Wild swimming is still growing in popularity. We meet two Kent women who are sharing their passion for a refreshing dip.

From rivers and lakes to the treasures of the coastline, wild swimming provides a sense of freedom. There’s the magic, the wilderness, a connection with nature, and of course, adventure, and it has certainly been having a moment in the spotlight.

Its popularity has been echoed by The Outdoor Swimming Society, founded by Kate Rew. Unlocking the door to a whole new world for swimmers…all you need to do is take the plunge, feel the joy and join a community of like-minded people.

Great British Life: The Outdoor Swimming Society has more than 187k members CREDIT Vivienne Rickman-PooleThe Outdoor Swimming Society has more than 187k members CREDIT Vivienne Rickman-Poole

Established in 2006, the OSS then had just 300 members, in 2022, the website had 1.3 million unique visitors and membership, which is free, is now more than 187k.

Outdoor swimming is a rapidly growing passion among swimmers, and of course, during and since the pandemic it has continued to rise with the society seeing adults swim outdoors on average at least twice a month, with women going out slightly more frequently than men.

Now the summer is in full swing, those who take a dip in the rivers, lakes and long stretches of Kent coastline are inspiring others to have a try, too.

Great British Life: Kirsty Hogben, an experienced sea swimmer and qualified open water swim coach CREDIT: Kate Noble PhotographyKirsty Hogben, an experienced sea swimmer and qualified open water swim coach CREDIT: Kate Noble Photography

With her motto “seas the day”, for Kirsty Hogben, sea swimming has changed her life.

Kirsty, from Folkestone, has always loved sports, the outdoors and exercising, and is naturally drawn to the sea, especially in the summer, but as a marathon runner for nearly four years before she sustained an injury, it was when she was unable to run that the sea became much more relevant in her life.

Needing a purpose while she recovered, Kirsty set herself a challenge…to swim for 100 days… which she started on July, 1, 2019.

'I absolutely fell in love with it as there was a huge sense of purpose,' says Kirsty. 'It transformed into something amazing as the sea always changes and it was also great therapy for me.'

While she may have set herself a 100-day challenge, she wasn’t aiming for much more until the pandemic came along and she managed to swim at sea for 1000 days…with her incredible mission coming to an end on March 27, 2022.

'During the pandemic I swam which helped because it was good to see other people.'

At one stage in 2021, Kirsty was in water with a temperature of 3.6 degrees but said she “stuck with it” and in the winter she aimed to do at least one minute, as long as she was “immersed”.

'Mermaid Bay is a protective bay and the rocks protect you…the hardest part is getting in.

'I really have been disciplined because I love it. It was a mini achievement every day and I aimed for five minutes.'

It wasn’t until she looked back that she realised how far she had come and when she lost her corporate job in the pandemic, forming a business from her passion became a reality.

As an experienced sea swimmer and qualified open water swim coach, Kirsty offers classes including one-to-one, groups and kids’ sessions, there are also confidence lessons and something to suit all abilities.

Great British Life: Kirsty Hogben's motto is seas the day CREDIT: Kate Noble PhotographyKirsty Hogben's motto is seas the day CREDIT: Kate Noble Photography

'I didn’t see this happening, it’s a real passion from a deep place. It’s important to know what’s happening in the water, it’s very different to a swimming pool and we focus on breathing which is really important. I love seeing the confidence gradually grow in people.'

Popularity was sparked from the pandemic and how we all looked at our lifestyles.

'Wild swimming is becoming so popular, there’s the social side and once you’ve tried it, you don’t realise how amazing it is,' adds Kirsty. 'I think people feel the benefits and they become addicted, they become evangelical about it and see how they benefit socially.'

With outdoor swimming accessible to many, Kirsty advises those with heart conditions, diabetes, etc, to check first, but it’s potentially for everyone.

'It’s a great form of exercise, the key thing is to start when it’s warmer and ease into it.

'There are so many benefits, mentally and physically. I was anxious but it calmed me. Do be wary of cold-water shock, the key is to go in slowly, splash some water on your shoulders, a lot of clients thought they could run in.'

Of course, the cleanliness of our water has also been a huge talking point. In 2022, raw sewage was pumped into rivers and seas for 1.75 million hours last year - on average 825 times per day and Kirsty says it’s an “absolute crisis”.

'People are afraid to go in. I personally still go in, but I have to change it for clients.

'Last summer I was unwell for a couple of days, it’s not right we get unwell for just going into the sea, it does put people off, it’s awful.

'It’s a public health crisis, we need to make our seas clean.'

There’s still lots to look forward to for Kirsty. She arranges full moon swims at Margate and Sheppey which are getting bigger and bigger and run once a month for a bit of fun, and her calming nature will stand her in good stead when she starts to study counselling in September.

