It’s not every day you get to swim in a bog pool in real wilderness. But this adventure holiday in Estonia, takes you to Soomaa National Park, just two hours drive from the stag-filled bars of its capital. Soomaa translates as ‘Land of Bogs’ where you can meander through meadows and mires by canoe, hike across squelchy sphagnum moss with the aid of ingenious bogshoes, and cool off in the most divine natural pools you will ever come across.Continue reading “Wild swimming in a bog pool in Estonia – beat that”
The element of surprise becomes more elusive with age. Social media hasn’t done much to help that either with every event, personal or professional, publicised from nascence ad nauseum. Which is why the new initiative, Secret Adventures, is so refreshing. You know a certain amount of what you are signing up for in advance, be it a kayaking, hiking or swimming, as well as the city, or the nearest station, but the exact location is left to your imagination until the last minute. My secret adventure in London was a treat.Continue reading “Secret Adventures”
Ever since returning from my swimming holiday a few years ago, my kids have been pestering me to know when they can do one too. Most swimming holiday providers don’t cater for kids, or families, being aimed more at the long distance neopreners. However, there is a place for everyone, and Dan Graham and Gabby Dickinson who founded the new outdoor swimming company based in North Wales, Gone Swimming, have filled this gap in the market.
This coming October half term, from Saturday 27 – Tuesday 30 October, they are running a family wild swimming long weekend, teaching not only the skills of open water swimming to parents and children, and as Dan is a water safety expert and Gabby is a child care professional (as well as complete water babies themselves) they are well qualified to do so too.
They are basing the trip in Cwm Pennant Hostel in the Cwm Pennant Valley close to the base of Snowdon. From here, they have a plethora of outdoor swimming spots on the doorstep, and the choice of swim will depend on the weather conditions and also the sort of thing that families are hoping to do.
Gone Swimming want to provide families with the knowledge they will need to make sure that they carry on wild swimming long after the Half Term. They will be reading the maps, deciding on locations as well as learning about how cold water affects both adults and the kids. Dan and Gabs will be with them in the water and every step of the way, but this is not a coaching or training weekend, more a blast in the open water sort of weekend. And yes, wetsuits are a must!You can also hire them from Gone Swimming if needs be.
There is an early booking offer on this trip of £300 per person, adults and children alike (a saving of £50 per person over the regular price) – that is for an all inclusive three night stay (arrival Saturday and depart Tuesday). It is also worth noting that they will pick you up from Bangor station if you choose to go by rail, so dig out your Family and Friends’ Railcard and get a great offer on the train too.
Wild Swimming France is full of warnings about health and safety, and how wild swimming must be treated with caution and care. However, what it did not warn me about was the extreme pain I was going to get when reading it, caused by an acute case of resentment that I wasn’t jumping off the white dolomite rocks of the Mercantour National Park into the turquoise pools beneath, or letting the River Dordogne carry me downstream on my back, as I float under fern adorned rock arches. Or, I admit it, that I wasn’t married to the guy who wrote it.
As I lay in bed leafing through every river, lake and gorge, in a Sunday morning lazy lie in sort of a way, groaning each time I looked at an even more seductive wild swimming location my (equally wonderful of course) husband became rightly curious about the fantasy land the book was taking me into, as he listened on from the kitchen making coffee. My greatest ‘When Harry met Sally’ moment had to be in The Var, however, where Daniel Start, the author, slides down slot canyons into concealed plunge pools using waterfalls as modes of transport from one pool to another. This is extreme wild swimming, however, and he rightly advises readers to only attempt this with canyoning experts. The majority of the swimming locations (and there are over four hundred of them) are more accessible, all inland, and mostly in the southern part of France.
The book is a brilliant guide to France too, especially if hiking is your thing, offering the perfect introduction to the French pastime of ‘aqua-randonnée’ , where you scramble your way along rocks and through water wearing good aqua shoes and a waterproof back pack. Divided into regions, with excellent maps, and more detailed latitude and longitude readings, as well as details on how difficult a walk it is to access the swim point, Wild Swimming France will make you want to explore parts of France you may never even know existed before. More groans.
Another handy breakdown in the index is the ‘themed’ swimming points, so if you love waterfalls you can check out all of Daniel’s G-ushing spots in one go. Or if freestyling past a chateau, such as the glorious Chenonceaux in Normandy which sits on the River Cher is your scene, then you can find several such bourgeois bathing points. There is also a great collection of locations suitable for families, as well as some with small camping facilities nearby, such as the riverside tipis at Les Cournoulises on the banks of the River Lot.
I love the fact that this book isn’t all health and safety obsessed either, although it does warn you about the dangers of wild swimming, of course. For example, there is a useful explanation of how many of France’s river levels are controlled by the EDF (Electricité de France) due their being an important source of hydropower. The book points out that there are EDF signs on many of the rivers to warn that water levels can suddenly increase due to dam release, and that care should be taken at these times.
However, Daniel does turn a blind eye to rules and regulations in the book sometimes, making the book even more readable, of course. For example, at the magnificent waterfall Sillans-la-Cascade in the Haut Var region, where the main pool is closed to swimmers due to a freak rockfall, Daniel tells us most local people ignore the signs, and there is a photo of someone, possibly the author himself, diving into its stunning waters. And although wild camping is illegal in France, he isn’t afraid to admit that he, like many others, do partake of it, albeit responsibly, and reminds us to ensure that wild campers should arrive late and leave early, should not light fires, and must absolutely leave no trace.
So, buy the book as a gift to yourself or any other water loving Francophile you know, or just to drool over on a Sunday morning, if that is your thing. Daniel has also written Wild Swimming (UK) and Wild Swimming Coast and there is also an app for these. He is one Smart guy. But not as smart as the woman who married him.