Going Wild in 2020
The trials of writing a guide book to Cornwall's wild swim spots during a global pandemic.
Just before Christmas, Wild Swimming Walks: Cornwall actually went to print. It was an exciting moment for my co-author Sophie Pierce and myself, as there were several times when we didn’t think we would make it over the finish line. There are 28 circular walks in this follow-up to our popular Wild Swimming Walks: Dartmoor and South Devon Book, all of which needed to be researched and photographed.
The photographs for these books are really important, showing lots of different people enjoying themselves in some stunning Cornwall locations. Looking back to September 2019, (when we did a figure of eight walk from Readymoney Cove in Fowey to Polridmouth and back), a staggering 21 people joined us. At that time we could never have dreamt that in just a few short months the whole of the UK would be locked down, or that the number of people we could meet up with in outdoor settings following that, would be limited to six people or less.
More and more people started going outdoors and reconnecting with nature
During the first lockdown, we obviously put the book completely on hold and like many people stuck to discrete local swims as part of our daily exercise. We needed to be discrete, as the virtual curtain twitchers were out in force, being judgemental and posting pictures on the local “spotted” websites whenever they saw a swimmer breaking what they thought were the rules. As time progressed and helped by some rather amazing weather, something wonderful began to happen. More and more people started going outdoors and reconnecting with nature. Which is obviously a really positive thing if people do it responsibly
This was something that post-apocalyptic dystopian dramas hadn’t predicted – an out of control number of wild swimmers causing river and sea levels to rise to unmanageable levels.
On 1 June 2020, the Outdoor Swimming Society decided to take down the swim map at wildswim.com “in support of local communities being overwhelmed during lockdown.” This was something that post-apocalyptic dystopian dramas hadn’t predicted – an out of control number of wild swimmers causing river and sea levels to rise to unmanageable levels. Maybe we had been wrong to mock Waterworld, back in the halcyon days of the 90’s and should have been taking notes.
As we began to tentatively restart our research in very small socially distanced groups, we were more aware than ever that we needed to tread carefully with our new book. We are always very diligent when it comes to which swim spots to include, especially in terms of their environmental impact. With this in mind, we deliberately took several swims out if they were from delicate river banks or in quarries where too many people might have a negative impact on the local wildlife. We also removed some spots at the request of locals, who wanted to preserve some of their very special places from becoming overrun.
Most importantly, all of our swims involve a walk first and the more isolated a swim spot is, the quieter it tends to be. A perfect example was St Ives over the summer. The main town beaches were packed, but when we walked a few miles over to Porth Kidney Sands, we had huge expanses of beach to ourselves. While it is unlikely we will reach the sheer number of staycations that took place over the summer of 2020, we should remember that Cornwall does have 400 miles of coastline and over 300 beaches. So if people can just spread out a bit more, we will be just fine.
We personally think it is fantastic that more people are getting out in the open than ever before, reconnecting with nature and learning how to respect it. Especially as walking and swimming are so good for both your physical and mental health. It was a mad dash to get to the finish line in terms of visiting and photographing many of these beautiful locations, but we somehow managed it. We are extremely proud of the book and can’t wait for everyone to see it when it comes back from the printers.
From a personal point of view, the book is a beautiful reminder that 2020 wasn’t a complete disaster. We were lucky enough to enjoy some amazing wild swimming adventures in some stunning locations and with some really special people. It will be out in the spring, when hopefully the world will be a bit more normal and people will still be keen to explore the beauty on their own doorsteps.
Here’s to a safe, healthy and truly wild 2021.