End of summer lido road trip
End of summer lido road trip

Some experiences in life are a portal to the past, an opportunity to see the shimmer of lives already lived reflected back at us. Swimming outside must surely be one such experience, and not only when we swim in wild, natural ageless places.

An outdoor swimming pool provides a temporary suspension of reality, echoing holidays and offering an escape from climate controlled indoor swimming.

The media has, recently, been conducting something of a love affair with the resurgence of the lido; there have been numerous pieces reflecting on the loss of some lidos and the long overdue restoration of others. The lido at Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd is currently being rebuilt and restored, and the £6.5m investment in the pool is a key part of the regeneration of an area that has floundered for decades since the collieries closed. The rescue of lidos by community trusts like the one that runs my nearest, Portishead Open Air Pool, has also become an increasingly big story as people work together to overcome local authorities who have been reluctant to invest in open air swimming.

I'm lucky to have this gem within 10 minutes of my front door, and perhaps because of that I have been very lazy about seeking out others. A post on the Outdoor Swimming Society facebook page recently brought to my attention an outdoor pool in my area had no idea existed; spurred on I determined to undertake a voyage of discovery and spend a day visiting three lidos that I had not been to before. Many lidos will soon shut for the winter, and this seemed a fitting way to draw the season to a close.

I set off with a friend on a lido road trip, and in a nod to the heyday of lidos F volunteered to read an old fashioned map rather than rely on satnav. F is a very fine navigator. Not, however, fine enough to overcome the almost complete lack of signage for the pools we visited. None of them were signposted in any way at the road junctions approaching them, and we stumbled across all three entirely as a matter of luck as we drove aimlessly around in the general vicinity. There could be only one explanation... we are at war and fearful of our lidos being invaded.

Despite the shroud of secrecy we discovered three very fine pools.At Shepton Mallet the staff were wonderfully friendly and an older man repeatedly, and joyously, diving in and climbing out put a smile on my face that lasted throughout my swim. From there we departed for Huish Episcopi. This, like Shepton Mallet, is run as a commercial concern. It has clearly had a lot of recent investment and is a jewel set in a beautiful piece of countryside.  Our final stop was Wivey Pool in Wiveliscombe. We arrived too late to swim at this community run pool, thanks to a combination of my poor planning and an unscheduled stop to explore an historic church we stumbled across. But it looked cheerful and inviting and I will certainly go back.

I can heartily recommend a lido road trip as a fine way to spend a day. You will find fascinating places, meet interesting and friendly people and you'll be supporting some of this country's best-kept secrets and helping to secure their futures.


Plum Duff, October 2014

  • Please help other to find and love their local lidos by adding photos and comments on the free, crowd-sourced map - or add a new spot. Most outdoor pools are on there already, but not all

Image: Shepton Mallet lido


The hottest and coolest swimming holidays this winter
The hottest and coolest swimming holidays this winter

At this time of year, outdoor water in the UK is turning decidedly nippy. Those who like to combine swimming with travel have two choices.

The more stoical response is to acclimatise to the cold and embrace its invigorating effects - either within these shores or somewhere else northern and chilly. The hedonistic option is to flee to where the water is warm and where the only ice will be in your cocktail glass.

Both options are equally valid (though the latter will probably have a bigger impact on your bank balance), and have their own charms. So here are options in each category. See for more swimming holiday ideas.


Paradise in Aitutaki - Real Swim Adventures

Real Swim Adventures describe the Pacific island of Aitutaki as "hands down one of the most beautiful places on Earth". The island is classified as an "almost atoll" which surrounds a lagoon. This trip begins on another island, Raratonga, before heading to Aitutaki for 5 days of swimming among coral reefs and white sand beaches.

When: Trips depart from November 2014 to April 2015.

Cost: From 3700 NZD


Barbados Open Water Festival

This is the second year of the Barbados Open Water Festival, following on from 2 events held last year. There will be 5km and 1.5km swims across Carlisle Bay in Bridgetown, Barbados' capital, as well as a stand-up paddleboard relay event. The day before, US Olympian swimmer Alex Meyer is set to hold three open water clinics.

When: 2 November 2014

Cost: Entry to the swimming events is 15 USD.


King and Queen of the Sea, Rio de Janeiro

Brazil's King and Queen of the Sea is a beach sports festival held three times a year in Rio de Janeiro (each stage functions as a separate event, though there's also an overall winner out of those who enter all three). The next stage is held in December on the famous Copacabana beach. There are plenty of events to choose from, with 1km, 2km and 3.5km swims, a 5km beach run, a beach biathlon and a variety of stand-up paddleboard races.

When: 13 December 2014

Cost: Event entry starts from 90 Brazilian Reals (approx. £25). Prices rise closer to the event.


Coconut Island, Thailand - SwimQuest

In February, the newly-renamed SwimQuest hold this trip to the idyllic Coconut Island in Thailand for a week of swimming among the many beaches and islands of Phang Nga Bay. Guests stay in a five star resort with tropical gardens and a private beachfront.

When: Feb 2015

Cost: 1900 GBP


Baja Peninsula, Mexico - SwimTrek

A sea lion colony and giant cacti are among the attractions of this Swimtrek trip, where guests camp on the uninhabited Espiritu Santo island in the Gulf of Mexico - a UNESCO-protected reserve. Highlights include swimming over an abandoned pearl farm and crossing to the sister island of Isla La Partida.

When: November 2014 (one place left)/November 2015

Cost: 1060 GBP


Swim the Northern Lights - SwimQuest

In this new trip from SwimQuest, guests can experience the thrill of winter swimming in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, which sits on the edge of Arctic Circle. You'll be able to take invigorating dips in a private pool cut into a frozen river. The trip also includes a Northern Lights snowmobile safari, a tour of a reindeer farm, and a stay in a glass igloo.

When: Dates available on request

Price: 1395-1495 GBP


Bled Winter Swimming Cup, Slovenia

Now in its fourth year, this event regularly welcomes swimmers from other European countries. Bled, which hosted the World Winter Swimming Championships in 2012, is a picturesque alpine lake, and the idyllic island church in the middle helps to create a fairy tale atmosphere. Some years the lake is frozen over, so a pool needs to be cut into the ice.

When: 21 Feb 2015

Price: Event entry is 15 Euros before 18th February. Package trips which also include accommodation, sightseeing and winter sports will start from around 280 Euros for 2 nights in a 3* hotel.

Vintersim, Skellefteå, Sweden

The town of Skellefteå in Northen Sweden has hosted a winter swimming event since 2012. It's organised by a group called the Happy Friends of Cold and Darkness, who believe in celebrating the positive experiences that can come from the long winters found this part of the world. Participants come from across Sweden and beyond. The region also offers opportunities for winter activities like husky sledding and skiing.

When: 7 February 2015

Price: TBC


  • Jonathan Knott, October 2014. Jonathan contributed news stories to the OSS as a volunteer for a number of years, and now runs a swimming holiday website, 
  • Image: Barbados


Bosphorus essentials: what to wear on an intercontinental race
Bosphorus essentials: what to wear on an intercontinental race

Dolphin watching in the heart of a major city, catching the ferry to Asia for fish and raki, walking from a medieval castle to Albanian wooden mansions and Ottoman palaces are some Istanbul delights on the Bosphorus’ shores. While the Bosphorus strait connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, it runs through the heart of Istanbul and divides it into Europe and Asia. 364 days of the year swimmers can only gaze longingly at the turquoise waters as they are occupied by supertankers as well as jellyfish. For one day of the year this major shipping channel is closed for a few hours to allow competitors in the Bosphorus intercontinental race to swim from Asia to Europe. It is a rare opportunity and the jellyfish are not a deterrent as they tend to mostly be the harmless Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita). When I swam across the Bosphorus I wanted to ensure that views of my favourite city were clear, that I could navigate the unmarked race course and its currents, and share images with people who couldn’t make it to the swim.

Aquasphere Anti-fog solution  £5.99

My spit doesn’t work. Some people find spitting in their mask rubbing the spit over the lenses and then rinsing the goggles keeps them fog-free for the duration of a swim. It doesn’t work for me. This could be because I tend to drink water before swimming so I might be diluting my spit past the point of usefulness.  In any case anti-fog solutions are great for people whose spit doesn’t work or find the idea of spitting into goggles gross.  Be sure to follow the rinsing instructions, otherwise your eyes will sting from traces of solution left in the goggles. 


Zoggs Tri vision mask £20

On the numerous occasions on which these goggles have been lent to friends they were as comfortable, well behaved and leak-proof on my friends as they are on me. I suspect it is the generously wide seal that makes them both comfortable and leak-proof.  I have lost count of how many other goggles I have tried out. These remain my favourite.


Route map (temporary tattoo) by Inkwear from £10

Tactical use of currents in the Bosphorus can get an average swimmer to the finish line ahead of a better swimmer.  Poor navigation of currents can lead to swimmers being swept past the finish line. There are boats that wait to collect swimmers who miss the finish, but it would be a shame to not make the European shore under your own steam.  Before the race competitors are strongly advised to take one of the boat trips in which landmarks are pointed out and accompanying directions are given.  Despite there being nearly 2000 swimmers in the race as the Bosphorus is 1km wide in places and the race course is 6.5km long swimmers can feel isolated. I thought it might be nice to know exactly where I was and where I should be heading if I wound up in that vast body of water by myself so I took a map with me.  I measured the width of my forearm and sent a jpeg of the route to Inkwear and asked for it to be printed as a temporary tattoo to a size that would fit on my arm. Despite my poor application technique the temporary tattoo lasted perfectly for the whole race. It was ideal for keeping track of where I was and ensuring that I was not one those swept past the finishing line.


Nikon AW1 with 11-27.5 mm lens £599

The only waterproof camera capable of taking RAW (uncompressed) images that I could attach to my bikini. This camera is nearly as portable as a compact camera but produces bigger and clearer images. Other cameras capable of taking RAW images are not waterproof and need to be put in waterproof housing, which makes them too heavy for attaching to swimwear, unless you want to take photos of people’s expressions as they are randomly treated to seeing you exposed. As a leisurely swimmer who would be stopping to take photos I knew that my swim would exceed the one-hour maximum immersion time for the camera according to the camera’s official technical capacity. However as I would be swimming at surface level, not to the camera’s depth limit of 15m, I took a calculated gamble that it would be ok (it was). It is a great camera. I thought there was a bit of skill in anticipating swimmer’s movements, swimming to keep pace with your subjects, framing the photos, getting the focus right etc. However one of my friends saw the whole set of race photos and was very keen to find out what camera I had used. I partially agree with his thoughts that the camera is more significant than the photographer; as previously stated: it is the only bikini-portable waterproof camera that can take RAW images.  

Text and photos by Susanne Masters

Swimmer stars in Elbow's Real Life (Angel) video
Swimmer stars in Elbow's Real Life (Angel) video

Vivienne Rickman Poole is an obsessive cold water swimmer, artist and photographer who has been contributing her images to the Outdoor Swimming Society newsletters for a while. Generally found quietly swimming her way through the llyns of Snowdonia (on ongoing project which she is logging on the OSS wild swim map as well as her blog), she stars in the new Elbow video for Real Life (Angel). Here she talks about the project: 

Approached by the director who had seen my underwater swimming documenting (in a Guardian article by ex-OSS press officer Hannah Booth - thank you Hannah!) he asked if I was interested in being involved in this, the third in a series of documentary portraits for Elbow. The track Real Life (Angel) is beautiful and instantly felt like it fitted with what I did. I met with the director and we discussed what the film might look like, visiting some of the lakes I swim.

Filming took place over two days in Snowdonia, at various locations. Having a film crew follow me around was pretty nerve wracking, I think I eased into the roll about 15 minutes before we wrapped up on the second day! Soup Collective (the TV company) however were fantastic to work with and couldn't have been more sensitive to my needs and feelings, both whilst swimming and during the interviews. 

Being an artist, I often struggle with words and found it quite difficult to describe the incredible feeling of self possession I get from swimming, which is perhaps why I chose to document my swims visually. Despite this, the video still feels very raw, it's so me and that's what makes me smile.

I am fairly used to my photographs being viewed in a public forum but this feels a little different and on a slightly different scale, a deeply personal activity turned into a video for one of the UK's biggest bands. I am quite sure many people will feel a kinship with it, and others indifference.

Now on the Elbow website,

Vivienne Rickman Poole, July 2014 


Let's All Go Down The Strand (Lido)!
Let's All Go Down The Strand (Lido)!

Catch a DFL train to the coast (the 'Down From London' crowds, as seaside locals call them), and you could be forgiven for burying your nose in your freesheets as you pass through the Medway Towns.

But you would be missing a secret swimming trick. For at The Strand Leisure Park in Gillingham, Kent, opposite the defunct chimneys of Kingsnorth Power Station, is a lovely little slice of vintage lido bathing.

