Q&A with the Wild Welsh Swimmer

Wild swimming is becoming increasingly popular as more and more of us seek a greater connection to the natural world. Laura (also known as the wild welsh swimmer) features in our upcoming film, 'Hydrotherapy.' Laura originally started wild swimming in order to find relief from Fibromyalgia, but while swimming in lakes, beaches, and rivers across Snowdonia, Laura has not only found physical relief from swimming in the cool waters of North Wales, but also a greater connection & understanding of the delicate ecosystems around us...

Laura Sanderson Sea

J: How does wild swimming make you feel?

L: Wild swimming outdoors is completely different from swimming in a pool, where you pace up and down, and it’s rigid and controlled, like most things in modern life. Swimming outdoors is a lot more about the connection and being present. It’s difficult to explain but swimming on my own in a mountain lake or in the sea is the only time I get out of my own head, or to focus on my own physical body. My senses are heightened and I am more aware of my surroundings, sounds, and smells…

J: Why did you start wild swimming?

L: My mum used to dive competitively when she was younger so I grew up swimming in the sea. She brought me and my siblings up to be comfortable in the water, though I would say that I have always been a ‘fair weather’ swimmer. And then I didn’t really swim in my late twenties to early thirties because I didn’t want to be seen in a swimsuit!

It wasn’t until I got ill that I started to swim throughout the winters. That was back in 2018, when I realised how short life is, and I didn’t really care what other people thought about me wearing a swimming costume.

I also met a woman called Joanne who was visiting from Oxford. She took me under her wing and showed me the ‘ropes’ of winter sea swimming. I haven’t looked back since.

J:  Do you have any powerful memories of wild swimming?

L: My absolute favourite swim experiences are almost always in the sea. I love swimming with marine life, and the energy you get from the waves is so different to any lake or river. I’ve swum with huge shoals of sand eels, with dolphins along the coast of Harlech beach, and watched spider crabs scuttling across the seabed although these sightings are becoming few and far between.

Last year I went snorkeling with a group of friends just off our local beach, and the only marine life we found were hundreds of jellyfish, including species such as the Aequorea victoria who are not native to our waters. Seeing first hand the changes in our seas that hit home the rate at which our climate is changing. Swims like those are the most powerful, because they remind you that we are sharing the planet with other species and we need to do everything in our power to reduce the human impact on our natural environment.

J: How has your relationship with nature changed since you started swimming?

L: I have certainly become more aware of the importance of our connection to nature. While halfway up a mountain I have found bags of nappies, plastic bottles, and coffee lids discarded on the mountain, and then the beach is where it all ends up.

I have found huge amounts of ghost nets, plastic sheeting, bottles, toys etc. When you see it you are faced with the reality of human impact on the planet. But knowing is caring, which is why I set up Snowdonia beach clean as a Surfers Against Sewage rep in order to engage the general public. The sea is the life source of the planet. I’ve seen Minke whales off the coast of Scotland and the impact of salmon fishing. Everything is interlinked and the way humans have impacted the natural world saddens me. We all have to stand up and stop sleepwalking into a climate disaster.

J: Could you tell us a little bit about your Source to Sea challenge in the UK’s national parks this year?

L: Last year I swam from Snowdon to the sea to test for microplastics invisible to the naked eye. I wanted to find out whether there are plastics present at the source of a river even in a remote environment, and how this is affected as you move further downstream.

I chose one of the cleanest rivers in Snowdonia and expected to find no microplastics at the source. We found microplastics throughout the water system, quadrupling in numbers by the time we reached the sea.

This discovery inspired me to swim all of the U.K’s national parks in 2020. Plastic started off as this miracle product but it has become the miracle pollutant that never disappears. The water we test looks pure but under fluorescent lights, you can see the scale of the problem. I am working with Surfers Against Sewage and Dr. Christian Dunn from Bangor university, in order to lobby the U.K government to start testing for microplastics in all of our inland waterways. There is currently not enough research or evidence of how plastic pollution is affecting our most fragile ecosystems and how it is affecting the human body. Yet plastic is a toxic pollutant.

I am a single mother from North Wales and I think that if you want to make a change or a stand you can do this even if you are standing alone. It will make a difference and encourage more people to make a stand for the natural environment too.

J: What is the best thing anyone has said to you?

L: When I was in hospital and feeling quite sorry for myself, my sister Aimee sent me a quote that said “It’s okay if you fall down and lose your spark. Just make sure that when you get back up, you rise as the whole damn fire.”

I hope that after reading this you’re feeling as inspired as we are by Laura’s incredible work. Stay up to date with Laura at we swim wild & @wildwelshswimmer. Film coming very soon.