Why You Should Try Wild Swimming This Winter (And Where To Go)

Words by Naomi Chadderton

10 min read

With a growing number of adrenaline seekers and wellness aficionados shining the spotlight on both the physical and mental benefits of wild swimming, MOJEH heads to Ireland to see what all the fuss is about..

“Are you mad?”. These were the words my lovely driver had just uttered to me — jokingly — minutes before I found myself standing on the edge of the 40 Foot, a small and storied ocean swimming spot in a pretty corner of south County Dublin, Ireland, at 8am on a Monday morning. While locals can be found plunging into the icy Irish sea for a mind-awakening swim year-round, as a newbie to the numerous swimming holes dotted along the country’s coastline, I was staring down at the waters in trepidation.

I was here for my first ever attempt at wild swimming —a wellness trend that is currently taking the world by storm, simply referring to the practice of going swimming outside in a natural pool of water. Or in this case, a freezing cold natural pool of water.

Led by swimming guru Jessica Lamb (who also happens to be a marathon swimmer and Level 2 open water swimming coach), this invigorating experience is part of the wellness offerings from the all-new Anantara The Marker Dublin, which opened its doors earlier this year in the city’s buzzing Docklands district, following a multi-million euro renovation of the original The Marker Hotel, a city icon. “There’s been a fascination with the open water since the dawn of time,” Jessica tells me. “At first it was mainly fear, but in the last 50 years or so it’s become the opposite. It’s become a solace. Covid lockdowns may have accelerated it to the incredible popularity it is starting to see today, as people would use it as a way to meet each other and forget their troubles for a while but, of course, that still rings true today.”

You won’t get landscapes like these at your indoor pool

Wild swimming is indeed having a moment, and it hardly comes as a surprise when you read about the benefits. While great for our physical health — cold water immersion in particular can improve our immune systems as our body’s response to the shock can produce more of the cells that fight infection, while swimming in it will improve circulation, build strength and help with cardio health — but studies have also found that the practice can increase dopamine levels (the pleasure transmitter) by 530 per cent.

Elsewhere, research by scientist Nikolai Shevchuk found it can increase our beta-endorphin and noradrenaline levels, our brain’s feel-good chemicals, while a study published in the British Medical Journal provided the first case report that cold water swimming may be an effective treatment for depression. The theory behind this is that one form of stress— the shock of cold water — adapts the body for another, in this case the stress response associated with depression and anxiety. “When you get out tingling it makes you feel fresh, solid and wide awake,” adds Jessica, who has spent the last 10 years immersed in Dublin Bay, helping others experience the healing and grounding properties of the cold Irish sea. “A great buzz to take into the rest of your day.”

And it doesn’t have to just be cold water. The water in general is a space where we can fully disconnect — where you are solely in the moment, focusing on your technique, your timing and your breathing. That singular focus is especially healthy for us in modern society when we are constantly overstimulated by technology. Then there’s simply being at one with nature, something that has long been thought to have a significant impact on our mood. It’s even been suggested that ‘green exercise’ such as wild swimming helps to foster a more positive mindset, reducing feelings of fatigue and even improving your likelihood of sticking to regular workouts, so it’s no surprise that the likes of Kate Moss, the Beckhams and Helena Christensen are all fans.

Research has indicated that wild swimming could ease symptoms of stress and anxiety

While the setting for the swimming safari is magical (think stunning views of cliffs, lush kelp forests and the shimmering bay dotted with fishing boats), the experience itself isn’t for the faint hearted, even though the sea was around 14 degrees Celsius when we entered — much warmer than it sounds. “It’s definitely not the Mediterranean or the Caribbean unfortunately,” jokes Jessica, who experienced her wildest swimming experience in La Jolla Cove in San Diego. “It’s home to a huge and bullish seal lion community, and while I’m used to swimming with seals, these guys were a whole different ball game,” she says. “The water there is crystal clear and the youngsters were doing acrobatics through the kelp forests, taking running jumps towards us. That was a day I really had to suck it up and tell myself I’m a wild swimmer.”

Once tied to a float for safety, we entered the water down a set of manmade steps and quickly plunged into the seato be hit with water that, at first, is frankly quite shocking. Just remember to breathe — it surprisingly only takes a few minutes for your body to adapt to the cold, and once it does you’re left with feelings of euphoria, achievement and pride that you pushed yourself so far out of your comfort zone. Oh, and definitely more buzzed than after a morning coffee. We spent roughly 10 minutes in the water, floating and swimming slowly back and forth from the coast before emerging from the cold Irish sea to be wrapped snugly in robes from local swimwear brand Bear Hug. You’ll be shaking quite heavily now (completely natural, I’m told), but it won’t be too long before you’re being driven back to the hotel in a heated luxury transfer for a hearty breakfast.