First mooted in 1894, Cuckow's Public Sea-Water Swimming Bath opened in 1896 by Mr Cucknow, a baker, on a bit of the River Medway more famed for Dickens' prison hulks than recreation. By the mid 1930s, the lido and surrounding pleasure grounds were attracting up to 12,000 fun seekers a day. Successive refurbs have turned the Strand into its current incarnation - essentially, a 1950s-style Butlin's day trip, with pitch and putt, crazy golf, swings and slides, a bouncy castle and bouncy slide, a mini train (opened in 1948) and ice cream cafe scattered along the gleaming stretch of river beach, bright and fun as cheap plastic jewels.

As with cheap plastic jewels, the veneers fade fast. And in recent years, the Council appeared to forget about the perfect, little Hi De Highlight of its leisure services. Paint flaked, the pool sat empty on all but the sunniest of days, and pool staff sat slackjawed and lazy on long grey days (and even azure blue ones.)

Every Autumn I would fruitlessly email, keen to find out the truth behind the 'this summer shall be its last' rumours constantly eddying round what could be prime riverfront real estate. And every Spring, the lido would cough back into half life - a beautiful, blue on blue, cold, zingy, slightly grimy pool. Empty. Deliciously, worryingly, all mine.

But this year, the cough spluttered into a roar. Regime change. Gone, the apathy. Here, paint pots. Squeegees. A PA system. Happy music. There, all the fountains on for the first time in years. Everywhere, staff running round, making things happen. Keen. Engaged. Utterly in love with the place.

And how could they not be? The pool boasts six, serious swimming racing lanes at its back. In front of those, double the space in a fat blob of fountains and jets - perfect for splashing, shrieking, bobbing and inflatable fun. A giant pink elephant watches over the pool, trunk slide extending to a frothing water jet, and its baby sits on the side of the child's chest-deep paddling pool in front of the big pool. A lazy river with lilofloat-current moat-hugs the whole pool, and brightly coloured bridges rainbow splash from swathes of suntrapped patio, across to that glorious, deep blue.

Leisure Manager Will Lusted says: "The team here has got a real passion for this place. We are working hard to restore it to its former glory. Coming here is like being on holiday, without actually going on holiday. The estuarial Medway is just beyond the wall, and the pool is river-fed so it's salt water, which gives it a wonderful beach-like feel. But it's cleaner than the sea. We've improved the filtration system this year, so the quality of the water is really high. In fact, this year, it's the best it has ever been."

Beach huts are planned for later this year - a hark back to the 50s when they hugged the perimeter en masse. Early morning swims are being offered for a quid to lure in fitness swimmers before the daily grind, tri clubs are being invited to train, family sessions will boast giant inflatables (a desert island and an obstacle course), and the good-as-a-death-knell four o'clock closing time has been sensibly set back to half seven. Indeed, the whole season has been stretched out, with the pool set to stay open until the paling of the late September sun, right at summer's end.

 Trains to Chatham station, then Arriva bus 176 to The Strand. Times and prices.

Anna Morell, July 2014

Wild swimming and creativity: Dip Shropshire
Wild swimming and creativity: Dip Shropshire

A month or so ago Lynne Roper reviewed Dip: Wild Swims from the Borderlands by Andrew Fusek Peters for the OSS. The book chronicles Andrew's recovery from severe depression through a year of dips in the Shropshire/Welsh borderlands.

Following from the book, an Arts Council-Funded series of creative workshops and wild swims called Dip Shropshire was born. Andrew has written this beautiful piece for the OSS explaining the relationship between wild swimming and his own creativity. 

"This is my outdoor writing academy. My tutors are water-based, view filled and they enable me to take my language for a dip.
I am talking about wild swimming - or, as we used to called it in the 1970's 'swimming'. Strange how the appellation of 'wild' has appeared in order to differentiate chlorine from salt and fresh water, the flow of river from the mechanics of inflow filters. When young and nut-brown in the drought of 1976 I swam across the Thames at Wargrave, I knew I was searching out the far country. Perhaps, if I stood upon the far banks of Berkshire, I might taste the sense of beyond that John Clare and Richard Jeffries describe so well. Edward Thomas walked and wrote {and swam} and I try to keep up as best I can. 
I have dived into water in a funk of doubt, where anxiety shivers across my inner landscape. But there is always that moment of entrance, when water goes about its work, works its wonders and I am glad and clarified. I rarely write before I immerse. For it takes the sluicing of skin and the sloughing out and away of all those concerns, emails, the constant ping of screen before we let go and return to ourselves.
Toweled off, glittering and glowing, no longer an outsider as I lounge in the grass sipping thermos brewed coffee and trying to stop the chattering of my teeth, I am ready. These days, I will take what I can with technology, see no issue with flare of sunlight echoed in the retina patina of my macbook screen. It's all light in the end and my fingers are free finally to tap out what I see, hear, smell, take into my body. I am all senses now, remembering how I sat in a wooded private lane late last dusk, was still enough for a while that a roe buck came within ten feet of me, grazing on the last greenery of day. Once in a while, his head would shoot up. Possibly I breathed too loud. I could not even move my lens into place, knew that shutter click would spook and that here was one moment I could not and should not capture, except perhaps later by words. 
Swimming has been my blessing. I nearly died from severe clinical depression and that is no melodrama, I assure you. I was twice hospitalised, my mind altered, unable to taste food, to laugh, to converse, to leave the house or my room or later, the sofa. Nature was threat, cold water the promise of agony. Soon, I would be homeless or preferably dead. There was no rhyme nor season to it. It just was. And too trite to say that jumping in a lake was the cure. It was not. But, as I felt spirit return, as right medication, counselling, love, support, change all coursed through me, suddenly water was a possible once again.
That first waterfall, after a six month lacuna, was both intense and delicious. Take the plunge in March, in Wales on a lack of sun day. Family around to laugh and hold towels. The impulse returned, which shows I must still be alive. And not only living, but breathing fast as I surface from the sheer shock of it, the whirlpool in the rock, high in the fastness above Barmouth. Grief be damned, here is joy and for a few seconds it is mine to wear on my skin and further within. From this river comes also my first words, the rusty tapping of the keyboard, new similes bursting banks. All is well. 
And even more amazing, a book that rears up and reaches out, further into art and to the point where, last Saturday, we are on the banks of the Onny at Craven Arms. Film-makers, sculptors, poets, swimmers, all joining for a day of watery activity. We build boats from found wood and cinquains from found images. Dip Shropshire has arrived, funded by the Arts Council - days in secret, wild and magical spots. Come and photograph falcons, write poems with Paul Evans the Guardian Countryside Diarist, make films, sculpt and swim, swim, 

** There are four remaining Dip Shropshire workshops and wild swims taking place over the next few weeks. The first of these is on 20th July at Pantglas. The workshop includes poetry and photography with Andrew Fusek Peters, and photography and filmmaking with Tom Middleton. Walcot Hall is the setting for the workshop and wild swim on 26th July; Oakley Mill Waterfall is on 3rd August, and Whitemere on 30th August. The cost for adults is £10, and children go free. For further details and to book go to

by Andrew Fusek Peters, July 2014

Swimming holidays - the good, the bad, & the quirky
Swimming holidays - the good, the bad, & the quirky

by Jonathan Knott

Buying Kate Rew's Wild Swim five years ago may have been the best £13 I ever spent. I had recently started working in an office job in London, and restarted swimming regularly for the first time since I was a child. I doubt that this confluence was coincidental. Rather, I found that heading to the pool was a healthier and in the end, more satisfying release from a day spent staring at spreadsheets than opening a bottle of beer (and the beer tasted better afterwards anyway).

The progression from pool, to lido, to the great outdoors followed on logically - with the help of the book. The idea of swimming as an antidote or antithesis to the daily grind is at the heart of what I found in the OSS. It is also the motivation behind a new website that I've started about swimming holidays ( which provides advice and information on guided swimming tours, open water events and training camps across the world.

As I know from meeting outdoor swimmers, they tend to be easy-going, independent-minded folk, who enjoy rebelling against unreasonable constraints. So why did I imagine that people who rarely use "organised" and "fun" in the same sentence would choose to go on a structured activity holiday?

Partly because the evidence is there for all to see. When SwimTrek started out over ten years ago, they were the only company running guided swimming tours. Now the number of providers is in double figures - and growing. And there's a similar trend in the ever-rising numbers of open water events (and the numbers of participants at them) around the world.

So why join them (if you haven't already)? As a relative latecomer to outdoor swimming, I found that even when the desire to swim outdoors is there, there are still practical and psychological hurdles to overcome. An organised holiday, with the safety and logistical reassurance it provides, is an ideal way for newcomers to develop confidence.

Experienced swimmers can benefit too. While the OSS does a great job of bringing people together to share expertise and organise social swims, professionally organised trips give us even more options. Safety aside, there are considerable logistical hassles (such as gaining legal permissions) that need to be negotiated for many destinations, and providers take this headache away for us, as well as doing the research into the best spots and the local conditions. Ever-increasing variety means better provision for all tastes and budgets. There are swimming holidays in locations as disparate as Arizona and the Arctic Circle - as well as more expected locations like Greece and the Caribbean. While a week in an exotic spot can top £2000, a 1-day trip in the UK can cost as little as £60.

One thing which struck me in Wild Swim was the telling observation that when we go on any kind of holiday, we tend to instinctively adopt (or revert to?) a semi-aquatic state, punctuating our day if we can with dips in the pool, lake or sea. I don't think this is just to cool off. Being in or even around water automatically transforms our mood. There is something both anarchic and calming about it - and we embrace this when we want to unwind.

Correspondingly, I believe that despite increasing commercial interest in the area of swimming holidays, it will always be one where individuality can flourish. This is a world where even the largest players tend to retain a personal touch - and where the word 'large' is very much relative. While some organisations have been influential, each provider has its own character and areas of expertise. So take your time to look around. And while opting for a swimming holiday is in itself a somewhat quirky decision, some options are decidedly more quirky than others.

Here are 5 more unusual ideas get you thinking (prices quoted may include some meals but do not include flights/transport to the destination). See for more.

Lithuanian Lakes - SwimTrek

SwimTrek are the biggest swimming tour company but their newest destination shows that they remain committed to adding lesser-known locations. The Lithuanian Lakes trip plots a circular course through the 200-year old pine forests of the Aukštaitija National Park, close to the Belarus border.

When: July-August 2014

Cost: £380

Norfolk Broads Wherry Tour - Coningham-Rolls Swimming Holidays

In a trip that embodies English eccentricity, on the Norfolk Broads Wherry Tour guests stay on White Moth, a 59 ft Wherry (a type of yacht) from 1915. There's even a piano for evening singsongs.

When: August-September 2014

Cost: £750

Lake Powell, Arizona - Strel Swimming Adventures

The bulbous red rock formations of Arizona and Utah are bizarre enough, and the damming of the Colorado River to form vast lakes among them has made the landscape even more strange and compelling. To cap it all, on the Lake Powell tour you'll be accompanied by legendary Slovenian Amazon swimmer Martin Strel.

When: October 2014

Cost: £583.02 ($999)

Rheinschwimmen, Basel

One of the more leisurely swimming events on the global calendar, where participants float down the Rhine with the help of a bright orange bag. Ideal for scenic swimmers. Rheinschwimmen.

When: 19 August 2014

Cost: Free

World Winter Swimming Championships, Tyumen, Siberia

This World Winter Swimming Championships event takes cold water swimming into its heartlands. In Tyumen, Siberia, the water temperature will be close to zero and the air considerably cooler. Travel 2000km east of Moscow where you'll be sure to find the perverse camaraderie of winter swimming flourishing. Competition distances range from 25m to 450m.

When: February/March 2016

Cost: TBC

Jonathan Knott, July 2014

Blooming Jellyfish
Blooming Jellyfish

This summer’s heat has brought swarms of jellyfish and alarmist news headlines about them to UK shores and newspapers. In online swimming forums photos of stings from jellyfish encounters are appearing. Susanne Masters OSS kit reviewer, also an Ethnobiologist and Conservation science researcher, gives a swimmer’s guide to jellyfish covering jellyfish population booms, human-jellyfish interactions including edible jellyfish, jellyfish sting treatment, jellyfish encountered in UK waters and tips for continuing to enjoy sea swimming despite the jellyfish.

Jellyfish are part of the intricate food web in which sea swimmers immerse themselves. People have eaten jellyfish for thousands of years, and might have to start eating more of them if doomsday forecasts of ecological disaster come true and jellyfish take over the seas.  At least jellyfish don’t eat people although their stinging capacity ranges from being unnoticeable to excruciatingly painful for anyone who swims into them. 

