While all those around me are losing their head and jumping in, I like to ease my way into rivers, seas and pools, just until the water tickles my bellybutton. Only then, when I can bear it no more, I push forward frantically into a clumsy breast stroke, gasping with both the cold and the enjoyment of non-chlorinated water lapping at my cheeks, asking myself why I don’t do this more often.
‘Wild swimming’ is a misnomer that implies bathing with tigers and probably alligators but it doesn’t have to be anything of the sort (apart from the time when I swam with the St Agnes wild swim crew in choppy waters and was convinced I would probably die). Choose your location, time and company (obligatory) carefully and a pool, sea or river dip can be a meditative and transformative experience that calms the mind like no other physical exercise (and it’s free).
Everyone has their own secret swim spots in Cornwall and here are my top five (but ssh!):
The Respryn river
Drive to Respryn and park in the car park on the Lanhydrock side of the bridge. Cross the bridge and turn right through a kissing gate just on the other side. Follow the river down, over a wooden bridge until you reach a fork – the right of which goes into the wood – keep following the path of the river, until you get to an ‘island’ surrounded by sand. Hide behind the trees to change and enjoy the deep water but take care to swim against the current.
Goldiggins Quarry, Minions, Bodmin
Man-made lakes near old mining spots are best given a wide wide berth, even if the oddly turquoise and orange-rimmed banks can be alluring in themselves. Fish-filled Goldiggins Quarry on Bodmin Moor however, is a spring-fed lake that has everything an intrepid swimmer could want: a moorland walk past the mysterious stone Hurlers, stone ledges for sunbathing and leaping, grassy areas for picnics and because access is a little out of the way, it is often deserted.
Park in the Hurlers car park at Minions, head north passing the Hurlers then bear left at a junction roughly 15 minutes later.
Porthpean beach, St Austell
Drive towards St Austell on the A390 from Lostwithiel and just after the roundabout signposted for Charlestown (also a good swim spot) before you reach St Austell proper, take the next left signposted Porthpean and follow the signs. Head down to a wide strip of beach with rocks on either side, also good for snorkelling. In the cliffs on the left, look out for a hollowed out cave that was probably used for smuggling purposes. Porthpean has a cafe and sail school.
The River Tiddy
One of the highlights of the annual Port Eliot festival are morning swims in the beautifully muddy tidal river, the Tiddy. Swims are normally supervised and scheduled on the programme but it’s far more fun to dive in on your own. If the weather has been kind then the mud soaks up the sun (great for an evening splash around) and releases the heat as you swim, making it potentially one of the warmest swim spots in Cornwall! Take care getting in and out, it can be very muddy as the tide goes out in which sharp stones can be hidden and the outgoing current can be surprisingly strong, but there are scheduled lifeguards on the look-out for strays.
Tucked away and further along from the more popular Polkerris (also a lovely swim spot out of season) in du Maurier territory, past Menabilly farm and a milk churn for car park donations, is a lesser-known arc of golden sand and rocks. Instead of turning right down the narrow lane to Polkerris, keep going until you reach a car park in a field on your right and follow the track down on foot. I have experienced both freezing and warm waters here, as well as swarms of crabs scuttling beneath my feet (!) but it remains a real favourite among locals for barbecues and a quiet dip.