Open-water swimming has grown in popularity in recent years – the attraction is obvious – but safety is paramount. Clare Kenny joined the Blue Lagooners to get some expert tuition and take her first dip into the wild swim world.

From better circulation to enhanced mood, there are many reasons to try open water swimming. It’s a great way to challenge yourself mentally while soaking up the numerous health benefits, so I decided to, literally, take the plunge.

The last place I expected to end up when I accepted an invite to try open water swimming was Womersley in Doncaster, but Spring Lodge Lake, home of Blue Lagooners, really is idyllic. The only clue you’re near civilisation are the trains that occasionally snake their way past, obscured by the surrounding trees.

My friend Chris, who’s a regular, was on hand to show me the ropes before I got into the water. First up was hiring (and fitting into) a wetsuit, the latter being a workout in itself! Different to surfing wetsuits, open water suits are designed to keep the body temperature higher and reduce the ‘shock’ of getting into the water. Their built-in buoyancy also provides an added element of safety; if you get tired you can go on your back and float ‘starfish’ style until you’re ready to start swimming again. Genius!

Stepping into the lake, I was surprised at just how much water enhances the experience of being in nature, and the sounds of splashing and chatting were wonderfully evocative of the magic of beach holidays. But encouraged by a friend to make my way further into the lake, I realised that I felt surprisingly nervous. I can swim fairly long distances in a normal pool, but there’s a lot more to think about when swimming outdoors.

At Spring Lodge Lake there are two routes to choose from: 250 or 500 metres, both snaking around giant buoys. I must add that you can’t grab onto these if you’re tired, although those in wetsuits can of course try the aforementioned back float.

Many swimmers take a flotation device, known as a tow float, along with them for extra reassurance. This is something I’d definitely recommend for those new to the hobby - I’ll be taking one with me next time. They’re also mandatory if you’re swimming without a wetsuit, something which is only permitted once the water is 18 degrees and above and highly unlikely in the autumn and winter months.

Great British Life: Claire Kenny takes the plunge. (c) Claire KennyClaire Kenny takes the plunge. (c) Claire Kenny

Safety is something Blue Lagooners take extremely seriously. The team of staff on paddle boards patrolling the lake are unobtrusive but have an almost telepathic ability to spot anyone who looks like they’re struggling, or even apprehensive. They certainly sensed my nerves and headed across to check I was ok while providing reassurance and encouragement. As a first timer, it made a huge difference.

Completing my swim brought a real sense of achievement. Physical tiredness and mental exhilaration are a powerfully healthy combination, and focusing on nothing but the rhythm of your body against the water and the sights, sounds and smells around you is incredibly absorbing and calming. There’s a richness to the experience that you just don’t get in a traditional swimming pool.

A vital social hub

At Blue Lagooners there’s a real mix of ‘serious’ and social visitors, and a warm welcome for everyone. Chatting with co-founder Morg – aka ‘Coach Morg’ - after my swim, he told me how the club has provided a much-needed social hub: ‘I think during the pandemic we all realised just how crucial exercise and social interaction was to our mental health. So many of the people who come here do so because of the psychological benefits of physical exercise and the connections with others; there’s a group of new mums who use it as an opportunity to support one another, and women who are experiencing menopause who are using it to manage symptoms. We also have a significant number of ex and serving military and emergency services personnel who swim with us and find it a great release from the daily pressures they face in their careers’.

This is a great time to take a dip into open water swimming - it truly is a hobby that can be enjoyed all year-round. In fact, swimming in colder temperatures packs an even more powerful physical and psychological punch, so there’s no excuse not to take the plunge!

Claire can be found on Instagram and facebook Blue Lagooners are at