Jellyfish blooms, when millions of jellyfish suddenly appear, are a natural aspect of fluctuations in jellyfish populations thought to be triggered by various factors including season, abundance of food, water temperature and currents. Scientific understanding of jellyfish population dynamics is hindered by data sets that are short term and fragmented. However it is increasingly considered that jellyfish populations are rising on a global scale. Suspected triggers include many human activities in the sea such as overfishing and species introduction altering predator-prey dynamics, coastal constructions providing additional habitat for jellyfish in the polyp stage of their life cycle, and some land-based human activities such as use of fertilisers and land clearance increasing nutrient levels and sediment load in the sea.

Edible jellyfish on sale in Shanghai (by Susanne Masters)

Some jellyfish are edible and have been consumed in Asia for thousands of years. Rhopilema esculentum is one of the most important commercially valuable jellyfish species in China. After removal of mucus membranes and gonads they are processed with salt and alum to create a firm dry texture, lower pH and to increase shelf life.  Prior to consumption the salt is removed with freshwater, they can then be used in dishes such as jellyfish salad. Rather than trying to get rid of invasive or over successful species making use of them as an abundant resource is a developing approach in conservation practice, and one way to deal with increasing jellyfish populations.

Jellyfish stings

Jellyfish, referred to as Cnidarians under scientific nomenclature, are characterised by possessing cnidocytes, specialised cells used for capturing prey and as a defence from predators.  When these cells are triggered they demonstrate one of the quickest mechanical release events found in nature as toxins are fired out of structures within the cell called nematocysts.  Whether nematocysts are on jellyfish that are dead or alive, or on fragments of tentacles they can still function i.e. a dead jellyfish or piece of one can still sting.

Reactions to jellyfish stings take two forms: localised reaction on the area of skin that has been stung, and very occasionally systemic reactions where areas of the body that have not been stung respond for example respiratory distress or gastrointestinal disorder.

Jellyfish sting on arm white welts appearing on inflamed red areas of skin (Ali Budynkiewicz by Sam Tarling)

150 million jellyfish stings on people are estimated to occur each year. Yet evidence on the efficacy of different treatments is inadequate; not enough randomised clinical trials of jellyfish sting treatment have been conducted.  Some meta-analyses, drawing together results from numerous small-scale trials, indicate general treatment protocols and bust a few myths. Vinegar is effective for treating Box jellyfish stings, but may exacerbate stings by other types of jellyfish. Getting someone to pee on a jellyfish sting can cause more pain as depending on how dilute the person’s urine is it may trigger further venom discharge from nematocysts

UK jellyfish

The Marine Conservation Society provide a guide to UK jellyfish identification and invite poeple to report jellyfish sightings here. In the UK the jellyfish swimmers are most likely to encounter are Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), which are harmless. By the Wind Sailor (Velalla velalla) are less commonly seen but also harmless. Blue jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii) do sting but it is milder than a nettle sting. Barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma octopus) can administer a sting that feels like a nettle sting and lasts for a few days. Mauve jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca) have painful stings.  Compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) stings are painful and can produce long-lasting weals. Being stung by Lions Mane jellyfish (Cyanea capilata) is very painful and can cause blisters, skin irritation, muscle cramps and may affect respiratory and heart function. Stings from the rarely sighted in the UK Portuguese Man of War (Physalia physalis) may cause nausea and convulsions. 

Evidence based treatment

Out of the 10, 000 species of jellyfish only 100 are considered to be harmful to humans via their stings.  

  • Never pour freshwater over the stung area as this may cause further venom release from nematocysts in fragments of tentacle still on the area
  • Remove fragments of tentacles by applying a sloppy mixture of sand and seawater and wiping it off with the edge of a credit card. (Shaving cream and a razor would work but are not often found on the beach)
  • Alleviate local effects with standard painkillers such as parecetamol or ibuprofen, and an ice pack 
  • If pain lasts for more than hour or if stung areas subsequently become infected medical assistance should be sought
  • Very rarely depending on the type of jellyfish involved and individual response to venom some people may require immediate medical assistance e.g. if they show signs of respiratory distress or have nausea and convulsions  

Jellyfish and swimming in context

If there are lots of jellyfish in the water you tend to see them washed up on the shore or aggregated at the water’s edge. Jellyfish do not aggressively pursue swimmers so if you swim into a swarm of jellyfish and are not confident that they are a harmless variety just turn and swim out of them.   Breaststroke rather than front crawl may be the swimmer’s friend when it comes to jellyfish as in breaststroke you have a clearer view of what lies ahead of you. Additionally rolling on your side to breath in front crawl you are more likely to bump into jellyfish that you didn’t see in the water alongside you. When visibility in the water is low because of murky water or low light levels it is more difficult to avoid swimming into jellyfish. Jellyfish stings occur through direct contact so even standard swimwear of just a hat, goggles and bit of lycra protects areas of your body that are most sensitive to stings.  Areas where skin is thicker such as the palms of hands are harder for nematocysts to penetrate and less vulnerable to stings. Wearing a rash vest or wetsuit provides additional protection.  For those who can, cultivating a hefty beard will reduce the likelihood of being stung on the face.

While jellyfish blooms can have negative socio-economic impacts and jellyfish stings are unpleasant jellyfish also have positive aspects.  They perform useful functions within marine ecosystems including providing shelter to juvenile fish from their predators and are significant food sources for charismatic marine animals such as Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea). Jellyfish encounters are one of those aspects of outdoor swimming that make it more vibrant than chlorinated pool swimming. Adrenaline junkies might relish the possibility of stings and accompanying macho posturing, there is also plenty of scope for tongue twisting tentacle-testicle jokes, particularly since testicles are a useful feature for jellyfish identification. Perhaps at a more refined level the possibility of overcoming jellyphobia and enjoying seeing these ethereal creatures is something for outdoor swimmers to savour.  

Ned Denison appreciating a Barrel jellyfish (by Rory Fitzgerald)

Text by Susanne Masters

Sidebar image: Barrel jellyfish washed up on the beach (by Lorraine Cook)




The Swimming Granny
The Swimming Granny

Film review, by Anna Morell

A life spent on small islands is a life spent with water. Minutes measured in drips and drops. Hours measured in strokes and splashes. Days lost in waves and wonder. Maria has swum every day for the past 48 of her 90 years in the Faroese seas. She is known as The Swimming Granny. This film is a love song to the islands, to the sea, and to life itself. Oh, to be this, old.

Anna Morell, July 2014

Best Swimming Blogs
Best Swimming Blogs

Swimming blogs are proliferating, and the range of watery blogs out there is a true reflection of the diversity of types of outdoor swimmers. Bloggers swim in all kinds of places: there are founts of knowledge and experience on cold water endurance swimming, social chit chats on the characters and cakes at London Lidos, and eccentric and isolated groups of wild swimmers whose members build their own hot tubs. OSS contributor Lynne Roper is a blogger herself. 'For me, one of the key enjoyments from blogging is the interactions with other bloggers,' she says. 'Here is a short list of some of my favourites'.

Musings of an Aquatic Ape

Aquatic Ape and Mrs Ape both swim at Tooting Bec Lido, and sometimes further afield. This blog includes thoughtful musings on swimmers' Christmas Dinner choices, chats about the various races held there, and plenty of cake commentary. Fun, eclectic, off the wall, and packed with lovely photographs. 

Lone Swimmer

The Lone Swimmer has a list of marathon swimming achievements longer than pretty much anyone. These include the 28 1/2 mile Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, and of course the Channel. He swims off the coast of Ireland, mostly alone. There's great value to be had from this blog for any outdoor swimmers, but especially for those who like their water cold and their swims long; the information on here is extensive and straight from the sea-horse's mouth. And sometimes it's hilarious too. There are also posts on proper adventure marathon swims that make your toes curl. An unbeatable archive of information, experience and knowledge.


Wildswimmers live on the west coast of Scotland and swim year-round, in lochs and storm-tossed seas, often in very cold water. This is a lovely wild swimming soap opera of a blog, with a cast of regular characters including the octogenarian Swift Swimmer, Daisy the Dog and of course the home-built Hot Tub. Lovely photos too. Who needs The Archers...

Ben's Watery Travels

This young blogger likes anything to do with water, including wild swimming. It's filled with some lovely descriptive writing and photos from Ben and his girlfriend's travels around Britain. They visit some unusual, out of the way places so it's great for finding ideas if you fancy a wild swimming wander.

Devon Dispatches

A lovely blog written by a Devon swimmers who is local to me. Sophie has unsurpassed knowledge of the South Devon Coast and Dartmoor (she's gone on to write local guide The Secret Wild Swims of Torbay), and this blog details her enthusiastic travels, research and explorations of new swimming holes with photos to illustrate. Some of my favourite swims were discovered here, including London Bridge.  

Swimming Happy in my Skin

This is a brand-new blog by a Devon-based wild swimmer who had me hooked immediately. Reflective, informative, spirited and fascinating, this blog is dotted with beautiful photographs and touches of humour. The piece on Lanhydrock, for example, weaves a swim in the river Fowey through the poignant story of the local landowner who died in WWI. An absolute gem from a true wild swimmer with a penchant for skinny-dipping and a rather fabulous fishy bottom tattoo.

 Lynne Roper, July 2014


OSS and Anglian Water Open Rutland Water Inland Bathing Beach
OSS and Anglian Water Open Rutland Water Inland Bathing Beach

Anglian Water Authority has just become the first water authority in England and Wales to open up a family friendly swimming area in a reservoir. Lynne Roper reports

Rob Aspey, OSS Inland Access Officer, first approached Anglian Water in January 2010 with an idea to start an inland bathing beach at Rutland Water.

The answer then was a categorical 'no'. Rutland Water is a reservoir, and as many of you will know reservoirs are the seat of many myths surrounding perceived dangers of outdoor swimming. Meanwhile, as Rob says, there are numerous inland bathing facilities in European and American reservoirs.

Rob persisted and when he asked again that summer, he found that Anglian Water had a new Visitor Operations Manager, Kevin Appleton, who was open to discussion. Rob says: 
"This was to be the start of a very steep learning curve for us both, including a drive down to Cotswold Water Park to look at the only similar facility in England." 

Over the next four years Rob and Kevin worked doggedly to overcome the many obstacles they met. Finally, on the fifth of July 2014, the Rutland Water Inland Bathing Beach opened.

"This is a major breakthrough in terms of inland access, as Anglian Water Services Limited are (as far as we know) the first water authority in England and Wales to open up a family friendly swimming area in a reservoir. We hope to see more such facilities open in England Wales" says Rob.  

During the last four years Rob (together with Chris Dalton) has formed the OSS Inland Access group, a collective of swimmers fighting for greater inland access, sharing knowledge and working practise. The OSS Inland Access Group has gained a wealth of experience through Rob's efforts especially, and there are several projects ongoing.  Anyone interested in setting up a similar Inland Bathing Beach and Swimming Area should contact Rob and he will send a guide on how to proceed. 

Rutland Water bathing area opening times for 2014 are currently: Weekends 10am till 6pm  From 19 July it will be open 7 days a week till the end of August. Phone to check opening times on 01572 653021 or 01780 686800

Water deaths in the media: countering misinformation & hysteria
Water deaths in the media: countering misinformation & hysteria

 A few months ago Lynne Roper - paramedic, swimmer and blogger - stepped in as acting OSS Press Officer. Here she tells the story of some of the hysteria and misinformation that she has encountered during her first few weeks, and messages that she thinks need to get out there to prevent unnecessary water deaths

Every summer we see stories in the media prompted by water-related deaths that contain misinformation about swimming and risk. "Undercurrents" drag unfortunate people into "hidden whirlpools". Open water is icy and defies the laws of physics by never warming up, even on hot summers day. (This is especially so in reservoirs, where swimmers - but not kayakers, sailors or windsurfers - also get sucked down by the big pipes and supernatural currents.)

The premise of these stories is often that swimming outdoors is lethal. Misinformation is recycled by journalists, lake wardens and safety 'experts', campaigns are launched to ban swimming in certain places and to fence off flooded quarries.

Each death is a tragedy, and I'd argue that every time nonsense goes out obscuring the real story about deaths, we miss the opportunity to prevent more. It is central to the OSS ethos that people be allowed to swim at their own risk, and that through the OSS community people share and develop knowledge that enables them to better assess the risks they face. I know I am not alone among experienced outdoor swimmers in finding the storm surge of nonsense infuriating. So when I was asked to cover as OSS Press Officer I sensed an opportunity to counter these media-conjured bogeymen.

I did not have to wait long. In April a campaign group called Riverside Awareness UK (RUAK) launched an attack on the OSS Wild Swim Map. Their comments can be seen at , and include the dangers of our old pals "undercurrents" and "hidden whirlpools" and "a horse and carriage" vanishing in the river at this beauty spot. "No river is ever safe!!!" was one of the assertions.

