By Megan Murray
As the director of Swimunity, an organisation for accessible swimming lessons, Omie Dale is passionate about the benefits of getting in the water, particularly outdoors.
'Swimming can give the children we work with something they don't get in a school or home environment. It helps them channel their energy into something positive, it provides agency, and it's freeing,' she explains.
Dale has been a wild swimmer since her youth, and warmly describes summers spent in the UK countryside splashing in local backwaters, rivers or on the coast. 'If there was a body of water, our parents would chuck us in it,' she laughs.
After moving to London, Dale's search for a nature fix would lead her to open-air spots such as the Hampstead Heath Ponds, famous for their rustic charm (think plenty of leaves, moss and even animals as your swimming partners) or Parliament Hill Lido, which has a cafe for warming up in afterwards.
'I think it's important to get outside of a pool that has been made especially for me and to immerse myself in nature, seeing my place in the world next to the plants and animals that live there. It's grounding and just one of the many benefits that taking a dip outdoors can give you.'
Here, Dale shares how wild swimming has a positive impact on her for those curious to try it.
‘It helps me deal with stress’
'Cold water puts your body into a state of stress - your breath shortens, your heart quickens. But by working through this first thing in the morning, it teaches your body how to deal with that stress and move on from it. For the rest of the day, I find I have a sense of achievement that I've already dealt with something difficult and conquered it.'
‘I feel connected to nature’
'When I was younger, I didn't really think about the importance of nature. Now I find as I get older, being outdoors and consciously making an effort to walk, hike and swim in the countryside helps me think about the cycles of life and where I stand in that.
'There's this expectation that the planet will just live on, and residing in a city like London it's easy not to think about what's happening to the earth, so somewhere like Hampstead Heath Ponds where you can interact with the trees and animals gives an important perspective.'
‘I am in tune with my body’
'A big part of wild swimming for me is a mind-body connection. In cold water, you're so aware of your body, how it feels, and your physical limitations. The immediate reaction is to jump straight out, but if you stay with it, focus on your breathing and slow down, you can hone in on your body and mind.
'The way it benefits me is that so many of us run around, caught up in the chaos of everyday life. This is a chance to just stop and think.'
Dale’s favourite wild swimming spots
If you fancy trying wild swimming for yourself, here are her recommendations for the best places in the UK to dip your toe in the water.
Durdle Door, Dorset
'One of the most beautiful beaches in the UK is Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. The sea is turquoise blue and there's a huge limestone arch that plunges into the water, which you can swim around.'
River Cam, Cambridge
'For beginners, the River Cam is great because it's really clean and there are plenty of shallow spots to just splash about in. As you walk down, you'll also see a few swings that go over the river, which are fun, too.'
Hampstead Heath Ponds
'I love Hampstead Heath Ponds; everyone should visit them at least once. Not only is it a unique experience to swim among the wildlife, but I also love the history behind the land and that it was originally given as a gift to the people of London.
'The best time to go is in the summer when everyone lounges around on the grass after a swim and chats into the early evening.'