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Take a swim on the wild side

In the warm morning sun. Under the light of the moon. After the first frost of winter. There's rarely a time - or weather type - that dampens Kate Rew's swimming spirit. As co-founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society, she invites the nation to dip into the great outdoors - from great lakes to forgotten rivers.

Kate Rew was a wild (swimming) child. Growing up on a Devonshire farm that had a river running through it, she spent a good deal of time on watery escapades. "We had this favourite downstream journey," she remembers. "From the waterfall at one end, we'd wiggle our way through a mile-and-a-half of water, past places like 'eel corner' and 'red willow alley' - as we called them."

On rediscovering it as an adult, Kate realised she'd never lost that love of A-to-B swimming outdoors: "I still see it as going on adventure, and carving my way through a landscape."

The Outdoor Swimming Society

On an atmospheric Halloween dip, the idea of starting an outdoor swimming organisation first came to Kate. She arrived in Buttermere after dark and during a downpour. "But when we got to the shore the rain stopped, the clouds parted and stars appeared," she remembers. "We forgot about spending half a day on a hellish motorway, because of this magical swim beneath the moon and mountains." Later, Kate decided to inspire more people to swim outdoors.

First came a charity swim - Breaststrokes. Then, in 2006, Kate co-founded the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS). In its inaugural year the Society drew 300 members.

"We were the first to invite the general public out for a swim - non-competitively - and we found open water swimmers everywhere," Kate explains. A book, Wild Swim, followed and the OSS grew.

Lakes and lidos, streams and seas

Today, Kate sees the OSS as "a lovely community of people who come together simply to appreciate the beauty of a place." Along with plenty of positive press, it's transforming perceptions of wild swimming from being "dirty, dangerous, cold and illegal" to invigorating and inspiring.

But people need to know where to swim - and how to do it safely. So Kate and the OSS have created the Wild Swim Map at www.wildswim.com. Its mission is to plot the nation's best-loved outdoor swim locations.

Top of the swimming spots

Picking her own favourite wild swim location is impossible for Kate. At the moment, however, the Dart is near the top of her list. "I'm a big fan of big rivers like the Dart and the Thames, which have a nice pull and pretty banks lined with trees."

For family adventures, Kate's a fan of Blackmoss Pot in the Cumbrian hills. This sheltered clear-water river pool, surrounded by steep rock, even has a waterfall. Or, to step back in time, Farleigh and District Swimming Club is a must-visit. "There used to be river clubs across the country, but this is the only survivor," she says.

Swimming in the rain

In Kate's world, 'bad weather' can be a good thing. "You're already wet, so swimming feels a perfectly sensible thing to do in the rain," she points out. "You see a delicate layer of mist and raindrops bouncing off the water - something you'll only appreciate when wild swimming."

In fact, the weather rarely puts her off. "I swim in the moonlight, early morning and I love mist. Mist can make a familiar place feel quite mystical," she says. The same goes for midwinter. A short, sharp dunk each Christmas leaves Kate "completed elated."

At the same time, Kate's mindful of the weather's power to surprise. "I remember being halfway between two Scilly Isles when the sea mist came in. Suddenly we couldn't see where to go." Luckily, a kayaker had joined Kate and her friend - along with his trusty compass.

Kate believes outdoor swimmers aren't only hyperaware of the weather, but in tune with it. "You become somebody who's interested in the ground temperature, wind speeds and phases of the moon - and very sensitive to shifts in seasons," she explains. "I feel part of that turn from summer to autumn in a way I didn't before - and that's lovely."