The story was picked up by a couple of local newspapers in Wetherby and Harrogate and a scare-mongering, anti-swimming story appeared accusing the OSS of being "totally irresponsible" for "encouraging" people to swim in a river where people have drowned in the past, and for not doing a risk assessment of spots on the map (a basic appreciation of the fact that rivers are fluid and change in their size, strength and risks from day to day appeared to escape both RUAK and the reporter).

OSS members launched a counter-attack on the Harrogate Advertiser's website, using facts and figures about drowning risks and pointing out the rafts of badly-informed assumptions in the article, and the implied correlation between water related deaths and swimming deaths.

For example, in 2012 ninety-nine water related deaths occurred in rivers. Just four of those were swimmers: 12 people were walking or running; four were angling. Others were engaged in a range of water sports or were simply found in the water (figures from National Water Safety Fatal Incident Reports, on which ROSPA base their information). It's a fallacy to connect all river deaths to swimmers, just as it is to connect water-related deaths to open water. Looking more broadly at that year, there were 371water-related deaths attributed to accidental or natural causes in the UK. Of those, 26 were swimmers, but 10 died in domestic baths.

The Harrogate Advertiser piece was removed owing to some negative comments about the capabilities of the reporter. We did agree with RAUK that the Wild Swim Map should contain a link to the OSS website Safety Advice, and are addressing that.

Then the Wetherby News contacted me for comment after a Police frogman told them a very sad story from the 1960s about two children drowning in the river Wharfe. He advised never swimming there. Again, I countered this with facts and figures and Dan Graham, a swift-water rescue instructor and OSS member, had a look at the spot on Google Earth. There was nothing in the topography to suggest the river is especially dangerous under normal conditions save some deep water and a couple of weirs. However, this is a flashy river (meaning it rises fast after rain), and it's a beauty spot where people go to picnic. If you can't swim, or you've been drinking, or you're unused to the cold, or you don't predict the increase in the speed of water after rain - that water that might have been friendly on your last visit is ferocious now - then of course this can be a dangerous place.

I gave the Wetherby News some safety pointers, which they printed - after a fashion.

Things have been calmer since then. Last week a paper in York contacted the OSS to comment on a river safety campaign in York, following a series of deaths in the town centre. We had the opportunity to provide safety points to them that helped shape the campaign - resulting, we hope, in information getting to more people that may help keep them safe. (These points are listed at the bottom of the article).

Following that BBC Newcastle radio contacted us to talk about a call from one of their local MPs, Sharon Hodgson from Tyne & Wear, for the government to do more to teach safe swimming in schools, and Kate Rew went on air to discuss swimming risks. (Speaking in a debate Mrs Hodgson has called for things such as every child to be taught the basic principles of water safety education and fundamental personal survival skills; an annual public awareness campaign highlighting the drowning risk; and sufficient safe and affordable public swimming facilities.) It's the first time the OSS has been asked to comment on something so positive in terms of reducing risk.

People are drawn to water, they will usually ignore advice to stay away from it. Scare mongering is ineffective as a way of keeping people safe, and banning swimming because someone, tragically, loses their life is like banning driving because someone has an accident. 'Danger: No Swimming' signs have become meaningless to us now; installed so often in popular swimming places where the landowner would like to ban swimming, but has no right, that they've lost any power they ever might have had in places where there really are dangers to swimmers, such as weirs. To me 'Danger: Deep Water' has always been ludicrous as a warning - deep water is just what swimmers are looking for, the danger is only if you're a weak or non-swimmer.

To me, risk and whether it's acceptable to take it, is a decision that will always lie with the individual. It's an impossibility for anybody else but the person standing there, at the waters edge, to cover each specific eventuality of weather, rainfall, tides in the sea, currents, changes to topography after spates, and individual capability and experience.


  • Swim sober. Your judgement, co-ordination and ability to regulate body temperature is impaired under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
  • Check the depth and what's in the water before you get in.
  • Always check there is a safe exit point that you know you can get to easily. By their nature rivers have currents which mean you often can't get out where you got in.
  • Do not jump into cold water when you're not acclimatised to it. The little-known culprit for many deaths is cold shock which is a physiological response involving gasping and uncontrollable rapid breathing. This occurs in sudden exposure to water at around 12 degrees C and below. It leads rapidly to drowning. It's not under conscious control so you can't overcome it by will-power.
  • Reservoirs and lakes are tempting for swimmers to try to cross. Even strong swimmers can get into trouble because the cold weakens their arms and legs and they find themselves far from safety. Swim close to shore if you're not certain you can make the distance in cold water.
  • Avoid any water that looks dirty or polluted.

 Lynne Roper, June 2014

Kit review: Underwater photography
Kit review: Underwater photography

Want to take photos while swimming? Smartphones, compact cameras, Single Lens Reflexes (SLRs), and GoPros can all be accommodated within waterproof housing. Susanne Masters weighs up the options. "To me, a waterproof compact camera is still the best option for getting decent photos,' she says. 'But there are merits in many of the different options.'

Overboard waterproof case £21.49
Wet fingers don't work on touch screens through a thick layer of plastic. So a waterproof housing will protect a phone in watery surroundings but the user will then need access to something to dry their hands before taking photos. Even once towelled off damp cold fingers don't work very well on touchscreen phones through waterproof housing.  If the phone is set to video before going in the water it can be used to film swimming escapades. Picture quality is limited by the capacity of your phone.
Best for: occasional swimmer

Model tested Olympus TG-830, new model being released TG-850 £269
Free of the need for waterproof housing these cameras are also ready for instant use, light enough to be attached to swimwear without pulling it off, and their streamlined shape makes them barely noticeable while swimming.  Simple to operate and without housing obscuring the names on control buttons anyone handed the camera could use it easily without referring to instructions, including finding the underwater setting that optimised photos taken underwater. There is not yet a waterproof compact camera that takes photos in RAW format. But image quality of the model we tested was good.
Best for: swimmer who wants to photograph while swimming


Canon G16 £419 + Canon WP-DC52 polycarbonate underwater housing £185

Aquapac PVC housing also available for compact cameras from £19.99 

Some compact cameras provide image quality that can compete with SLRs. Nikon's PS series and Canon's G-series are the main market leaders for cameras that are capable of taking pictures in RAW format - theoretically these picture files can be enlarged to billboard size and stay sharp looking. In practice the camera flash does not work well underwater and unless in still water with perfect visibility the images won't be sharp enough for billboard size. Setting up a camera in polycarbonate housing is time consuming as in theory before every use O-ring and groove need to be checked for particles and O-ring greased to ensure that the case seals securely against water.  It is possible to swim with the strap of a polycarbonate housing for a compact camera although it will bump against your torso and modify swimming into a photo-taking mission rather than a swim. Smaller compact cameras in an Aquapac cause less disruption to swimming due to size, but their shape and edges still make swimming awkward. It can also be difficult to manipulate the camera controls through the Aquapac.
Best for: keen photographer who also swims

Nikon D300 £879 (body only) + lens (anything from £100 to over £1000 depending on the lens you use)
EWA-Marine waterproof housing in PVC from £239.99 (depending on lens used)
Ikelite waterproof housing £1279.99 + lens port from £ 169.99
An SLR is the best option for picture quality due to camera sensor size, lens options and being able to set up a flash system that works underwater. Flexible PVC housings are cheaper and lighter than solid polycarbonate housings but their flexibility comes with some drawbacks. Firstly putting an expensive camera in what is essentially a sturdy plastic bag is a little nerve-wracking.  Being tumbled by a wave and spat out on the beach is survivable by the human body, easily disastrous for a delicate camera in flimsy housing. Camera destruction apart, photos might include the inner section of the housing that can be prone to coming adrift from the front of the lens. Solid polycarbonate housing stays in place and is a more robust container for a camera. It is also much more expensive and makes the camera set up even bulkier and heavier - weighing over 3kg. Whether the housing is PVC or polycarbonate it takes two hands to hold an SLR camera steady for taking photos. Anyone wanting to do more than bob about in the water while holding an SLR in waterproof housing will need fins for propulsion through the water to make up for occupied hands, extra weight and drag. If you choose to go down this route are generous with advice and customer support, and stock a wide range of options.
Best for: serious photographer with a big budget

HERO 3 with waterproof housing £199.99
GoPro is a brand of rugged but lightweight camera designed to be mounted on anything from a stick to a helmet to accompany outdoor adventurers. They are easily attached to swimwear and can be left filming the swim, used to take photos on demand, or set to take photos at regular intervals. Because of the wide-angle lens designed to capture scenery and action images will have a slightly fish-eyed distortion.  It is possible to change the field of view and reduce distortion.
Best for: filming from the swimmer's perspective

Image: Vivienne Rickman Poole on a GoPro at Llyn Gwynant

Text and additional images Susanne Masters June 2014


My children grew up swimming in the wild lakes of Sweden
My children grew up swimming in the wild lakes of Sweden

The idea of wild swimming seems a bit odd in the Swedish context. Everyone goes wild swimming. That is more or less what swimming is. Jane Greene Pettersson reflects on bringing her own children up in this culture

My children grew up swimming in the wild lakes of Sweden. We went to Sweden every summer for several weeks and to me it was the most natural thing in the world to take them into the water. They were both under a year old when we started taking them swimming in the lake. Of course at first we held them but as soon as they could walk they went into the water by themselves. They both liked to wear their goggles when swimming but apart from that we didn't use any special equipment or technique.

I had taken them both swimming in the pool from a few months old so they were completely used to being in the water and were never afraid. I think my youngest son really could swim before he could walk. Very small children cannot come up to take a breath so you have to help them with that. My husband and I would pass the boys between us when they were little, just a few feet with enough propulsion for them to reach from one of our sets of arms to the other. It wasn't exactly swimming but they were certainly completely comfortable and competent in the water.

When we went to Sweden in the summer and took them to the lake they would toddle into the water, to a depth that felt comfortable to them, and splash about. As they got older they loved to roll in the warm sand on the beach and then run into the lake to wash the sand off their bodies. They would sometimes fall over in the water, or swim a little bit, mostly they were just playing in the water. Of course we never took our eyes off them for a second but I never felt worried or afraid that they would get into trouble. Most Swedish lakes where people swim have an area cordoned off with a wooden jetty and a sandy beach with sand that has been brought in specially. Small children tend to stay inside this area although there is nothing to stop them swimming outside it. There is never a life guard, although there is always rescue equipment such as a life belt available. I think the idea is that people keep an eye out for one another.

For Swedish parents learning to swim in the lake is completely natural and normal. My husband, who grew up in Sweden, went to swimming school in the lake in his home town every summer. Classes were run by the council and were free and available to all children. He said that he only went to a swimming pool once during his childhood. There wasn't one nearby. He did all the things that we do at the pool, life-saving badges, distance swimming, jumping and diving, but he did them in the lake. There were two teachers and although he says that perhaps one of the teachers had more responsibility for looking out for safety, there was no official life-guard.

They could of course only swim during the summer months, but more or less all children learned to swim, and they all learned this way.

About twenty years ago they built a lovely new pool in his home town but until the last few years it was always closed during the school summer holidays. Once when my mother in law asked whether the pool would be open during the summer when we would be there visiting the staff told her,

'Oh no during the summer everyone swims in the lake.'  As though she was a little bit strange for even asking.

The idea of wild swimming seems a bit odd in the Swedish context. Everyone goes wild swimming. That is more or less what swimming is. Most towns have a local authority run bathing beach, with changing rooms, basic facilities and probably diving platforms. There very rarely seem to be life guards. My parents in law both learned to swim outdoors and I am sure never visited any kind of swimming pool until well into adulthood. My mother in law, who grew up in Finland learned to swim in the Baltic Sea. I don't think there were any kind of formal lessons. It was just something the children did. She told me there was great competition to see who would be brave enough to be the first one in the water when the spring came. She is completely comfortable in the water but still today swims a kind of self-taught doggy paddle.

I asked my parents in law whether their parents could swim. Again they seemed surprised by the question but said yes, they were sure they could. They would all have been born just after the turn of the century, like my own grandparents, however I am quite sure that none of my grandparents could swim, except possibly my maternal Grandfather. It seems that swimming outdoors was and is so much more a part of life in the Scandinavian countries. I have had Swedish friends visit me in England during the summer and say 'Where do people go to swim' meaning swim outdoors, they are not talking about swimming in a pool.

My children are grown up now but they are both still keen swimmers and I feel that their childhood experience of swimming outdoors gave them a good robust attitude to being outdoors and an affinity with the natural world.

 Jane Greene Pettersson, June 2014

Mapping the River Trent
Mapping the River Trent

The River Trent is one of the longest rivers in England, and this summer a group of swimmers, led by pioneers Sarah Lewis and Chris Ensor, are reaching the final stages of an 185 mile journey from source to sea. Here Jane Greene Pettersson talks to Sarah about her mission to swim the length of her river - and map it as a long distance path for future swimmers

Britain is criss-crossed with rivers, but while our mountains are coasts are mapped and logged with long distance walks and climbs, the process of logging long distance swim paths has only just begun. Last year a group of OSS swimmers completed their three-year project of swimming the Thames, which they will, in time, map and share with other OSS members in detail. This summer another group are reaching the final stages of swimming their river, the Trent.

