The life aquatic
Water is my natural habitat – and to be able to swim in Wales, and do it in such beautiful locations, makes me feel very lucky indeed. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to swim in Harlech with the Bluetits. It was my first time in the water there, and I was blown away! As well as swimming from Harlech beach with them, I also had a dip in the outdoor pool in Portmeirion. I was in my element.
No wetsuit required
The Bluetits are chill swimmers. They don’t use wetsuits, even though they’re in the sea all year round. It was a bit of a shock when I turned up on the day and everyone was wearing swimming costumes: I’m more used to a heated pool!
I thought I’d be cold, but I wasn’t at all. The water was around 17 or 18 degrees, I think. It was strange – you get a weird feeling of warmth, and when you get out, you feel refreshed, revived and more alive. We had a fire on the beach afterwards, so there was no chance of getting cold as we dried off!
Part of the family
It was so special to meet the Bluetits and swim with them. They’re women of all ages, and they come from different backgrounds, but all have this one thing in common: they love being in the water.
Some have been swimming their whole lives, but others had learned just a few months ago. I felt like I was joining their family. They invite visitors to join them throughout the year, so that family gets even bigger
The coast is clear
I was surprised by how quiet it was on Harlech beach. I lived in Swansea for seven years, and I’ve got a lot of fond memories of swimming off the Gower Peninsula. We had wonderful beaches like Caswell, Rhossili and Llangennith on our doorstep, but they do get popular in the summer. At Harlech, we hardly saw another person. There are so many more undiscovered spots like that all over Wales, perfect if you're looking for some peace.
Now that I’ve retired from competition, I’m keen to discover new places where I can go open-water swimming, especially around Wales. I want to explore the coast around Pembrokeshire a bit more. There are some incredible, quiet bays in in the north of the county.
Crest of the wave
Swimming in Wales is definitely on the rise. When it comes to competition, the results have been incredible, and I think that’s only going to get better. I’m working with Swim Wales on the elite development programme, giving up-and-coming swimmers the confidence and belief that they can do what I’ve done. I really enjoy mentoring the younger ones.
I’m also working on an online swim-training platform that will give people access to coaching and training sessions, involving world-class physios, nutritionists and sports scientists.
That’s what’s so great about swimming – it brings people together."
Swimming isn’t all about elite athletes. You can go to a swimming pool and see a baby in the water for the first time and a five-year-old learning to swim properly, alongside people of all ages. There are no limits – my dad still enjoys doing his lengths! People swim for all sorts of reasons. When I was younger, it was an escape from everyday stresses, like schoolwork. And it can be a social thing, as with the Bluetits.
That’s what’s so great about swimming – it brings people together.
Be AdventureSmart: respect the water
Swimming in open water is very different to swimming in a pool, so it’s a good idea to swim at an organised venue where there will be a safety crew to provide guidance.
Our top tips for being safe when open water swimming are to:
- Always swim with other people – the “buddy system” is best.
- Wear a bright hat (green or orange are the best) and use a tow float so that you can be seen by other water users.
- Enter the water slowly and allow time for your body to get used to the cold.
- Check the tide times before swimming in the sea or in estuaries.
- If you are in difficulty in the water don’t panic, stay calm; attract attention by raising your hand and shouting for help.
Visit the AdventureSmart.UK website for all the information you need to help make your Welsh adventure both safe and fun!