Swimming in every season, Kirsty adds she loves the “sense of the shock”, in the colder months. 'It’s a buzz, and those endorphins, you don’t get that in the summer!'

But that said, Kirsty still says she is definitely a “summer person!”

Been inspired? 'Let’s go for it, it’s really challenging it’s never easy, let’s seas the day,' she adds.


Great British Life: TriSwim members take part in a New Years Day Swim CREDIT TriSwimTriSwim members take part in a New Years Day Swim CREDIT TriSwim

Another swimming enthusiast is Laura Ansell, founder and managing director of TriSwim.

A swimming teacher and ex-competitive swimmer, she’s been swimming since the age of five and founded the Kent-based organisation in 2015.

Laura said it was when doing a triathlon in open water that she felt “nervous”. There was no introduction, no safety talk, and she could see how many are put off. TriSwim’s aim is to allow everyone to access all water.

She says, 'We started seeing growing popularity in 2012 with the London Olympics and there was a massive boom in 2020 and because of the exceptional summer it was very busy. It certainly enticed people.'

TriSwim operates at five venues including Bewl Water, in Wadhurst, which is for everyone and those who like long distance. The largest stretch of open water in the south east, it’s also set in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Chipstead Lake, near Sevenoaks, is a privately owned lake and a great venue for budding open water swimmers or triathletes.

Haysden lake is a safe setting for swimming and is located in Tonbridge, while Hever Castle Lake is perfect for all swimmers, young and old, and experienced to beginners.

A new venue, The Beacon, Tunbridge Wells, feeds into Victorian spring fed lakes and offers healing, crystal-clear, calm water and is a wild swimming experience like no other.

Great British Life: Tow floats are optional at TriSwim locations in Kent CREDIT TriSwimTow floats are optional at TriSwim locations in Kent CREDIT TriSwim

Laura adds, 'Every venue caters for something a little different. Chipstead is my favourite as there’s a bar and restaurant and it’s a nice, safe place to be. It’s good for families and also hardcore swimming people.

'Every age and ability are catered for, with all venues having an accessibility plan. It’s free to those under the age of 16 with a paying adult and is a safe practice so people can make sensible choices.'

Safety is at the heart of Laura’s business and says situations can change quickly for the inexperienced where they feel out of their depth. 'As soon as the sun is out people head out to water, which is a lot colder, and those inexperienced can get cold water shock within just 90 seconds.'

With blood pressure up and increased breathing becoming shallow, after that it’s hypothermia or afterdrop where you start to feel colder and unwell.

TriSwim venues provide a pool environment in the open water and lifeguards are there to watch and will notice before the swimmer gets into difficulty.

When it comes to what to wear, you can wear your usual swimming gear, and a pair of flip flops are recommended, which can be left at the side. Wetsuits can also be hired and offer a bit of warmth while tow floats are optional.

Laura adds, 'TriSwim is very much a community for all ages and backgrounds, whether you’re swimming butterfly or staying at the shallow end. Most of us are open water swimmers. But it’s important to swim your own swim, you don’t need to be the best swimmer in the world.'


Great British Life: Toe dipping in one of the freshwater pool at Elmley Nature Reserve CREDIT Rebecca DouglasToe dipping in one of the freshwater pool at Elmley Nature Reserve CREDIT Rebecca Douglas

For a tranquil setting, Elmley Nature Reserve is perfect for wild swimming.

Within 3,300 acres of wilderness and breath-taking beauty on an island, it’s a family-run farm with a long-term vision to restore nature and a commitment to the sustainability of the landscape and land.

There’s a private beach which makes it possible to swim from Elmley's tiny, cockleshell beach at high tide, and also in one of the freshwater pools, between June and September.

Both options are possible for those staying at Elmley, whether in Kingshill Farmhouse's beautiful bedrooms, one of the huts or cabins, or a bell tent.


Great British Life: Walpole Bay Tidal Pool, Margate CREDIT Tourism @ Thanet District CouncilWalpole Bay Tidal Pool, Margate CREDIT Tourism @ Thanet District Council

A popular destination for sea swimming with its freshwater springs rising from the beach within the walls, Walpole Bay Tidal Pool is a must visit.

Covering four acres, that’s 450ft long, 300ft wide at the sea end and 550ft wide at the land end, it is believed to be the biggest tidal pool in the UK, reaching six feet in places.

At all tides the pool is submerged by the sea so do check the tide before attending as it can get a little rough at high tide.

There are no toilet facilities or lifeguards patrolling the beach and tidal pool.


For further information, guidance and safety tips, as well as details of wild swimming groups in Kent, visit outdoorswimmingsociety.com