A WILD swimmer has discovered the natural delights of the River Wey, writes Len Walker.

From an early age, Ella Foote has enjoyed a cooling plunge and the challenge of open-air swimming. She regularly took to the water long before the craze of swimming in rivers became mainstream.

I first spotted Ella a few weeks ago when I was fishing at Woking Palace and she swam past me.

“Outdoor swimming has been a big part of my life for over 20 years,” she told the News & Mail. “When the hobby became more popular, I took the opportunity to organize my own swimming groups to meet the growing demand.

“Paradoxically, some of the pandemic restrictions were behind a boom in wild swimming as large numbers of people took to outdoor exercise, and I catered for groups of six who could all legally swim together at the time.”

The River Wey is famous for being one of the earliest navigable trade highways in England, but its tributaries remain little known. After moving to Surrey, Ella explored these waterways and discovered their lure, especially in the Woking area.

“There is a lot of attraction to these waters. In places it is spring fed and it’s also a natural, lazy river that’s clean to swim. The secluded areas with their beautiful blue damsel’s and dragonflies can feel like a secret garden,” she said.

“The smaller streams that run off the main river are an addictive attraction to me, unlike the man-made section of the navigation that runs to Newark Priory, where boats can be a hazard for swimmers.”

The autumn is a good time to try a spot of wild swimming, she suggested, with natural water at its warmest.

“The hobby is great therapy with proven health benefits,” Ella added. “I’m a qualified swimming instructor and swim outdoors many times a week.

“It is fun, but you have to be aware of your surroundings as even at the height of summer water temperatures can be cold.”

Safety advice from the national governing body, Swim England:

  • Never swim alone in open water.
  • Let someone know where you are and when you expect to return.
  • Plan your route, check online information.
  • Plan your exit before you get into the water and always swim with the current
  • Avoid manmade structures such as weirs and locks.
  • If you get into difficulty stay calm and float on your back until you can control your breathing and then continue to swim

To find out more about Wild Swimming on the River Wey visit: www.thedipadvisor.co.uk