Posted 6 December 2013 by Andrew Gardner
Wild swimming... it's December and you're thinking I've gone mad, right? But I'm sure a lot of people have thought about it or been tempted to try on their next Sussex holiday; especially if you've read Waterlog by the late, great Roger Deakin. I have been wild swimming, though not for many years: as kids in the '70s we used to swim in Balcombe Lake, where we'd walk barefoot over the fields from the village carrying a picnic and jump off a tiny jetty into the cold, rather dark water. Paddling about among the reeds and insect life was wonderful - how much closer to nature can you get? - and the inevitable slime between your toes was, in its way, half the fun.
I think that's all private land now (though anglers can make the most of it) but there are still places in Sussex where you can swim. Not counting the sea of course, although that could be fairly wild at this time of year, and another childhood memory involves an elderly gentleman who used to swim in the sea at Worthing every day of the year, then stand on his head for a minute. He said it kept him healthy; I've no idea what grand age he lived to, but he seemed very old to my six-year-old self.
Returning to the present, however, and my feeling is that if you're tough enough for wild swimming, you might either do it at any time of year or use the winter months to suss out the best places. In Sussex, according to a website dedicated to the subject, three locations stand out: Wallers Haven, between Bexhill and Pevensey; Barcombe Mills, near Lewes, on the Ouse; and the Cuckmere Meanders. Now I haven't researched them all in person so if you go there, please do check you're not trespassing or interfering with wildlife habitats. It's also wise to go with someone else in case you need help getting out of the water. I've seen people swimming in the Cuckmere Meanders, though, where the oxbow lakes are generally quite shallow, the riverbed is chalk and you have the advantage of being near to a car park and loos.
The bonus of an autumn or winter sojourn is that you can warm your tingling toes in a country pub before returning to your cosy holiday cottage. I wish you good swimming!