Chris Jay dives into the water at Jikso falls in North Jeolla Province. / Korea Times photo by Nick Chaddock
By Christopher Jay What could be more exciting than plunging into a hidden waterfall in the mountains? A century ago Britain had hundreds of outdoor swimming clubs where young and old regarded jumping into tidal waters or a gushing river part and parcel of a lido culture that was almost wiped out after World War II, especially with the establishment of the municipal pool and the pollution of our rivers and seas. However, today, 80 percent of Britain’s waterways are in good or excellent condition again, and in the last decade there has been a sharp rise in the number of people wanting to reconnect with Mother Nature and embrace the freedom that a swim in the great outdoors delivers. On this side of the globe, with Korea’s new found love for swimming, this writer wonders if any of his Korean friends would be willing to join him for a dip in the rivers, lakes and seas of the Korean Peninsula. Korea is full of beautiful mountains and valleys many of which bubble with glorious little rivers and streams that narrow and deepen to form perfect places to strip off and jump in. Many of Korea’s bigger rivers offer large bends where the river shallows to a beach on the inside and offers deep dark pools on the outside. Everyone enjoys a picnic, a paddle and a play in the heat of the summer, but how about a genuine outdoor swim this October? You don’t need leather-like skin nor a cold water fetish to enjoy an out of season dip, but perhaps an enthusiastic companion and hot flask of coffee or a nip of whisky is a good idea. There are fewer places more tempting to swim than Jikso waterfalls in Byeonsanbando National Park, near Buan in North Jeolla Province. Many of the imposing peaks and valleys of Byeonsanbando or Byeonsan Peninsula spend their time glazing down at their own reflection in the waters that cover this small but spectacular national park. Visitors come to hike the mountains that offer stunning coastal sunsets from their peaks and others come to visit the magical Buddhist temples, blessed with dramatic cliff-face backdrops. I, however, came to swim in the cool turquoise waters of the 30-meter high Jikso waterfalls. A short hike past beehives, over stone bridges and up into the forest rewards you with a sensory over-load, as the true beauty and exquisite scenery of this national park reveal itself. Keep going further and the sound of water rippling against the steep inclines of the rocky valley steers you in the right direction. Up the final set of wooden stairs is a viewing platform above the valley where you will undoubtedly reach for your camera, as this is your first glimpse of Jikso falls. The natural splendor of the waterfall and pool itself is incredibly inviting and after a few deep breaths and a few hooo-s and haaa-s I was soon floating around over the fish that swam below me in the crystal clear water. I was in heaven and extremely happy to have found another place where I can go to engage with the immensity and wonder of the natural world we have been blessed with. The great thing about exploring rivers and lakes is that every single outdoor swim is never the same, as the weather, season, water temperature and company changes each time. Perhaps with a little persuasion, I might return to Jikso waterfalls with some friends for a swim before another icy winter is upon us. Christopher Jay is a Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.