvious first. You need to be a good swimmer, and confident in your ability. If you’re just starting out, find a friend to go with you. Even if they sit it out on the shore, having someone nearby will help soothe any nerves you may have, and they will be able to raise the alarm if needed.
As we’ve said, you don’t need any special kit. However, if you’re just starting out it’s probably worth having a wetsuit handy. Try wild swimming with it on first, before having a go without. Also invest in a brightly coloured swimming hat and tow float (see top tips below).
Wild swimming: top five Snowdonia lakes to try
- Llyn Padarn, Llanberis: popular but relatively shallow lake with spectacular views all around, especially towards the Pass of Llanberis, Dolbadarn Castle and Snowdon’s lower flanks beyond. There are plenty of access points, especially on the Llanberis side, and other than a seasonal tourist boat, other watersports users tend to be paddleboarders and kayakers.
- Llyn Dinas, near Beddgelert: at the foot of Nant Gwynant valley, Llyn Dinas is a tranquil lake fed by waterfalls and feathered on its southern shores by ancient trees. There are a few unofficial laybys on the A498 as well as a small parking area at the lake’s southern end. The waters are quieter than Llyn Padarn but you will hear passing traffic.
- Llyn Llydaw, Snowdon: head up the popular Miners’ Track from Pen-y-Pass which crosses Llyn Llydaw (actually a reservoir) via a causeway. Wade in and let yourself feel small against the towering rocky massifs of the East Ridge (Y Lliwedd) and the notorious Crib Goch that flank both sides of the water.
- Llyn y Foel, Moel Siabod: Park at the Moel Siabod Cafe and follow the trail towards the peak, reaching Llyn y Foel in a gorgeous cwm beneath the summit. No problems with traffic noise here, and not so many bystanders as you might have at Llyn Llydaw. This is the kind of lake wild swimmers love!
- Llyn Cwm Silyn, Nantlle: We’ve left the most off-the-beaten track for last! In a cwm north west of the Nantlle Ridge, Llyn Cym Silyn is actually two lakes almost joined together. Grab a good map, follow minor lanes from Llanllyfni village south of Caernarfon, and have this wild spot of Snowdonia all to yourself.
Our top tips for safe open water wild swimming
- – Don’t go wild swimming alone until you have some experience behind you
- – Wear a brightly-coloured hat (bright orange or greens are the best) so you can be easily seen
- – Invest in a tow float (a small buoyancy aid that you tether to your waist and trail behind you)
- – Enter the water slowly and give your body time to get used to the cold (no running in or diving bombs here, thank you)
- – Make sure you know the tide times if swimming in the sea or tidal waters
- – If you get into difficulty, don’t panic. Stay calm and attract attention by raising your hand and shouting for help
- – Always let someone know where you are going and ideally give a time for when you expect to return
Image courtesy: Swimming at LLyn Cau|©debjam/Flickr. Llyn Padarn by © Copyright Robin Drayton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Llyn Dinas by © Copyright Tony Edwards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Llyn Llydaw by John Allan / Causeway across Llyn Llydaw. Llyn y Foel by Peter Smyly / CC BY-SA. Llyn Cwm Silyn by © Copyright Chris Andrews and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.