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Taking the plunge: A deep dive into Bristol University's Wild Swimming Society

In conversation with Brannoc Stevenson about Bristol University's Wild Swimming Society.

Image courtesy of Brannoc Stevenson

By Alice Williams, Second Year, English

Epigram recently had the opportunity to speak to the media secretary of Bristol University’s Wild Swimming Society; Brannoc Stevenson, to find out why people love this activity so much.

‘Wild swimming is the act of swimming in untamed waterways, such as lakes, rivers, and the sea.’ This is taken from their student union page, giving us a simple overview of what the society is, but we want to delve a bit deeper…

Brannoc explains that ‘the wild swimming society started before Covid’, but one of its members, Archie, raised its profile during the pandemic, organising swims here and there. You can understand the surge in interest during lockdowns when students were stuck in halls, desperately wanting to get outside, which was the case for the rest of the country. This is when the activity ‘properly became known as wild swimming, rather than just a dip in the river’ says Brannoc. Last year, ‘the president, Caroline, made the swims much more regular’ and the society began to have weekly sessions with organised trips to various locations around Bristol and beyond. The main locations being Clevedon, Saltford and Beeses.

Wild swimming has many benefits, in terms of both mental and physical health. It is said to improve metabolism, lower blood pressure, combat stress, make you sleep better and much more, whilst also being a great form of exercise. Brannoc says; ‘when it gets colder, you need to get into a meditative state, focussing on your breathing to allow you to get in. If you just jump in the water in the middle of December, you will go into cold-water shock and end up panicking.’

In fact, they recently held an event with Bristol Yoga Society, where members did an hour of yoga before going for the swim, which was described as being ‘very zen’, providing some calm before the storm of getting into the river.

Image courtesy of Brannoc Stevenson

During fresher's week this year, the society had lots of interest, with the first session hosting no less than ‘150 people.’ Although this popularity is great, Brannoc says that it ‘gets good when it gets to the winter’ as smaller groups attend, meaning that you can meet more people on a regular basis.

Brannoc discusses the challenge of wild swimming in the winter months; ‘lots of people in the society enjoy the challenge’ and it turns into a case of ‘can you hack it when it gets really cold?’

Some people in the society take it more seriously than others. Brannoc tells me that ‘one person has filled their bin with cold water and uses it every morning along with her housemates.’ He was keen to stress that this isn’t expected for all members to do, but the enthusiasm is great to see.

The society doesn’t just limit itself to wild swimming, it has lots of other social activities. After every swim, they all go to the pub to have a well-deserved pint. Brannoc says that ‘the best thing about the social is that you get a mixture of people from all walks of life, who are all just interested in going out and doing something.’

Image courtesy of Brannoc Stevenson

Some readers may be wondering about some of the dangers of wild swimming, for example, the issue with sewage being dumped in rivers over recent years. Brannoc assures us that; ‘we have a health and safety officer giving advice.’ The society only goes to places that get water quality tested to ensure that everyone is safe, and they are advised on what the best times to go are from the people who run the charity at Clevedon Marine Pool. ‘Being a student-led thing, we can’t take responsibility’ and the members have to use their common sense, like not putting their heads under, and only staying in for a certain amount of time.

‘Not many first years attend the society, it has predominantly been a second and third-year thing’ Brannoc states, so it will be great to encourage more of them to come along and get involved in the community aspect, even if they are nervous to go on their own.

He says, ‘The first time I went, I went alone and made some lifelong friends.’ So, don’t be afraid to come along to one of their Sunday swims and get involved in something new, all you need is a swimming costume and some bravery!

The membership is free, so what’s not to love?

Will you attend a wild swim on Sunday?