When we’re out on our beach cleans and recovery missions along the wild Cornish coastline – we are often finding more than sea birds shivering in the icy thaw of morning and the brightly coloured shards and tangled nests of plastic we came for. Increasingly its brave fellow sea swimmers bracing the ice cold waters of the sea in the morning – as the past turbulent years has inspired lots of people to take up our favourite outdoor activity here in Cornwall – wild sea swimming.
In this article we’re going to go through the what, why and where people are wild swimming near me – and how people and communities gain value from our sea as a ‘blue space’ for wellbeing, and how we work to protect it.
WHAT IS WILD SWIMMING?
I must admit to us in Cornwall when we first heard of wild swimming we didn’t understand what was wild about it – traditional pools are so rare and sea swimming is such a norm (from traditions of it all year from summer dips to Christmas and New Years plunges.)
Wild swimming as it turned out is the act of swimming in the sea – or freshwater – in a place where nature is all around you. In Cornwall this is most easily off beaches, but can be done in rivers, quarries and tidal pools. With one of the longest coastlines and over 300 beaches in Cornwall you are spoiled for choice when choosing a wild swimming spot nearby.
Why Wild Swim: the Benefits of Cold Water for the MInd
Since the pandemic broke our habitual behaviours and upsetting our status quo in the most dramatic way, many have recalibrated and reorientated their priorities to spend more time on the things that bring them happiness – including the primal joy of simply being in nature. Sea swimming as one of the most accessible and effective ways to intensely experience natural extremes has increasingly been lauded as a mental health cure – but is it just another fad distracting from proven chemical and behavioural treatments – what is the scientific evidence?
Studies in recent years have started to show the effectiveness of cold water swimming in the fight against depression – with case reports on cold water swimming published in the most respected scientific papers of the British Medical Journal showing that cold water emersion may be an effective treatment for depression. Whilst this research is in the initial stages, there is still plenty of evidence to show how going for a cold water swim can help us lead healthier and happier lives.
Sea Swimming's Dopamine Boosting Power
Cold water swimming and even cold showers can boosts dopamine levels – releasing of endorphins.
Biophillia - Natures Highs
Biophilla – ‘the joy of being outdoors’ and connecting with nature has a proven, positive impact on mental wellbeing. Research shows that heading out into green and/or blue spaces can help make us feel better. This also helps to combat the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Being in the Moment through a Wild Swim
Living with depression, anxiety & PTSD can cause us to struggle with being in the moment – caught in a mental entanglement in our own minds . The shock of cold water, combined with being outside in nature, forces us to feel the moment and rebuild our connection between body and mind.
Controlling Fear & Combating Anxiety
Conquering the resistance to entering cold water builds up our mental resilience – teaching our own mind their ability to control themselves – building our confidence and boosting self worth.
building community & keeping fit
By sea swimming with people we know and don’t as part of a group lets us grow and bond – building the social relationships we humans thrive on and combating the isolation of modernity whilst keeping fit and healthy. Fitness is often hard to maintain – but can have a huge positive impact on both our physical and mental health. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise and can help lower blood pressure, increase immunity and is considered a low-impact exercise making it more joint friendly for injured and elderly. In our experience its the 80 and even 90 year olds who make the bravest swimmers when the sea is flat and at its coldest in winter!
Best Places For Wild Sea Swimming IN Cornwall
Summerleaze Beach is Bude’s central hub of sand, surf and sun, and it’s the first port of call for sea swimmers in Cornwall. It also features a beautiful tidal pool which curves under the cliffs on the North Cornwall coast. Made from the rocks and human walls it is filled twice daily at high tide with sea water so is totally untreated and unheated – but has easy access and offers a perfect start for sea swimmers without the danger of the rips and currents in the bay.
Carbis Bay is located near St Ives, it offers outstanding views and a magnificent sandy beach which was home to the 2021 G7 Summit. Carbis Bay is a favourite as you don’t have to drive into St Ives itself to access the beach and there’s ample parking and even a train route.
Gyllyngvase beach is a great place initial wild swimming spot for any experience level. The sand gently shelves into the ocean and the beach is wide, meaning you can cover long distances without straying far from the shoreline or out of your depth. Rocks nearby provide a nursery for fish, so a snorkel lets you explore underwater Cornwall. If you’re looking for something more vigorous, buoys provide the perfect marker for swimming further into the ocean and back!
Daymer Bay is perfect sheltered shallow beach for wild swimmers near Padstow – protected by cliffs and backed by dunes, it is rare to see waves at this heavenly beach and as such the opportunities for tranquil swims are plentiful all year round.
Kynance Cove offers the chance to swim next to and even around Asparagus Island for a breath-taking swim. Incredible rock features, both on top and underneath the water offer a grand view and the walk down to the beach is worth a visit alone. Best swimming at low tide and in low winds.
Perranporth beach offers the chances to swim round Chapel Rock at high tide and a the natural open-air pool which is filled with sea water at high tide and warmed by the sun during the day. You can’t miss it at the heart of the three-mile stretch of sand
St Agnes – Trevaunance Cove
The remains of the old harbour can be explored on the western side of the beach at low tide, and there’s plenty to keep the kids amused with rocks to clamber over and rockpools to discover.
A long-time favourite East Looe beach is a perfect location for swimming as the beach gently shelves providing easy access especially for younger, disabled and older swimmers. The sand is soft and flat meaning easy access and its incredibly safe and sheltered. For the brave there is the annual swim from the beach to Looe Island!
Lantic Bay is a peaceful cove near Polruan and Fowey framed by lush countryside and towering hilly cliffs. It is well worth the steep hike up and down the coast path. Its a perfect surrounding for a wild swim and has multiple secret coves to swim to. Be wary though – the hill is huge to get there and on windy days the sea can be choppy and fierce.
Talland Bay in Cornwall offers a great dive for beginners or those just wanting to dive from the shore. The inshore reefs are less than 10m deep and comprise of green, purple and grey coloured rocks and lots of seaweed and marine life. It’s also a great place for snorkeling, especially when the tide is in.
What We've done to Help: Keeping our Blue Spaces Blue
We at Behaviour Change Cornwall research and put into practice ways to keep our wild swimming spots in Cornwall clean – removing plastics from over 120 beaches in Cornwall in over 200 beach cleans in 2 years; doing reach using insights gained from behavioural science to reduce plastic entering the ocean and to teaming up with creatives, environmentalists and partnerships with the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, Seal Alliance and Cornish Seal Research Group Trust to work on a myriad of wildlife disturbance and anit-entanglement campaigns to keep our coasts wild!
If you like we do – please consider supporting us – all our bracelets and creations are made by recycling the plastic we recover and purchasing one funds our mission and beach cleaning.
Inspired to Swim: Safety First
Before deciding to immerse yourself in icy water and give yourself a shock make sure it is safe. Going into cold water can be a shock to the system all year round.
Got health conditions – check with your GP first – heart attacks & strokes can all happen in the water and can result in drowning. Swim within your limits – learn about swell, know water and air temperatures, undercurrents, tides, lay of the rocks underwater.
Wear the right kit. Only swim where it’s safe; where you can enter and exit the water easily and there is someone to see you if you get into difficulties. Don’t rush – get cold and warm again slowly, the cold isn’t as dangerous as the shock of changing temp too rapidly.
Please read the RNLI advice: https://rnli.org/safety/choose-your-activity/open-water-swimming
Mainly however Good luck! Don’t give up after the first attempt. It will feel cold, that’s the point!