Wild swimming: Your guide to the best al fresco dips in Spain
PUBLISHED: 08:00 30 April 2016
Wild swimming has taken off in the UK’s ponds and rivers, but imagine taking a cool dip in the heat of a Spanish summer?
Primary school teacher Lola Culsan, and co-author John Weller don’t have to since they’ve collaborated on a book about the best al fresco dips in Spain.
Three summers ago they toured the country in a camper van exploring reservoirs, lakes, rivers and canyons off the beaten track from the Pyrenees to Cataluna, Andalucia to Galicia and the glacial lakes of Asturias.
“John is a cold water swimmer year round but I have to have either warm water or warm weather,” explains Culsan, who lives in Chalk Farm and learned to swim on Cataluna’s Costa Dorada where she spent summers with her aunt and cousins.
“For two months a year I used to spend hours at a time in the sea.”
It was in the Rio Tajo near Guadalajara where the mum of two discovered the joys of freshwater swimming: “It’s the most beautiful river miles from the sea and the beaches. You can discover a less developed and commercial bit of the country. This has been a voyage of discovery for me as well, like a lot of people I have always been to the coast or Madrid but Spain is a huge country with lots more to see and a lot of scope for wilderness.”
She adds: “It’s a world away from chlorinated pools to something more natural where it’s green and fresh. Rivers tend to have an overhang of trees and sunlight on dappled water it’s gorgeous”
Weller an ICT project worker for Camden Council who was born in Kentish Town now lives in East Finchley first splashed in the paddling pool on Hampstead Heath: “I have always swum at the lido just as my dad did. I like seeing the sky when you are swimming, but in rivers it’s free and wild and natural under the big blue Spanish sky.”
Weller, who took many of the book’s photographs adds: “This is for people who want to explore and don’t want to go on a package holiday, who want to encourage their children to be a bit adventurous.”
On their trip, Culsan enjoyed: “parking up by a lake having an evening swim or swimming first thing in the morning. It’s magical seeing the sunrise over the water there’s something about it that calms the soul. Some of the nicest swimming was in reservoirs there’s no waves, current or jellyfish.”
She emphasises the importance of safety: “Find a weir or a bend where the river turns or slows. Every Spanish village has a bit walled off for safe swimming. Test the water first, it’s sometimes colder than you think. Watch out for a fast flowing river with rocks and tunnels under the rocks. Invest in good water shoes. Never jump in unless you have seen someone do it first or have checked the depth and make sure you know where to get out before you get in.”
She adds: “This isn’t a compendium it’s a starting point to carry on exploring if you want an adventure.”