Features editor DARREN BURKE took the plunge to chat to one brave wild swimming enthusiast
It is one of England’s longest standing December 25 traditions - each Christmas Day morning, the members of the Serpentine Swimming Club gather at 9am for a 100 yard race. They’ve been doing it since 1864, whatever the weather. Snow, sleet, ice, rain - you name it, they’ve ploughed through it in typically British eccentric fashion, no doubt freezing their assets along the way.
But the cult of outdoor swimming in all extremes is spreading - and to the River Don too.
Your’e likely to meet members of the Outdoor Swimming Society taking a spine-tingling dip in the Don - no matter how low the mercury in the thermometer drops.
Leon Fryer is one member of the Outdoor Swimming Society who likes nothing better than pulling on his wetsuit and plunging into the wintery waters - and is keen for more people to come and join in.
“You can’t beat swimming outdoors,” he said. “It’s truly exhilerating even if people do think we are a bit mad!”
The world of outdoor swimming was given a huge boost earlier this year by Little Britain star David Walliams who swam the entire length of the River Thames in aid of Sport Relief.
“People suddenly realised that you don’t have to be restricted to a chlorine filled pool,” added Leon, 44.
“It’s all about the freedom and it’s truly liberating swimming outdoors. There’s no other feeling like it.”
Leon, from Edenthorpe, and his swimming partner Aaron Frogley have swum all over the UK and as well as the Don at Sprotbrough, the pair can regularly be found taking a dip with others in a lake at Barnby Dun. He said: “The stretch of the Don by the Boat Inn is lovely. It’s very scenic and you don’t get that from an indoor pool. People think it’s a dirty and polluted river and the other week a woman who had been walking along the riverbank telling her children how dirty it was couldn’t believe it when she clapped eyes on us swimming.
“It has had a bad reputation but it really is a glorious place to go swimming - although I must admit its better in summer!”
Believe it or not, some outdoor swimmers are happy to take a dip in just their trunks - even when its truly freezing out. But the majority of regulars don wetsuits, gloves, swim socks and goggles - and Leon says anyone can get kitted out for as little as £150.
He addded: “I have been swimming in the open air ever since I was a child. You get to see some amazing scenery up close and you can get right up to the wildlife too. But at the same time, you have to know what you are doing too. You need to have respect for fishermen and other river users and safety is paramount. You can’t just go jumping in any stretch of water without checking the risks first.”
Said Leon: “Once you get over that initial shock of just how bracing it is, it is absolutely fantastic.
“We get people who just can’t believe it when they see a group of people swimming outside when it’s cold and rain is lashing down. But then you show them photos of the beautiful scenery and the great outdoors wild swimming offers and they seem to understand a little bit more. I would recommend it to anyone. You can’t beat it.”
The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) was founded in 2006 by Kate Rew, author of Wild Swim.
For more details visit www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com