An Interview with the Wild Swimming Brothers

Let’s face it, sometimes the gym just isn’t that inspiring. It has its place, sure, but there comes a time when you want to explore beyond those four walls and screen of the treadmill. Unfortunately the unpredictable British weather prevents us from doing regular yoga on the beach but there are a whole host of ways of enjoying the great outdoors – and raising that heart rate in the process. Three brothers who are leading the way in this are Jack, Calum and Robbie Hudson – collectively known as the Wild Swimming Brothers. Together the three Hudsons have swum in some of the most challenging waters in the world – some swims never before attempted. We sat down with Calum to find out what it takes to go on a wild swimming expedition, their training process and how we can get started.

wild swimming brothers interview

How did the Wild Swimming Brothers begin?

All three of us grew up in the Lake District, exploring its waterways and jumping into its many lakes, we spent our holidays visiting our Grandma Wild in the Highlands of Scotland and learned to love and embrace the outdoors. As we reached adulthood we noticed that folk, including ourselves, were increasingly detached from the natural world. We all moved to big cities after university (Newcastle, London and Berlin) and felt the weight of urban grind – the common monotony of an office-based nine-to-five. We each felt that we needed to do something to break free and when our family home in the Lake District was sold we decided to do something to say goodbye to our childhood and home. We set out to swim all 90 miles of the River Eden (our childhood river that flew past the bottom of our garden) and the Wild Swimming Brothers were born. We decided to commit to going on wild swimming adventures and set out to explore the world through wild swimming.

Tell us about your training process – what does an average week look like for you? A lot of the training is psychological and the key to overcoming most of our swims is self-belief. We use a lot of endless positivity and visualisation and will fantasise about finishing our swims over and over again, right down to the tiny details, what the water will taste like, what it will feel when my hands grip the rocks at the finish, how I will feel when I look back at where we’ve swum. We also swim 4/5 times a week and keep ourselves fresh and motivated by using other sports to provide variety, we do everything from powerlifting to skateboarding and this keeps us from getting stuck in a rut. For the Arctic Circle swims we did we had to prepare for the cold, the water is around 9% and can easily induce hypothermia if you’re under prepared. We undertook 4 months’ cold showers and ice baths, in fact, Robbie only had one warm shower in 6 months and that’s because he thought he’d reward himself when he was drunk.

wild swimming brothers

You all live in different places; how do you prepare for each expedition from different locations?

There’s a level of trust and expectation that we will all do the necessary training to be ready when we get there, it helps motivate us because we’re brothers as well. No one wants to be the slowest or least fit.

How do you fit your swims around your day-to-day lives?

I think it’s really important that people don’t all exercise training, training implies I wouldn’t be doing it unless I had something specific to do it for. I think it’s important to switch it and call it your lifestyle rather than training and I guarantee this will help you fit it into your day to day. I swim 4/5 times a week before work because I enjoy it, I cycle 15 miles to work every day because it’s free, healthy and quicker than the underground. I run on my lunch break because it helps me unwind and refresh me for the working afternoon and I do yoga because I find it relaxing. None of these are particularly controlled. I don’t follow a training routine in the pool if I feel like swimming a mile, I will if I feel like swimming 1/2 a mile I will. I try not to control and regiment it and this keeps it fun.

Calum, Robbie, Jack post Saltstraumen Swim - Credit to Erlend Bodo Nu (1)

Has starting the Wild Swimming Brothers brought you closer together or is there a bit of sibling rivalry?

We’ve always been incredibly close but it’s certainly brought us much closer together. There’s a camaraderie that develops when you’re testing your physical limits and afraid and that is only heightened when you’re family. When you’re in inhospitable regions in waters with dangerous wildlife it plays to have the people you love and trust most in the world besides you. That said we’re always joking around and trying to stitch each other up and no one wants to be last so we think we get the balance right.

What’s been your highlight since starting your wild swimming adventures?

The biggest highlight for me has to be last weekend. We were invited to speak and run some adventure swims at a festival called Obonjan. It’s a remote private Croatian island and we took a group of 60 people on a big wild swim after one of our talks, we went around the north cape of the island and right out into the Adriatic Sea and it was definitely the furthest many of them had ever swum so it was incredibly rewarding to see the smiles on their faces. I love seeing people do something they didn’t think they could, that moment was really a highlight for me.

And what’s been the biggest challenge?

Definitely our swims across the SALTSTRAUMEN and MOSKSTRAUMEN whirlpools in Norway. Swirling violently above the Arctic Circle, on the edge of the Lofoten Islands, they possess the strongest and fastest tidal currents in the world. Made famous by Edgar Allan Poe’s A Descent into the Maelstrom and featured in the climax of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, they are truly the stuff of literary legend. Not to mention home to over 600 Killer Whales and the biggest jellyfish on the planet, the Lions Mane. Our MOSKSTRAUMEN swim was also the longest distance ever swum in the Arctic Circle so that certainly was a challenging one.

wild swimming brothers swim

Where’s next on the list of swims?

We’re launching our 2017 expedition – “The Wild Lady of Lochbroom” in which we’ll be attempting to swim the 11km length of Lochbroom near Ullapool 26th August (this will be a small little world first as well). We’re doing it in memory of our Grandma Wild who is buried in a church at the bottom of the loch, so with every stroke we’ll be getting closer to her.

We’re looking to raise awareness for a conservation project in Scotland and the plight of the Scottish Wildcat, we feel our Grandma and the swim is a great metaphor for protecting the wild left in the world of which the Wildcat represents this perfectly. We’ve previously worked with WWF Norway on our 2016 “Into the Maelstrom” expedition to raise awareness about oil drilling in the Lofoten Islands – Arctic Expedition.

Finally, what advice would give to anyone wanting to try wild swimming for the first time?

Just go for it. Wild swimming is one of the cheapest and most inclusive activities out there and it has countless physical and mental health benefits as well. It will bring you closer to the natural world and no doubt help you shake of the shackles of modern life. What are you waiting for?!

That’s all for this week and happy wild swimming 🙂


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Sarah Atkinson

Sarah Atkinson

Writer and expert