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  • Writer's pictureGemma Bailey

Dipping in the Dales

Being inspired by the walkers and swimmers I met whilst walking the Lakes & Dales for my commission, I wanted to explore the fascinating world of wild swimming further. Hoping to immerse myself in the communities of wild swimmers that have grown since the pandemic in 2020, I approached Les of 'The Dales Dippers' who kindly invited me along to one of his wild swimming days.

On arriving in a little Swaledale village named Keld I was greeted by the smiling faces of the friendliest group of women who had travelled north to experience the waters of Swaledale. I first swam in Keld almost a year ago, so I was familiar with this stretch of river and I was excited to capture the experience of the group discovering the water for themselves. We walked along the River Swale to the first waterfall Kisdon Force, a series of waterfalls 500 metres downstream from Keld. I joined the group for the first 'dip' (it would be rude not to!) but I lasted a lot less time in the water than this hardy group of women. As they continued to enjoy the water, I sat at the river's edge and sketched.
From here the group headed up to a vast open section of the river. I was fascinated by the ripples and waves created by the swimmers and tried to capture these movements in pencil and watercolour.
The next waterfall was Wain Wath, another spot I've been lucky enough to swim in before. Again I sketched and photographed the swimmers, creating a huge collection of reference material to work from later. Luckily this group of swimmers had adorned themselves with the brightest swimsuits which I knew would be incredibly fun to paint when I got home. When the day began, my focus had been on collecting reference sketches and photographs of the women within the water, to understand how their bodies looked beneath the water. However, as the day went by, I found that the most interesting images I was gathering of this group where found in the moments when the group had left the water; exhilarated, cold, happy. Drawing the women as they buzzed around getting changed into their dry robes and jumpers, I was reminded of the series of oil pastel bathers Edgar Degas created, depicting women as they bathed in water.

The final waterfall was a surprise to me. It was completely isolated and hidden away from prying eyes. I won't reveal the name if this final waterfall to maintain some mystery that seems to go hand in hand with wild swimming, but I felt like I'd stepped through vines into an ancient tropical civilisation. Of course, I couldn't resist another little swim to finish off the day.

You can book a wild swimming adventure with Les at and prints from my series of Swaledale swimmers are available in my Etsy shop.
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