IT is the health craze that sent thousands of people – including the Princess of Wales – diving into the country’s rivers, lochs and seas.
But wild swimming has now become so popular that Scottish health bosses have seen fit to issue new safety advice.
While they acknowledge that taking the plunge can boost mental and physical wellbeing, officials at Public Health Scotland have been quick to point out the alarming range of possible hazards – from potentially fatal cold water shock to stinging jellyfish and venomous weever fish.
Anyone brave enough to don their costume or wetsuit is also warned to be alert for toxic algae, treacherous riptides and unpleasant ‘swimmer’s itch’, a rash caused by tiny skin-burrowing parasites.
Kate, Duchess of Cambridge returns to shore after sailing an F50 foiling catamaran, in a race against New Zealand
The weever fish, which grows up to 20in long with venomous spines
Although critics might argue it is blindingly obvious, the quango’s number one tip for safe outdoor swimming is … ‘first, learn to swim’.
Helpfully it also reminds swimmers that inhaling water can lead to drowning – and that having some warm, dry, clothes to change into afterwards can help beat the cold.
The craze for open-water swimming exploded during lockdown, as people explored the exercise opportunities on their doorsteps.
Bosses at taxpayer-funded Public Health Scotland have now published a guide highlighting the risks.
It says: ‘The ability to swim, preferably to a competent level, is an essential first step to minimise many of the risks associated with swimming in unknown water.’
It goes on: ‘A number of stinging creatures are present in Scotland’s sea waters e.g. jellyfish or weever fish. While most stings are not serious, and can be treated with first aid, this may not always be the case and could affect your ability to swim.’
Jellyfish often spotted off Scotland’s shores that swimmers should be wary of include the Moon, Compass and Lion’s Mane.
Weever fish, meanwhile, lurk in shallow water and can deliver a painful sting through the venomous spines on their distinctive black dorsal fin.
People often describe the site of the sting as feeling ‘on fire’. Common symptoms include swelling itching, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps.
More severe reactions include seizures, breathing problems and unconsciousness.
Scots have been urged to be wary of the cold, poor water quality
Water quality is another hazard and the agency warns: ‘One of the biggest challenges in wild swimming is assessing the quality of the water you are swimming in.
‘The presence of bacteria and viruses in open waters can increase the risk of being exposed to bugs that might cause vomiting or diarrhoea, or a range of other infections.
This includes those that might affect your skin, ears, eyes, or your liver, kidney, or respiratory systems.’
Advice to avoid the nasty side-effects includes sticking to designated bathing waters, avoiding swimming after heavy rain, when more harmful bacteria enter the water from sewage systems, and trying not to swallow water.
The agency also urged swimmers to consider how cold the water is, to check the forecast and tide times and to wear a wetsuit with bright colours so they can be seen. Catherine, Princess of Wales, last week revealed on rugby star Mike Tindall’s podcast: ‘Cold swimming – the colder, the better.
‘I absolutely love it. To the point where William’s saying “You’re crazy” and it’s dark and it’s raining. I will go and seek out cold water.’
Other celebrities to embrace cold-water swimming include presenter Amanda Holden, presenter Fearne Cotton, fitness guru Joe Wicks, supermodel Helena Christensen and actor and comedian Greg Hemphill along with his wife, actress Julie Wilson Nimmo.