At 185 miles the Trent is the third longest river in England, after the Thames (215 miles) and the Severn (220). It is the only one to flow North. It rises in Biddulph Moor in Staffordshire, flows through the Midlands until it joins the River Ouse at Trent Falls and there forms Humber Estuary.  It is the original boundary between the north and south of England. 

About four years ago Sarah Lewis and a group of like-minded swimmers decided to try to swim the length of it. 'It was an idea of a few friends who used to swim a section of the river weekly and decided that it would be amazing to swim the whole of the river safely,' says Sarah. 'We walked from the source on Biddulph moor to Shugborough Hall, about 32 miles as it is not possible to swim before that point.  We hope to finish at the humber estuary - "Trent Falls". 'To date we have swam 62 miles of the river, with 25 more miles before it becomes tidal. Then there are tidal waters for 51.9 miles so we are still planning this section.'

'Being my home river the Trent has always held something special, it's my passion and has become the largest adventure of my life. Tracing the river to it's source was a magical moment, then following it's path through the old industrial Stoke on Trent until it became swim able. The beauty that the river holds, the tranquillity, the wildlife: swimming it is the most amazing feeling the world. It starts as a beautiful winding river, taking in some of the most wonderful country side in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, it then starts to widen and become larger and larger, boats start to appear, weirs ad canals join the river.  As you approach Nottingham it becomes very wide and straight a completely different river. Never knowing what is round the next bend is an adventure in it's self, from the water you see a totally different prospective of the world.

'I just love the feeling that runs through your body after the swim, the peaceful, tranquil feeling.  Rushing home to look at the photographs and map the swim on maps to see how far along the adventure you have swam has heightened it for me - and the friends I have met along the way and the support from fellow swimmers in brilliant.'

Sarah swam competitively, at county level, when she was younger, representing Staffordshire but now prefers to swim outdoors. She joined the Outdoor Swimming Society a few years ago and became the regional rep for the Midlands. Four years ago she took over the organisation of the Chippenham River Festival big swim, which takes places every July.

The group is open to others who would like to join, swimming at their own risk. A group of swimmers, ranging from six to around twenty individuals, meet once a month during the summer to swim a section of the river over a weekend. They try to cover about 15 kilometres of the river per weekend with two swims on the Saturday and one on the Sunday. Swimmers who live do not live nearby stay over on Saturday night, often camping.

'We mostly swim breaststroke' says Sarah, 'there is quite a strong current and it is more sociable. But sometimes when you feel you have come to a standstill you need to do a bit of front crawl.'

Swimmers in the group are of all ages, from early twenties to late seventies and from a variety of backgrounds. As with many outdoor swimming events, there is a lot of cake involved.

They have kayakers to accompany them but things will become more tricky when the river becomes tidal in about 23 miles time. New members join the group quite regularly and some travel quite a distance to join the swim. People come from all over the Midlands, from Lincolnshire and from the Manchester area. Most but not all swim in wetsuits. 

The swimmers have been met with kindness and interest from other river users, water skiers have stopped to chat and rowers have warned their crews and offered an exit on to their dock. One fisherman caught a 14 pound pike within 20 metres of a swimmer.

'It has been a brilliant adventure apart from anything else,' says Sarah.  'I'd definitely recommend it to anyone and I'd happily do it all over again. In fact we have swum some of the stretches several times, just because it has been so much fun. We are planning to swim the tributaries of the Trent next.'

To join the next swim on the 29th June, see the Trent Challenge 2013 to 2014- Swim the Trent on Facebook.  

Jane Greene Pettersson, June 2014.

  • Are you interested in creating a network of long distance swims for other swimmers? Do you have a river of your own that you can log this summer? Could you help the swimmers of the Thames and the Trent log their information on the map? Please contact Jamie Cross if you can help.

Swimming with seals in the Outer Hebrides
Swimming with seals in the Outer Hebrides

Experienced swimmer, hill walker and eco-writer Ann Palmer has been swimming with seals since she moved to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides 12 years ago. She is a lone 69 year old swimmer who swims year-round at the same beach. Here she tells the story of a getting close to one of her colony 

A big group of seals are just offshore.  Today, conditions at Gress Beach are ideal. No waves or wind, the sea's surface just ruffling. I can't wait to get into the water and swim with them.

The overcast sky is an asset - it's easier to see seals without the sun's eye-watering glitter. It's high tide, the water up to my waist in seconds. I suppress a gasp. This is necessary for the seals are wary, dive and disappear at any sudden movement or sound. As with any wildlife encounter, patience and stillness are chief requirements.

I wade out towards the seals in my half wetsuit, trying to count seal-heads as they dive and resurface - twelve at least.  I swim here when weather permits so these seals and I have got to know each other. Today, they are braver than usual.  Already, two of them position themselves between me and the shore, completing a big circle around me. I recognise some familiar faces.

Initially, these were high-adrenalin encounters. But, having been towed by a wild dolphin at Amble in Northumberland one Christmas Day and met a basking shark the first time I swam in Orkney waters, seals seemed less scary from the start. (Psychologically, this process is called 'desensitisation'.) Over the years, I've sung to the seals, talked to them and given them names.

Claudius and Roman, two large Grey seals with their gorgeous mottled neck-markings check me out. Their innate curiosity means they lift themselves high in the water, move their heads from side to side and peer like owls, to get a better look. I want to giggle, but suppress that too.

The Gress skerries host a mixed colony of both Common and Grey Seals though telling them apart is hard, even for experts. A young Grey seal is easily mistaken for a Common Seal. Colour is not a defining characteristic. Their size (the Grey seal is larger) and head-shape (the Common seal has a dog-like profile) are more reliable guides.

Close-up too, another distinguishing mark is the seals' nostrils - v-shaped in the Common, parallel in the Grey. With my wetsuit acting like a buoyancy aid I just float, busy admiring them all, their large limpid eyes and long, cat-like whiskers. Without warning, a seal flashes past me underwater, and touches my leg with his flipper. Predictably, I shriek. He surfaces close by, a good match for a wet black labrador. This third seal, Snubby, stares at me in surprise, his nostrils dilating. I can hear him breathing. I feel enormously privileged for that's the first time a seal has risked physical contact in ten years.

It's been suggested that tempting seals with fish would bring them closer. Maybe I could have had this kind of encounter before if I fed them.  But I have never tried it because it might prompt unwanted behaviour - I've heard stories where taking their fish promoted aggression.

Fear separates seals from people on both sides. People are sometimes wary of them. But to me, seals have more reason to fear us than we them. Even raising a pair of binoculars must look, to them, like a double-barrelled shotgun. (Else why do they instantly dive?).

When seals don't feel threatened they are, by temperament, curious. It's their territory; they take the initiative.  To enjoy their wildness, their existence, is enough. In certain mood the Gress seals will follow walkers along the beach, or even swim parallel to them on the headland. One of their most endearing habits is to sky-point - stare for ages into the wide blue sky. They look like they are meditating. 

Today, as always, I leave the water reluctantly, make my way up the short path to the car-park gate. There I turn to give the seals my usual goodbye wave. They are all staring after me and I feel a familiar pang, along with the connection to the great seal-woman mythology of these islands.

A tourist, fresh out of his car, witnesses this, looks at me as if I'm mad. There's some species-gaps you just cannot bridge!                                                                    

Anne Palmer, June 2014 (

Image: Gress Beach

Book review: Dip: Wild Swims from the Borderlands
Book review: Dip: Wild Swims from the Borderlands

Lynne Roper reviews Dip: Wild Swims from the Borderlands by Andrew Fusek Peters

This dream of a book communes with my wild swimmer's soul. Andrew Fusek Peters is a writer and long-time wild swimmer. Recently, clinical depression left him hospitalised and barely functioning, struggling to find a reason to live. When after six months and the correct medication he began to recover, he undertook a year-long journey dipping around the Borderlands of Shropshire and the Welsh Marches where he lives, and writing about his experiences. This was Peters' route to understanding and the restoration of his health and connections to family, friends and water.

Peters uses delightful imagery that reveals his warm and observant humour, poetic nature and essential connection to the environment. "Today, the wind whips round the beach like a bossy horse rider, encouraging walkers and waves to go faster". It's weather and seasons and wild water that provide the metaphors that frame and excavate Peters from his experience of being engulfed by the fog of depression. This is his description of how he feels immediately after an icy swim:
"And although the day is damp and the cold rain is scribbling zigzags through the air, and grey is not a colour but the appellation of whole months that have been and are still to come, I feel synaptic, almost giddy with stars, my limbic brain coursing with ideas; banks and boundaries breached and flooded with language and life."

The borderlands he explores meander geographically and metaphysically, between his "beanpole" body and ponds, rivers and waterfalls, and land and sky, England and Wales, life and death, health and sickness. When Peters attends the funeral of an old schoolfriend, Charlie, who "was unable to heal himself", it's a watery metaphor that helps Peters to deal with it.

"...the rabbi takes us back for final prayers...And she reminds us that there is a small basin on the way out and that we are welcome, both Jew and Gentile, to wash our hands if we wish. The water is the symbol, and our act a way of marking our transition from departing the place of death to entering that of life once more. Yes, finishes the rabbi, you must grieve, but also you must live".

The atmospheric black and white photos are taken by Peters and his then teenaged daughter, Roz. Her poignant blog post printed at the end of the book is heartbreaking in its deeply perceptive explanation of her father's illness. 

"It now strikes me that his illness left him stuck at the bottom of a silted lake. We wanted, desperately, to catch him with hooks, suddenly yank him from the depths - dredge him up in an instant. Instead it was an agonising process of waiting for the dark liquid to drain away, drop by drop".

Dip: Wild Swims from the Borderlands is as beautiful and uplifting as it is visceral. From shivering conversations with other wild swimmers I know that many of us have struggled with physical or mental illness. Peters magically captures the nebulous intangibles of a fragmented mind, spirit and body, and allows us to experience how wildness and frigid water reform those pieces into a whole human being.

Lynne Roper, June 2014

Remembering JJ: the Wildness and Joy of Jonathan Joyce
Remembering JJ: the Wildness and Joy of Jonathan Joyce

One short year ago yesterday, on 15th June 2013, Jonathan 'JJ' Joyce died suddenly.

Many people hold him dear in their hearts, and the OSS and wild swimming community especially in Devon and Cornwall owe much to him, not least his creation of the OSS wild swim map ( which exemplifies his nature of exploration, discovery and sharing. In honour of his memory and all those who loved, knew and were touched by him, his friend Lynne Roper shares some thoughts and feelings from the weekend.

"JJ was an adventurous wild swimmer and challenge swimmer whose love for people and water was unsurpassed. 

"In common with many of JJ's swimming friends, I find he pops into my mind while I'm immersed in wild water. This weekend of sun and watery fun was one he'd have adored and so he spent a lot of time in my head. We swam and later skinny-dipped under the full Honey Moon at Bantham,  wearing floral headdresses, we swooshed up and down the Aune estuary with the speeding tide, and dipped in a pool and waterfall in the river Tavy on the high moor. JJ's spirit was there, enjoying the thrills, the social banter and chat, the different types of water and cake, and the unusual cloud formations on Friday at dusk which would have intrigued him. We mentioned him, and memories trickled into conversations.

"In the two short years that we knew him, JJ (together with his family Steph, Janus and Finn) became so much a part of our swimming and social lives that the hole resulting from his shocking death appeared like a disused mineshaft, swallowing large chunks of our world with it. Yet he gave so much, touched so many of us in different ways, infected us with his bubbling adventurousness and humour and kindness, that his presence remains tangible. He transformed people, and was instrumental in developing some of our favourite swims and our ideas of what is swimmable - just. I wouldn't have done a few of the crazy things we did without him there. He reinforced the notion that it's perfectly normal to run into the sea at dawn wearing 1920s fancy dress, and discovered that gin improves lemon drizzle cake no end.

"So, Jonathan the unforgettable, you swim with us in our hearts always. We miss you."

We do.

FOOTNOTE: JJ died swimming with a friend, a couple of hours into an endurance swim in coolish water at Beesands.  The cause of his death was found to be a rare medical event. Please understand it is not our place to share further.

June 2014


East London Swimmers
East London Swimmers

The London Fields Lido sits in the corner of one of East London's most popular areas of grassland. Daily at this outdoor pool a cross-section of East London life come together to take part in something that is part hobby, part- activity and part ritual. In this new book, East London Swimmers, (£12.95 from Hoxton Mini Press) photographer Madeleine Waller captures the secret life of Hackney swimmers who have braved all conditions to escape city life.