While wild swimming is deemed safe, as with any sport, there are risks to consider — cold shock response being the most common. In chilly temperatures, the heart must start working harder to pump the same volume of blood around the body, risking hyperventilation and hypothermia. “The best thing to do is always get in slowly, make sure before you get in that you know how to float on your back, and always bring someone with you,” explains Jessica. Weather can also be an issue, but as long as you check the forecast before you head out, you’ll be fine. “Be cautious of strong easterly or southerly winds,” she adds. “Tides can be strong, so aim to get in an hour before high tide.” That’s why wild swimming is best done with the experts the first time around, as it helps to negate any risks. “Just remember to get out while you’re still laughing and can feel your fingers and toes.”

Having finally experienced the trend for myself, I can definitely see why so many people who enjoy coastal living choose to start their mornings off in the ocean. Not only did my mind feel clearer when I opened my laptop later that day, the sense of anxiety I had been feeling all week had all but disappeared. Then there’s the sense of pride that I challenged my body to a completely new experience. And one thing’s for sure — it beats another monotonous 7am HIIT class.

Where To Go

Dublin, Ireland

With its modern design and prime location, Anantara The Marker Dublin has quickly become the hotel of choice for Dublin’s It crowd. Having opened its doors in May this year following a multi-million euro makeover, upgrading its 187 rooms to a luxurious standard and giving its restaurants a soft furnishing facelift, this one-stop shop makes for the perfect place in which to relax and recuperate during a weekend of cold immersion in the Irish capital’s waters.

Oozing local detailing — both the building and its interiors take inspiration from the magnificent Irish coastline — once you’ve checked in and warmed up with a hot soak in the luxe room’s pristine marble bathroom, your first port of call should be the award-winning spa. A cocoon-like haven of wellness in the middle of the city, it’s a dreamy space to enjoy one of Anantara’s signature massages complete with hot stones fora truly restorative experience. You’ll also find a steam room, sauna and indoor spa pool which, at 23 metres long, is perfect for laps if you’re still feeling invigorated from your morning dip.Lunch and dinner are best enjoyed in Forbes Street byGareth Mullins, an Irish native who name-checks many of the country’s best food and drink producers on the impressive menu:think Flaggy Shore oysters, John Stone beef and Ballymakenny potatoes to name a few. Choose from a selection of small plates followed by steak that is perfectly prepared and cooked to perfection, along with fish and vegetarian options if you’re after something a little lighter.

As for the lavish guest rooms, each overlook either the Grand Canal, the ocean or across to the mountains — if you’re feeling flush, upgrade to the Presidential Suite, which comprises two ensuite bedrooms, a living room and a separate dining area. Either way you’ll sink into the imposing beds like you would do a cloud — exactly what’s needed after any wild swimming excursion. Book now

London, England

One of our favourite holiday destinations for shopping, food and culture, London also happens to be home to several wild swimming spots, the most popular being at the stunningHampstead Heath. With a ladies’ only area, it makes for a private experience, with chilly waters perfect to raise those dopamine levels to an all-time high.

Where to stay: Sitting slap-bang in the middle of Mayfair, locations don’t get much better than The Biltmore. Surrounded by some of London’s best restaurants — including its own Grill 88 — inside the setting is more modern than many of the city’s fanciest hotels, complete with shimmering chandeliers and a bright-white marble lobby that sets the tone for your entire stay. Book now

Musandam, Oman

With its emerald wadis, natural sinkholes and only the resident flamingos for company, there’s nowhere quite like Oman for wild swimming in the Middle East. Our favourite spot has to be amidst the stunning fjords of the Musandam Peninsula where you can take in the dramatic landscapes, plunge into open waters from the imposing cliffs, and marvel at the views from the isthmus which separates the Arabian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman.

Where to stay: With its secluded location and blissful vibe, Six Senses Zighy Bay is barefoot luxury at its finest. Recently launched all-new wellness programmes for this year include Mind Your Brain, Boost Your Immunity and Love Your Heart, designed to improve everything from your brain health and aerobic fitness to immune systems, fatigue and so much more. The perfect addition to any wild swimming trip. Book now

Reykjavik, Iceland

If you prefer your wild swimming spots at a more comfortable temperature, Iceland is awash with naturally heated water, making it a fantastic pace for an outdoor swimming tour of its bubbling hot lagoons and geothermal pools. While the Blue Lagoon is the most obvious place to head, for fewer crowds be sure to check out Mývatn Nature Baths and Sky Lagoon.

Where to stay: The capital’s premier address, The Reykjavik Edition is a warm, welcoming and laid-back hotel complete with modern décor and five-star amenities. Its harbour side location offers views of Mt. Esja and the Snæfellsjökull glacier, while inside you’ll find a well-equipped fitness centre and restaurant from Michelin star-awarded chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason. Book now

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