Wild Swimming: Expert Advice From Ella Foote - Dip Advisor

Wild swimming has gained popularity in the last few years with lots of celebs opting to swim in open waters, rivers and lakes including Fearne Cotton, Ed Sheeran and many more. With many associated health benefits - keeping fit, reducing stress, boosting the immune system and getting closer to nature, wild swimming is excellent for soothing the mind, body and soul. 

If you've been thinking about taking the plunge into open water swimming, we've got some great advice from the best in the biz - Ella Foote. Ella is the founder of Dip Advisor, is a swimming journalist, Editor at Outdoor Swimmer magazine, swim teacher, open water coach and year-round outdoor swimmer. 

Ella Foote, The Dip Advisor - Wild Swimming with big wave over Ella's head
Photo credit: Ella Foote, Founder of Dip Advisor

How did the idea for Dip Advisor come about?

After a decade of swimming events and swimming challenges I wanted to return to swimming just for joy. Not needing to train, or do a certain temperature, distance or time. I started to document my swimming on social media, images of me messing around in the sea or larking about in waterfalls and people asked to join me. I was in full-time work and thought about it as a business, even had the name. But it wasn’t until I was made redundant and I decided to go freelance with my writing that I seriously decided to set up the business. I wanted to offer swimming experiences in wild waters for joy, not for any other reason. I wanted to help those too nervous to join a group, or go to an open water venue. I wanted to offer water experience in a safe way. My swims are about the mud between toes, reeds brushing legs and wildlife. I like to focus on journeys and fun.

What inspired you to take the plunge into wild swimming?

I was fortunate to be taught to swim at a young age and then encouraged into the sea by my parents. I love the sea, it is where I first experienced the beauty, power and risk of open water. I started to really explore outdoor water in my twenties and annually did an event to challenge myself. Now it is just part of my everyday life. Almost every day I have to put a swimsuit on!

What are your must-have items when going swimming?

Ella Foote, founder of the Dip Advisor standing on a rocky bank about to go open water swimmingA decent swimsuit that you feel supported in, but also fantastic. Don’t cut corners or cost with your cossie! Invest in a swimsuit like you would a good pair of trainers. 

The best thing about swimming, is once you have a decent swimsuit you just need a towel. If swimming outside you need to plan a little more depending on the season and weather. I love a bobble hat swim in winter. But in summer a swimsuit and towel is perfect. If I am doing some serious swimming ear buds and goggles are essential. 

What do you think is behind the ever-growing popularity of outdoor swimming?

Outdoor swimming isn’t new - people have been swimming outside for centuries and feeling the benefits. I think a lot of people found outdoor swimming through triathlon. There have been lots of books and pieces written which have inspired people. But the biggest thing is how it makes people feel. Swimming is a great physical and mental activity, take it outside and the benefits are elevated. People get addicted to the feel good release and word of mouth spreads… Over the past couple of years pools closed during lockdown and didn’t reopen straight away, many swimmers were forced into open water to get their swimming fix and many haven’t returned to the pool even now. It ticks a lot of the boxes of what we know is good for us - physical activity, being outdoors, immersing in nature - green and blue spaces. 

As a year-round wild swimmer, when is your favourite time of year to go swimming?

Time of year to swim is Spring. The water is still cold with a zing, but the air temperature is warmer. You get bright crisp mornings with a mist on the water. Nature is beginning to unfurl itself awake. The smells and the promise of summer is just such a wonderful feeling as you swim. Warm sunny spring days with cool clear water - bliss.

What’s the most beautiful wild swimming spot you’ve been to, and why?

It is hard to pin-point my most beautiful. All swims have their charm. Swimming in Scotland is wonderful. There is so much variety - a deep river pool the colour of emeralds, an empty beach with white sand and turquoise sea or a deep dark loch that is unsettlingly brilliant. The best swimming spots are the ones you need to seek and find, not right on the roadside. The further you have to walk - the better!

Can you recommend your top wild swimming spots in the UK?

London
An oldie but a goodie – head to Hampstead Heath and enjoy the bathing ponds. There are three ponds open for swimming, the women’s pond is so special, sorry guys!

South East
Swim under the looming white cliffs of Dover at St Margret’s Bay. Check the tides, best at slack tide.

South
River Arun at Pulborough. Still tidal 25.5 miles inland the River Arun here offers a brackish water, but lovely swim through meadows.

South West
Dartmoor offers an abundance of wonderful plunge pools and bubbling water. Great for walking between spots, check the weather.

Ella Foote floating in a lake whilst wild swimming, open water swimming, outdoor swimming - Dip AdvisorRiver Thames
Head upstream to Cheese Wharf near Buscot. Lovely swim in deep bend of younger Thames. Swim early to avoid boats.

Wales
Snowdonia. You are spoilt for choice in this Welsh playground for swimmers. I like the Fairy Glen outside Betws-y-Coed.

Midlands
Mermaids Pool, or Black Mere Pond on the edge of the Peak District near Leek. Water the colour of cola. Bliss.

Lake District
Another swimming paradise. Buttermere offers the clearest water but almost all the lakes offer something special.

Scotland
Anywhere! It is all good. But the Isle of Arran has some real special spots in the river beneath Glen Rosa.

Northern Ireland
Jenny Watt cove, Bangor. On my list to join the Belles & Beaux dippers for a swim out to Belfast Lough.

What advice would you offer about staying safe when swimming in open water locations? 

• Think before you swim. Check your entry and exit points and take into account currents and tides
• Don’t mix swimming and alcohol
• Swim with other people – ideally that know the area and have swum in open water before
• Don’t jump in. Enter the water slowly to prevent ‘cold water shock’
• Let people know where you are and what you’re doing 
• Make sure you’re visible in the water. Wear a brightly coloured cap and consider using a tow-float
• If someone gets in trouble, don’t put yourself at risk but call for help – dial 999 or 112
• If you find yourself in difficulty FLOAT TO LIVE

Go to the water with knowledge - find groups and people to swim with!

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About Ella

Ella Foote, Wild Swimming Expert, Founder of Dip Advisor and Contributing Editor at Outdoor Swimmer MagazineElla Foote is a swimming journalist, Contributing Editor at Outdoor Swimmer magazine, swim teacher, open water coach and year-round outdoor swimmer. In 2018 she launched Dip Advisor. An intrepid swim explorer, she is constantly seeking out new rivers, lakes, ponds, seas and pools to plunge into. Her local spot to swim is a hidden medieval pond that she has to scramble through bushes to get to. She mostly swims in the rivers around Surrey, Berkshire, Bucks and Oxfordshire. Ella writes for all sorts of national media, often about swimming or water quality and loves to chat. She has completed swims like an English Channel relay crossing, the Thames Marathon 14k and the Dart 10k, as well as smaller more joyful dips and dunks across the country. You can follow her and her swimming on Instagram or join her for a dip with Dip Advisor.

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