Madeleine's photographs capture the striking juxtaposition between the swimmer clothed and the swimmer stripped down to near nakedness. Her images are accompanied by testaments from each swimmer as to why they swim and what it offers them. Startling stories appear: such as Nick who started swimming after being caught in the tsunami in Thailand, or Paul the bus driver who taught himself to swim and finds that the activity frees himself from the ravages of London traffic. Here are people that have swam since childhood or have started in later life - all connected by the experience that swimming outside gives.

Here Madeleine tells the OSS what inspired her to do this project:

"East London Swimmers was a personal project I began after swimming regularly at the Lido.   I was struck by how different fellow swimmers can seem in the water to the way they appeared out of the pool and dressed.    It is as though the pool is a space where we can express an alternative identity then step back into daily life.

I visited the Lido at different times of the day from November until January.  I particularly chose the winter months as its a period when the more committed swimmers visit the pool regularly.  I asked people if they would have their pictures taken immediately as they got out of the pool and then again once they were changed.    The result is a set of surprisingly enjoyable portraits showing the transformation that ordinary people undergo from almost amphibian to the urban human.

I feel, I think, like a lot of swimmers, and certainly from the swimmers interviewed for the book, that people often swim for a particular reason and swimming can have a therapeutic quality.  It can be tremendously calming after a hectic day and it certainly helps me through the long grey London winter.  I prefer to swim laps there in the winter when it's less busy.

Swimming outdoors is exhilarating, particularly when its snowing, though I have to confess, being bought up in Australia I find it very difficult to swim in water below a certain temperature and am not a true outdoor swimmer.  The Lido is the perfect place for me I can swim outdoors during the winter, in a heated pool, it's like being in a European Spa."

By Madeleine Willer, May 2014

The Swimmers' Manifesto
The Swimmers' Manifesto

Artist Amy Sharrock talks about her upcoming work, The Swimmers' Manifesto, at Somerset House

"Why do we swim? Some of us have a life-long relationship with swimming - this could be a life-changing experience of recovery, and a return to fitness. It might be the steady upkeep of a healthy mind and body during the course of busy lives. Perhaps adventure or endurance? Some people swim because they like the atmosphere around pools. Some people swim because they can, some people because they must.

From 12-5.30pm on 21 June, we will build a public manifesto on the River Terrace of Somerset House, where swimmers will be invited to share their philosophies, experiences and reasons why they swim.

Part speaker's corner, part stream of consciousness, part campaign for greater awareness and better swimming conditions... part attempt to put into words and share the extraordinarily essential and occasionally transcendental feeling of swimming, The Swimmers' Manifesto will chart the profound experience that swimming can be.

 Please join us on our soapbox on the River Terrace at Somerset House to have your say and help us capture the love of taking the plunge.

 This event is free to watch, take part in, and open to everyone, but if you want to speak, please book time. We are expecting this event to be popular so please book early to avoid disappointment. Speakers are given a maximum of 10 minutes each.

Excerpts of The Swimmers' Manifesto will also be published online. If you cannot attend the event, we would still love to hear from you, and find a way to bring your views into the Manifesto.

The Swimmers' Manifesto is part of a series of events celebrating Amy Sharrocks' Museum of Water, a collection of publicly donated water and accompanying stories held at Somerset House from 6 - 29 June. Accumulating over two years in different sites worldwide, Museum of Water is an invitation to ponder our precious liquid and how we use it. We currently have over 300 bottles in the collection, ranging from water from a holy river in India, to a burst London water main, ice from a Sussex field, a melted snowman, 20-year-old evaporated snow from Maine, condensation from a Falmouth window, Hackney rainwater, a new born baby's bath water, Norwegian spit, three types of wee, two different breaths and water from a bedside table said to be infused with dreams.

In celebration of our access to fresh water in this country, running alongside the Museum is Water Bar, a free pop-up outdoor bar serving only tap water.

Date: Saturday 21 June 2014

Time: 12pm - 5.30pm

Address: The River Terrace, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R1LA

Admission: Free

Speaker bookings and enquiries:

For more information, please visit Museum of Water

By Amy Sharrocks, May 2014.

Amy Sharrocks is a live artist, sculptor and film-maker who invites people to come on journeys in which their own experience, communication and expression are a vital part. Undertaking these journeys with a sense of humour, joy and risk Amy creates work that is rich, unpredictable and different every time. This invitation and the invention of people's responses produce new avenues for exploration and fantastic visions within the everyday.

Photo: Ruth Corney


The Landreader Project
The Landreader Project

Many words for landscape features are falling into obscurity, some endure only by haunting place-names and old maps.

The Landreader Project by photographer and writer Dominick Tyler is seeking to reverse this loss by cataloguing and preserving landscape words on the brink of disappearance.

Over the coming year, Dominick will be compiling a unique glossary of the British landscape that will document and celebrate the linguistic and geographical richness of the British Isles.

The Landreader Project, which has been partly funded by a grant from the Arts Council, will live at, and Dominick is inviting the public to contribute, via the website, to what he hopes will become a valuable resource for anyone who loves language and the landscape.

The website features a blog following Dominick's search for lost words and the remarkable landforms and waterforms they to which they belong and a continually updated, searchable database of landscape terms

The database will contain the common words used for landscape features (such as hill, valley, marsh and cliff) but will highlight the more regional, colloquial, arcane and obscure words - vug and voe, zawn and gryke, scowle and sgurr.

OSS members might be particularly interested in the words in the glossary that relate to waterforms, rivers and the sea, for example:

Cowbelly - The fine sediment that settles in the slow-moving waters of a river meander. A bare foot sinking into a cowbelly, though it may feel the change in temperature, scarcely registers a change of state from liquid to solid as is sinks through a layer of silt as fine as talc.

Tolmen - A river stone perforated by a naturally-cut, circular hole. These rare and seemingly impossible objects were considered works of magic or gods and were consequently incorporated into religious and folk rituals well into modern times. Their actual creators are more worldly but no less incredible: concentrated vortices in water currents called "kolks", capable of lifting huge weights, and of spinning rocks in-place like drill-bits over years and years until a basin is formed, which is then deepened by frost-thaw erosion until it bores right through solid rock.

Gloup - Scottish word for a blowhole, formed when the roof of a sea-cave collapses to open a vent. Depending on the sizes of the chamber below and the aperture above, waves entering the cave can force out air and water, sometimes at immense pressure, to spout like a whale.

Epilimnion - This is the warmer, less dense, layer of water near the surface of the calm sea and in lakes. When treading water in a deep llyn or tarn this stratification of water temperature can make your basking fingers the envy of your frigid toes.

The Landreader Project will be accompanied by a book, Uncommon Ground, to be published by Guardian Faber in 2015, which will feature a selected 100 landscape and waterscape features with original photography and short essays touching on history, lore, geology and much more.

By Dominick Tyler, who last swam at Lower Breakish.

May 2014

Book review: River Suite
Book review: River Suite

Book Review: River Suite by Roselle Angwin, with photos by Vikky Minette

As a wild swimmer and writer I find endless inspiration in wild places and wild water. Reading the poetic interpretations of others, however, is a wonderful way of gaining a different perspective that refreshes one's own imagination. So, I was enormously excited when I found this extended poem about the OSS's and my favourite river, the Dart. 

River Suite is a limited edition book by local poet Roselle Angwin and photographer Vikky Minette. The poem traces the Dart from Cranmere Pool, the common source of five rivers high on Dartmoor

here where the heart of Devon clenches tight
and squeezes out its rivers
like arteries clotted with granite

Roselle's imagery is magical and varied as befits a writer whose soul is in Celtic myth and legend. Vikky's photography mirrors the poetry; close ups of the river where water and light and the riverbed meld into fleeting images of living, breathing beasts: a ghostly bird of prey swooping across a cascade in black water; phoenix feathers in golden ripples; reptilian scales in bronze shallows.

The poem evokes the isolation in this wilderness, the insignificance of people, the river spirits and the unique atmosphere that bewitches all who immerse themselves in or wander alongside the Dart.

if you were to shout here
the wind would carry your words away like birds

As the Dart descends from the moors to the cultivated "soft lands" she becomes tidal and her waters slow and spread with Roselle's words, before the towns and roads 

where the cars leave their litter of plastic and dead birds
a pheasant's rainbow fading or a torn tumble of badger
Thence to the sea where the rhythm builds like wind chop
come down to the shore
come down to the shore
come down to the wild singing sea
oh slip night's skins
oh shed your fears
oh come and swim with me

A beautiful book; inspirational, watery, feral, mysterious, joyful. Beyond a wild dip in the Dart's secretive pools, what more could you ask for?

To order this limited edition go to and follow the River Suite link. Click the drop down menu under 'Buying Books' at the bottom right of the page and select River Suite.

By Lynne Roper, who last swam in the Dart at Bel Pool

May 2014

Be a friend to Penzance's Jubilee Pool
Be a friend to Penzance's Jubilee Pool

The Friends of Penzance's Jubilee Pool desperately need real, practical support if this wonderful local amenity, tourist destination and heritage pool is to survive.

As the love of lidos undergoes a bit of a national renaissance, Penzance's lido is currently under serious threat of closure, facing both Cornwall Council's slashing of funding, and some serious storm damage to the fabric of the pool. 

Just have a look at this short film to get a feel for how special the place is.

If the pool is to survive, it needs money to run, to repair the storm damage, and on top of that, investment for some major structural reinforcement to future-proof against extreme weather, such as that of last winter, in the long term.

The pool has been described as 'one of the best modernist buildings in Europe'. Where strong surf can render some local beaches less safe for peaceful, leisurely dipping and family swimming, this incredibly beautiful little lido, right on the seafront promenade, has provided a safe, magical and affordable seaside dip since 1935. 

The Friends' long-held ambition is to ensure that all revenues gained at the pool stay at the pool to cover maintenance costs. Once the current cafe lease expires, they intend to change operations from a seasonal cafe to a year-round social enterprise offering community events and youth training schemes - much like the highly successful Fifteen Cornwall restaurant, so that every time a cup of coffee, tea or evening meal is sold, all the profits get ploughed back into the building and not into a private operator's pocket. 

In the short term though, the Jubilee Pool needs Cornwall Council to realise what a valuable resource it is, for locals and holidaymakers alike.

Outdoor Swimming Society members can be a part of safeguarding the pool's future in the following ways:

  • Sign the petition for Cornwall Council to provide match funding from its Capital Investment Programme for a Coastal Communities Fund application the Friends of Jubilee Pool are currently undertaking. Leave a comment as well as signing if you can - personal input has real impact. The funding application needs to be in by mid-May, so time is of the essence. Please sign now: sign the petition.
  • Donate. The Friends are looking to raise £50,000 this year. Anything will help. A donation page will be added to by the start of May.
  • Become a Friend of Jubilee Pool
  • Contact Martin Nixon, Chair of The Friends, if you have any specialist experience of community-led lido running, or any ideas for raising funds or awareness on 01736 758600 or  

by Anna Morell, April 2014

Swimming pools in the River Thames
Swimming pools in the River Thames

Just last week, Time Out magazine published a list of 62 things you'll never hear a Londoner say. Number 46 was "46. It's a scorcher out there - fancy a refreshing dip in the Thames?" But Time Out would be wrong.

Studio Octopi is trying to launch a 'Thames Baths' - a river-fed swimming pool on the banks of the River Thames, smack in the heart of London, actually integrated into the tidal flow of the Thames, along the lines of British coastal lidos such as Bude, and Dorset's Dancing Ledge pool. 

Designer Chris Romer-Lee says he was in Zurich when he heard about an open call ideas project by The Architecture Foundation, and the swimming facilities there inspired him.

"The swimming facilities around Lake Zurich are incredible. I began to wonder why the Thames couldn't have the same. The Thames Tideway Tunnel or Super Sewer (a decision on which is due this year), should sort out the pollution. The water does need to be cleaned up to meet European standards. In 2012 39m tonnes of sewage was dumped into the Thames.

"The ambition is to use the pools as a catalyst to reclaim the Thames for Londoners. We wanted to create a place that was accessible and open to all. From serious swimmers to toddlers. This is done by forming a calm oasis sheltered from the currents and watercraft, shrouded in natural planting. Almost as though you're swimming in your local stream, but with the spectacular context of London.

Chris proposes a development of "two floating pools, a 25m pool and a plunge pool then at the higher level, similar to a rock pool, the family and paddling pools. The overall structure is about 50m x 20m which runs parallel with the Victoria Embankment at Blackfriars, clear of the shipping channel. " 

The Mayor of London is open to the idea and has commenced a technical feasibility study into how and when swimming in the Thames could occur. 

Readers of Caitlin Davies' new book Downstream: a social history of swimming the River Thames, will note that in 1875, a similar thing was tried in the form of the Charing Cross Floating Bath and Glaciarium. Just a decade later, it was sold and scrapped. But now, Chris days, major cities are again opening up river swimming facilities: "Paris, New York, Berlin and Copenhagen," among others.

