Sophie Pierce, author of a new book on wild swimming and walking in Devon and Dartmoor tells us why swimming in the great outdoors keeps her sane and happy.
"It makes me feel alive"
I'm floating in a sparkling azure lagoon off a hidden beach on the South Devon coast. There are shimmering white pebbles below me, and ahead, a cave looms, bordered by a natural arch. I am suspended in the moment; my body is weightless and feels lithe and elegant as a fish. It's pure sensual and emotional pleasure.
After a swim, I feel as though my factory settings have been restored. A friend always says, 'you never regret a swim' and she's right. There's something about going for a swim in wild and natural waters that restores the spirits and makes you feel washed clean of your woes.
It's also a great adventure. To swim out along a coastline, or along a river, is great fun and takes you back to childhood, when you were content to spend the day roaming free, exploring the world around you. Too often as adults we forget the joy of discovery; wild swimming takes you to new places and new experiences.
I have made lots of new friends through wild swimming - the vast majority of whom are women. Why this is I am not quite sure. The men who come are equally passionate about the activity - but they are in the minority. Perhaps it is something to do with women's need for escape? Being the multi-taskers that we are, most women will be managing the household, children, other dependent relatives and work all at the same time. Men don't seem to have to manage these responsibilities to the same degree. And so the need for us women to have an outlet is great. Wild swimming is the perfect thing, because it takes you to beautiful places, where you can immerse yourself in the natural environment. And while you're swimming, it is hard to think about anything other than swimming. You are there, in the water, in a different dimension almost, absorbed in and by that world.
My favourite swims in Devon and Dartmoor
Pear Tree Point, near Great Mattiscombe Sand, South Devon
This is a hidden beach just by the South West Coast path. There is a seal colony nearby, and you can swim around to a beautiful lagoon which has a secret cave into which you can swim on a high tide.
Tavy Cleave, Dartmoor
A beautiful moorland river with two fabulous pools with wonderful waterfalls, perfect for a back massage. It's an isolated spot in a spectacular valley, with a great sense of drama.
A huge lake in the middle of Dartmoor. It's remote and beautiful, and you can get a really good swim in while the larks sing overhead.
Wild Swimming Walks: Dartmoor and South Devon by Sophie Pierce and Matt Newbury (£14.99, Wild Things Publishing) publishes 2nd May and details 28 lake, river and coastal walk and swim adventures. Available from all good bookshops. For 30% off and free P+P visit www.wildthingspublishing.com and enter 'femalefirst' as your coupon at checkout.