We may be approaching winter, but that hasn’t put a stop to the wild swimming enthusiasts across the country who take solace floating between emerald-green reeds and aquamarine dragonflies throughout the year.
But it’s not just those taking a dip in countryside rivers and ponds who get to experience swimming without the smell of chlorine and an ugly concrete basin around them.
No, these days anyone can soak in natural water in the privacy of their own back garden by installing a natural swimming pond — a pool cleaned by carefully selected plants instead of harsh chemicals delivered in plastic tubs.
Make a splash: A natural swimming pond with steps into the water makes a great alternative to a concrete pool
Swimming ponds have grown in popularity over the past decade as many people have become addicted to rural dipping.
Others might have grown tired of staring at the uninspiring tarpaulin-covered concrete pools in their back garden, wishing they had something that complements their outlook.
Swimming ponds — also called ‘natural swimming pools’ — come in all shapes and sizes and can be heated or unheated, but the common feature is that the plants they contain are chosen to make the water safe by absorbing the nutrients that would otherwise lead to a build-up of algae.
Some designs also pump the water through filtration units.
Smita Patel, a GP, who lives in a converted barn in the village of Gonalston, Nottinghamshire, had her 66 sqm swimming pond constructed last year by Ellicar. She takes a dip every day for half an hour.
‘It does seem ridiculous digging a hole in the ground in this freezing cold country, filling it with cold water and inviting people to swim in it, doesn’t it?’ she laughs.
But, luckily for her, the pond was completed in May 2020, during a bout of hot weather.
Natural: A waterlily. Plants will help keep a swimming pond clean
‘I swam every day, but then in October, the water temperature fell below 16c and I thought, ‘Gosh, we ought to be sensible about this’, and stopped.
‘But I couldn’t bear it — I became miserable that I couldn’t go for my daily swim.’
So she started acclimatising herself, and now gets in every day, sharing the water with a resident newt and a visiting heron.
‘It stimulates every nerve fibre and receptor and gives me a real endorphin high every morning,’ she says.
‘And swimming at night with the stars is just magical. It’s therapeutic. And my children now come and visit more often!’
Ponds like hers cost about £1,500 per square metre. That includes everything — plants, filters etc — but without optional extras such as decking.
Pools are usually divided into two zones: a central swimming area, and the rim where the plants live. You can wade through them if you like, but most people opt for decking, so you can dive straight into the swim zone.
You can convert an existing pool or build from scratch, and swimming ponds are generally low-maintenance.
A couple of times a year you will probably want to have the firm that installed it come along to keep the plants in check. And there’s no need to cover it up when not being used. A surface skimmer will prevent any build-up of leaves etc.
Other options include solar panels to heat the water, speakers to play music while you take a dip, lighting above or under the water and pavilions to get changed in. The minimum size is probably about 40sqm.
The temperature will likely hit highs of 25c in summer, and 19c in winter. You can still use it in the cold, of course, but a wet suit might be an idea.
Helen Jennings, an interior designer who lives in Diss, Suffolk, had her 50sqm swimming pond built by Natural Swimming Pools two years ago.
The company creates pools of that size from about £75,000. ‘We built the house in 2004 and I wanted to create a wildlife sanctuary on the plot,’ says Helen.
‘So when we were thinking of introducing water to the house I didn’t want the normal chemical and concrete block type of pool.
‘I wanted something natural and I loved the fact that you could have natural plants for the purification process.’
She says it’s the best thing she has ever bought. ‘I loved designing it — these pools are very personal, because you can have them round, square, any size you want.
‘Any season you’re in, you have this fantastic body of life that’s connected to the house because you can open the doors and experience it.
‘And the kinetic energy is wonderful because it’s always moving — you wake up in the morning and you have this lovely pool bubbling away and doing its thing.’
In the summer, she swims in it every day, although she hasn’t yet braved winter-time dips.
‘At the moment it’s about 17c, so it’s parky and makes you shriek a bit when you get in, but once you’re in, it’s fine.
‘It’s the best investment I’ve ever made — I’d make it again in a heartbeat.’