Just getting the idea out there has "reopened the debate about the importance of the Thames within London. The river isn't only a place for transporting freight. This is London's largest public space. There is an undeniable momentum to the project. Everyone we meet embraces the idea with a smile whether they're a swimmer or not. Cities need architecture and public space that make its inhabitants smile. The London Eye is one of those projects and that's been immensely successful. 

"Ultimately we need the support of Londoners to make this happen. We already have a sparkling list of ambassadors championing the project. These range from urbanists to swimmers, artists to journalists. We're very excited to announce that Tracey Emin has just thrown her support behind the project. Tracey has long campaigned for the protection of the nation's lidos but also for a Thames lido. "

Chris adds: "OSS members can support us by signing up to the mailing list via the website. We would also ask members to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. This is a project for everyone so if you feel you can help in a particular way please do get in touch with me direct via the website.

Anna Morrell, April 2014

Liberated & Lost
Liberated & Lost

Welsh swimmer and photographer Vivienne Rickman-Poole has an exhibition opening next month at Bodelwyddan Castle, Near Rhyl.

'Liberated and Lost' documents her swims both inland and along the North Wales coast and this series of portraits explore her absorption into the atmosphere, movement and sounds of outdoor swimming.

The exhibition forms part of the Tate ARTIST ROOMS Francesca Woodman exhibition programme and runs from 5 April - 13 July. To book a free visit in advance see the Bodelywyddan Castle site.

Downstream: a social history of the Thames
Downstream: a social history of the Thames

Londoner CAITLIN DAVIES is a writer, teacher, journalist, and fair-weather swimmer who has just written 'Downstream'. a social history of swimming on the Thames. Here, she talks about her new book.

Have you ever swum in the River Thames? My first time was 40 years ago on a warm summer's evening near Taplow in Berkshire. I was 10 years old and staying with a school friend and I remember laughing as we tried to swim against the current.

Then I forgot all about it until a couple of years ago when I started writing a social history of swimming the Thames. The idea came while I was researching a book about the bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath in London and I became interested in how women swam in Victorian times.

The common idea seemed to be that women didn't really swim, and that they only rarely had the chance to compete. But they did; and their choice of venue was often the Thames, where they raced for miles in oil and sewage.

Agnes Beckwith is a prime example. In September 1875 at the age of 14 she dived from a boat at London Bridge and off she swam to Greenwich. I was astounded, what was a teenage girl doing swimming in this filthy waterway dressed in a heavy Victorian bathing suit?

While the Thames has been a favourite bathing spot for centuries, it was the Victorian era that saw the birth of organised river racing. As swimming became an activity for the masses, floating baths were built in London; official pools, islands, pontoons and lidos were created all along the river, and by the 1930s Thames beaches had become family seaside resorts.

Then in 1957 the river was declared biologically dead and by the 1970s swimming in the Thames was seen as unusual and dangerous. But in the past decade the resurgence in 'wild swimming', along with new open water clubs, means over 10,000 people annually take part in organised Thames swimming events.

So in January last year I decided to travel from source to sea, researching the stories of all those who have been drawn to its waters, including the OSS's own Thames group.

At Eton College I read references to Thames swims dating back to the 1500s, at Richmond I stood in the spot where in 1907 the 'most important swimming race ever held in England' began. I travelled to Kew, the starting point for the Long Distance Amateur Championships, then through central London and finally ended at Southend Pier.

I also completed three Thames swims of my own, from Buscot Lock to Radcot Bridge, a mile round the Millwall Dock, and a paddle to the Crowstone in the Thames Estuary.

The result is Downstream, a history and celebration of swimmers' relationship with the Thames, from royalty and famous poets, to Victorian endurance swimmers and modern day triathletes.

The book covers legendary swimmers like Annette Kellerman, forgotten champions like Jules Gautier, Lily Smith and Mercedes Gleitze, and interviews with every major long distance Thames swimmer since the 1980s.

The Thames might be the cleanest in living memory but deep-seated fears remain, particularly about pollution. Yet it still has a magnetic draw over anyone who likes to bathe, despite the 2012 byelaw that prevents swimming between Putney Bridge and Crossness without permission from the Port of London Authority.

Join me as I journey downstream, revealing the untold story of Thames swimming and the reasons behind the current revival, drawing on original research and with previously unpublished archive images.

If you're interested in the story of Thames swimming please 'like' the book's Facebook page  which will provide updates on the road to publication. The book will be published by Aurum in April 2015 and there is more background on my website.

Caitlin Davies, April 2014

Caitlin Davies is the author of four non-fiction books, five novels and several short stories. Her other non-fiction books include Taking the Waters: A Swim Around Hampstead Heath, published by Frances Lincoln.


Book review: Open Water Swimming Manual

Book Review: Open Water Swimming Manual: An Expert's Survival Guide for Triathletes and Open Water Swimmers by Lynne Cox 

Lynne Cox has had a long career in extreme open water swimming. She broke the English Channel record, for men or women, aged just fifteen. Since then, she has swum the Cape of Good Hope, the Cook Strait in New Zealand and the Bering Strait from Alaska to the Soviet Union to name but three. One of her key achievements is in pioneering endurance swims in very cold water; through her methodical approach and with help from her team she has been instrumental in the science and understanding of the physiology of cold water swimming. 
It was the chapter on heat and cold that I found most interesting and useful. There is detailed discussion of the acclimatisation process, and one thing I hadn't realised is that if you are fully acclimatised to cold you cannot be simultaneously acclimatised to heat, which makes hyperthermia (overheating) a real risk - not something you would expect in an outdoor swimmer. Cox gives sound advice and lists of signs and symptoms to look out for with both hyperthermia and hypothermia.

For me as a wild swimmer who enjoys the spontaneity of swimming outdoors, much of this book is redundant. However, if you're keen to plan an extreme endurance swim I'd suggest it would be hugely valuable. The essence of Cox is that she clearly loves swimming and part of that comes from her enjoyment of the environment in which she swims. However, she plans all her swims like military operations, a fact borne out by her relationship with the US Navy SEALS with whom she has trained and taken advice, and the book contains comprehensive Risk Assessment and Seal Mission Planning sections. When embarking on a swim across the Bering Strait or around the Cape of Good Hope, I can see the value in this. If you fancy a quick trip up the Dart for a mess around in a waterfall this approach is somewhat excessive.

Cox covers everything here, from swimsuits and chafing to sunscreen, from waves to fog and wildlife. Much of the information is in summary form from her chats with other people, and is not in a great deal of depth. This is, however, a manual and it's probably the most comprehensive one you could find if you were planning a Channel swim, for example. In this case, there's some informative advice regarding the importance of finding the right pilot, and how to go about it. 
Cox includes discussions on motivation and mental preparation, and also technique and training guidance. There's a fair amount of information on finding swimming clubs and groups which is only applicable to the USA, and I hope that the publishers might consider the value in updating an edition for the UK or Europe owing to the large potential market here.

Cox's background is in competitive swimming, and she worked with an Olympic coach for many years. This goes a long way to explaining her approach, which is very much goal and achievement-based. So, if you have a general interest there is a fair bit of overkill here, although you'll undoubtedly find a range of useful information and for me the chapter on heat and cold alone is worth the cost of the book. If you're into extreme swims, then it's an essential addition to your swimming library. 

Lynne Roper, who is currently planning a swim across the Gulf of Corryvreckan. April 2014.  

Book review: Dr Rip's Essential Beach Book
Book review: Dr Rip's Essential Beach Book

The rip current is the bogeyman of the sea. Most people don't understand rips or what to do when they're in one. Dr Rip's Essential Beach Book: Everything You Need To Know About Surf, Sand and Rips by coastal geomorphologist Dr Rob Brander (named 'Dr Rip' by Lifeguards in New South Wales for his habit of pouring purple dye into rip currents) aims to change that, making it a potentially essential addition to the sea-swimmer's library.  

The confusion engendered by rip currents means many swimmers fear their very name. This is partly justified; in both Australia and the USA around 100 people a year drown in rip-related incidents, while between 2006-2011 in the UK, RNLI lifeguards rescued 12,607 people from rips, around 11% of whom were swimmers. 

A rip current (it's a current, not a tide) is a 'river' flowing from the shore through an area of breaking waves. It's the main way in which water from the surf returns out to sea. A rip won't drag you under, but it's potentially dangerous for a couple of reasons.

Rips appear to be areas of calm in white water, and therefore attract swimmers. People who are not competent get pulled out of their depth, and people who do not know how to get out of a rip risk exhausting themselves trying to swim against the current. So the first important point is how to spot a rip; there are plenty of handy hints and excellent photographs to help you develop this essential skill.

Rips vary hugely in shape, size and power. Some rips will run you a mere 50-100m off shore and return you to the shallows after a couple of minutes, while others are monsters; one in New Zealand, for example, took Dr Rip a good 1km off shore. While they are normally narrow, they may be up to 50m wide and travel at the sprint speed of an Olympic freestyler.

There are several ways to deal with rips as Dr Rip explains, and there are no absolute rules. The method you choose if caught in a rip depends upon your particular experience, swimming skill and fitness, and on your knowledge of a particular beach and how its rips behave.

The overarching advice is not to fight the rip and to stay calm. Swimmers are often taught to let the rip take them out, then swim back in: using this method a weak swimmer may float out and hope it brings them back to shore. However this method is not foolproof: the New Zealand rip mentioned above appears when the surf is massive. So even if you're an expert outdoor swimmer and decide to 'ride the rip' to beyond the break, you still have to navigate the surf zone to get back in, and that might be impossible to do safely. Raising an arm or a leg is a recognised call for help from a life guard, in case the rip does not return you.

For the stronger swimmers amongst us, the ideal is to swim at ninety degrees to the rip. This might be difficult since many rips are not perpendicular to the shore, making swimming at ninety degrees hard. So Dr Rip's advice is to head for white water where the surf is breaking. (If this scares you, you shouldn't be swimming there!).

In order to truly understand the sea and to make sound judgements about whether or not to swim at a particular beach on a particular day, I'd advise you to read this book. For some the weakness could be the amount of information needed (about types of sand, beach formation, currents and wave shape) to get to this position of choice.

However, Dr Rip's discussion of types of sand and the ways in which different sentiments form different types of beach is illuminating. The type of beach largely dictates the type and size of waves, which in turn affects the formation of currents such as long-shore drift and rips, and whether these are fixed rips or unpredictable flash rips.

Dr Rip explains different categories of wave, along with specific dangers associated with each. (From this section I now know for certain that the wave which wiped me out behind Burgh Island  last year in twelve-foot swell and scared the bejesus out of me was a freak reflected wave combined with an incoming one, because there's a description of how such waves form and a picture of a similar one in the book.)

You will also learn not to try body-surfing a plunging wave or a surging wave, and what to do when a big wave decides to break on top of you - a frequent occurrence for we year-round sea-swimmers and dippers.

Dr Rip writes in an accessible style while also managing to explain some fairly complex processes in an easy and entertaining way. There are some lovely touches of humour. You will even discover how to survive a shark attack (swimming with a friend immediately reduces your chance of attack by 50%!).

There's information on fossicking on a beach, rock-pooling, and where and how to build a decent sandcastle. Dr Rip has a life-long fascination with sand (he collected several hundred jars over his youth which were confiscated by customs when he moved to Australia), and it's this which gave him his passion for the science of beaches.

There's so much information in this book, all illustrated with wonderful photographs from around the world, that it's probably necessary to read it two or three times. I grew up on the Atlantic coast of Devon, and there is plenty here that I didn't know. 

My only criticism is in the sometimes confusing format where summary sections are placed in mid-paragraph rather than at the ends of the relevant chapters, but it's such a great book it's well worth overlooking this minor annoyance rather as you would a sand fly bite. By the way, before you warm yourself up on your nippy winter sea swim, did you know that sharks are attracted by the smell of wee?

  • Lynne Roper, February 2014. Lynne last swam in a rip current at Wembury on the 2nd January. 
  • Dr Rip's Essential Beach Book: Everything You Need To Know About Surf, Sand and Rips by Rob Brander ISBN: 978 1 74223 097 9

Lido lessons from Iceland
Lido lessons from Iceland

Iceland has more lidos than England - despite being sparsely populated. On a weekend away, historian and swimmer Chris Ayriss meets shower police and swimmers as he looks for the keys to their popularity

Iceland is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe, with just 320,000 inhabitants - about the same as my home town of Leicester. But whereas Leicester has just eight lidos now, there are 123 lidos still open in Iceland (more than the whole of the UK). On a recent weekend away to see the Northern Lights with my wife Anne we started off with a trip to Laugardalslaug Outdoor Pool in Reykjavik , and contemplated some of the differences between the UK and Icelandic experience.

Most British lidos have had their diving boards and slides removed as a result of health and safety legislation, and few have hot tubs, but Laugardalslaug pool has four hot tubs, a geothermal sea water pool and a 86 meter water slide. We picked our way to it along icy and snow clad pavements. It had had been open since 8.00 that morning, and didn't get light until 10.00 but the steaming water is a regular haunt of locals, and it was already busy when we arrived. Relaxation combined with a discussion of local and world events give the pools a real buzz and bubble: they feel like the Icelandic equivalent of the British pub.

Beyond the slides, dives and tubs, a striking difference was a complete absence of chlorine in the water. British history saw the birth of the swimming pool as a place to bathe, a place to wash away the weeks grime. In Iceland a different heritage has generated a healthier experience. Swimmers are expected to shower in the buff following the directions of the poster on the wall so that no body areas harbouring bacterial infection are missed. 'Shower police' are on hand to make sure you do a proper job and even if you escape their attention, keeping your costume on while showering will result in a good ticking off from any Icelander that sees you misbehaving.

(Clifton Lido has a similar wash naked policy as a result of a Swedish owner and manager with Finnish roots, but it's a pretty unusual feature in the UK).

Chlorine is used in pools to kill bacteria brought in to the water on the skin of swimmers, so the cleaner swimmers are (as a result of a pre swim shower) the less chlorine is required in the water. It is so effective that children in Iceland are seen in hot tubs and Jacuzzis, whereas in the UK they are generally excluded because of the concentration of chemicals needed to counteract bacteria. (Enough, I have noticed, to bleach swimming costumes and irritate skin on occasion).

Out of the pool the experience is also very different. In Iceland changing room floors are kept clean and dry. After paying their dues swimmers take off their shoes, leave them outside the warm dry changing room and walk in with socked feet.  After your swim you are expected to shower again and dry off by the showers, keeping the wet and dry changing areas separate and inviting. The luxuries of indoor pools in the Uk - dressing tables with mirrors, hair dryers and comfortable seats  - are present.

The water slide is an obvious attractor of children, but they are welcomed in other ways too: the water is warm enough that they can stay all day, and a box of waterwings is put by the poolside to borrow.

After Reykjavik we moved on to the Blue Lagoon, and some of the other types of swimming for which Iceland is famous. But a top tip  for anyone who wishes to explore more pools there is to buy a Reykjavík Welcome Card which gives you free access to all swimming pools in Reykjavík, as well as a great selection of museums and galleries, and free and unlimited travel by bus within the Reykjavik Capital Area

Chris Ayriss, January 2014.

Chris is the author of Hung Out to Dry, a book about swimming and British Culture. He made a  Youtube video of the Blue Lagoon

Britain's outdoor swimmers: who they are, what they do
Britain's outdoor swimmers: who they are, what they do

Over 1000 people filled in the 2013 OSS survey last year, giving a picture of British outdoor swimmers now: who they are, what they do, and what they want from the Outdoor Swimming Society.

To all those who replied, thank you for your time, ideas, thanks  and constructive criticism, all of which will help us generate a stronger more interesting swimming community in 2014. For your interest, the survey results.


In open water, 61% consider themselves intermediate, and 20% of members say they are advanced. Only 9% consider yourselves outdoor beginners, down from 26% in 2010.

Almost half of  swimmers know more places to go swimming and swim outdoors more often as a result of joining the OSS. A quarter say the OSS has made them more adventurous, and similar numbers have greater confidence in open water, swim for longer, have better technique, know more people to swim with and consider it part of their lifetystle - like surfing or mountaineering, it's what they do at weekends.

Despite being members of the OSS, swimmers swim more in indoor pools than you do outdoors.  The respondents reported 57% of swims in indoor pools, 15% in Lidos, 11% each in the sea and lakes and 6% in rivers.

Lake and sea tied first as the preferred locations for swimming outdoors (each with a third of votes), with rivers in third place (14%).


The outdoor swimming community is varied in it's swimming preferences, but in order of popularity, here is what swimmers do (note swimmers ticked all that applied):

  • Swimming at the same spot - a regular place you return to (63%)
  • Fitness swimming - in pool, as part of a club (51%)
  • Semi-organised adventures - go somewhere with friends, maybe swim a distance (49%)
  • Winter swimming - I've taken the plunge (39%)
  • I've entered a 10k race (29%)
  • Family swimming - splashing about with children (28%)
  • Warm day swimming only (20%)
  • I've tried swimming the channel (3%)

Skinny dipping wasn't one of the options offered (maybe an oversight!).


 79% of swimmers are looking for new locations to swim in. 58% are looking for new adventures that could be added to your swimming experience which included cold water swimming, improving technique or adding new skills such as free diving.

In terms of what swimmers want from the OSS, the two most popular requests were a bigger, better wildswim map, and more OSS events (both 44%). Next up was supporting campaigners in inland access (35%).  The Inland Access Group has been working on several projects throughout 2013 which will hopefully start to show results this year.  Watch this space!

Finally members want the OSS to raise the profile of outdoor swimming in the media and through it's own communications, and connect the wider community of outdoor swimmers via social media, newsletters, as well as social events.

The most popular element of OSS online (apart from the facebook group) was the free, crowd sourced wildswim map. Over half of members said they used the OSS Facebook page either most weeks or every now and then, the rest do not use the page at all.


There is an almost perfect male/female split with 49.7% male and 50.3% female members which shows a swing of 10% towards men since 2010.

 The spread of the age groups follows a bell curve with the predominant group between 34 to 55 (32% of members are between 35-44, and 27% between 45 and 54).

There are equal numbers (14%) in both the 25-34 age group and 55-64. 


In terms of popularity, outdoor activities outside of swimming were ranked as follows:

  • Cycling/ Mountain Biking - 51%
  • Rambling/ Hiking/ Trekking/ Walking - 47%
  • Running - 36%
  • Camping - 31%
  • Triathlon - 21%

Where members stated what else they get up to they do the list is diverse: caving, surfing, yoga, bushcraft, caving, octopush (underwater hockey, we discovered) and, of course - indoor swimming.

To swimming!

Chris Dalton, Jamie Cross & Kate Rew

January 2014


Viv Rickman: lakes. 30 days of swimming.
Viv Rickman: lakes. 30 days of swimming.

Last year, Viv Rickman resolved to swim every day for 30 days. In 2014 she plans to start swimming every Llyn in Snowdonia. Here is her story.  

To reach Llyn Padarn, a glacial lake in Snowdonia, Viv Rickman slips through her garden gate and picks her way down a rough track. Home to the arctic char, the water in winter is as black as coal but crystal clear. Rickman swims here every other day if she can, her post-swim euphoria all the greater in the colder months. "Even ten minutes feels good. It's the endolphins, as my friend calls them," she says.

Despite living close to the sea, Rickman prefers to swim in lakes. "The sea is unknown: there are beasties, jellyfish, seaweed. And I have a healthy respect for tides." Lakes, on the other hand, allow her to relax, take in her surroundings, and enjoy her other passion, photography: she takes her waterproof GoPro camera along to every swim and loves adding this element of creativity to her dips, snapping underwater or resting it on a float and operating it remotely.

"When you live where I do, you take for granted how beautiful this part of the world is. It's only when I'm in the water that I have time to absorb it all. My ultimate swim is alone, having the lake completely to myself, no triathletes." Her swims are meditations - she doesn't measure depth, time, temperature or distance.

Llyn Padarn is one of 18 Welsh lakes Rickman swam in last year: in April and September, she set herself the challenge of swimming every day for a month. September was warmer; on some days in early April, there was ice on the surface. This year's resolution is to swim in every lake in Snowdonia: there are around 250, so realistically, she says, this could take years. But it's a goal she's happy to draw out.

She loves Llyn Llydaw, which you pass on the way to the summit of Snowdon. But her favourite lake is Llyn Arddu, set below a steep cliff frequented by rock climbers, where she swims with friends. "It's crystal clear, the colour of the Mediterranean. Nothing but you, the rocks and the water."


Hannah Booth, December 2013. This story is part of a series on inspiring swimmers, and one a month will run during 2014. If you have a tale to tell, please contact Hannah Booth.

Olga Way: urban pond. Swimming through winter.
Olga Way: urban pond. Swimming through winter.

In 2013, Olga Way swam through winter. Here is her story.

For those of you who've never visited the women's pond on Hampstead Heath in north London - and at the very least, that will be half of you - it's hard to describe the magical nature of the place. There's a stony overgrown path, a grassy slope for sunbathing, and a rustic platform hovering at the water's edge. The pond itself is muddy brown, surrounded by willows, and ducks paddle past you, unfussed by their fellow swimmers.

On scorching days, women of all ages, shapes and sizes form an orderly queue to enter the water gingerly via a set of mildewed steps, noisy laughter and celebration in the air. Last summer, a pair of young male tourists mistakenly wandered in, and the ensuing hysteria was as if a lion had broken into a paddock of zebra. In winter, it's hushed and bare, peopled only by the hardy.

But the pond is more than the sum of these parts, its tranquility and otherwordliness amplified by the fact that the metropolis is just a short bus ride away. For Londoners who love to swim, like Olga Way, it's an escape from life in the city.

Way moved to London in 1972 but didn't dip a toe in the pond, to her eternal regret, until 1984. "It was out of this world to discover it," she says. Part of the joy is her routine: the cycle up Highgate Hill from her home in nearby Dartmouth Park, the walk down the path, chatting with friends and, of course, the swim itself.

In summer, her morning swims are the focal point of her day. "When I'm in the water, I think about my stretch, the reach and elongation of my arm," she says. "I love backstroke so I can gaze at the sky and the planes: I usually use both arms at once and do breaststroke legs. It's a bit odd but I love it."

It took her 15 years to swim through winter; at this time of year, she manages once a week, revelling in the short, sharp shock. Sometimes, before she can take the plunge, the lifeguards have to break the ice forming on the surface, the ducks watching as intently as the shivering swimmers so they can resume their paddling.

Photographs: Ruth Corney

Taking the Waters: A Swim Around Hampstead Heath by Caitlin Davies and Ruth Corney is published by Frances Lincoln, price £12.99.

Hannah Booth, December 2013. This story is part of a new series that will go monthly in 2014, profiling inspiring swimmers. If you have a tale to tell, please email Hannah Booth.  

Sarah Tunnicliffe: sea. Swimming the channel.
Sarah Tunnicliffe: sea. Swimming the channel.

In 2013, Sarah Tunnicliffe swum the channel. She tells her story to Hannah Booth.

A couple of years ago, Sarah Tunnicliffe was an enthusiastic sea-dipper, but far from the Channel-crossing outdoor swimmer she is today. "I've always swum in the sea - my family joke I have anti-freeze in my blood," she says. "But I'm just a normal person you would walk past in the street."

The comment is telling: it supports the myth that to swim the channel you need several triathlons under you belt and shoulders the size of Atlas. Tunnicliffe has neither, but does possess enthusiasm, strength, humility and an adventurous spirit in spades.

Her swimming epiphany started while heading home after the funeral of a friend's mother who had died of breast cancer. Feeling helpless, she decided to find a fund-raising swim. It took her to the OSS Breastrokes swim at the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park a few months later, and gave her her first taste of the camaraderie of outdoor swimming. "I loved it, loved it," she says. "Everyone looked out for each other, it was a really supportive environment." She joined a swimming group and, with it, a bunch of soulmates: "We're life-long friends now", she says. Her swims grew more adventurous, taking her to Windermere and the Hebrides.

At the start of 2010, she was asked to join a six-person Channel relay team that summer. "I was overwhelmed to be asked, really touched by their trust and confidence in me," she says. She swam legs five and ten, loving being part of the team but hating the seasickness. The following year she swam a three-person relay. "Training as a group was wonderful, it really pushed me outside my comfort zone." Following that swim, she booked a solo crossing for 2013.

"I trained six days a week, twice a day, swimming in the river Cam, the sea at Dover and anywhere I could," says Tunnicliffe. "But I was too scared to tell anyone I'd booked it."

The day of the swim dawned with rough water. It took her 16 hours and 35 minutes. When she reached the beach in France at sunset - just her, her friend who had swum out to join her for the final stretch, and a local fisherman - a tsunami of emotions engulfed her: "Achievement, pride, relief," she says. "It was the best feeling ever. Crossing the channel felt more of a mental challenge - you know you can do it because you've done all the training, but your brain has to agree."

But social swims are where her heart lies. "There are no labels, no-one cares who you are or what you do - swimming is a particularly equalising sport. You just need some swimmers and off you go. I love it, love it, love it."

Hannah Booth, December 2013

This story is the one of a New Year collection of inspiring swimming stories for 2014. After this, we will be running a story a month in 2014. If you have a tale to tell, please do contact Hannah Booth. Thank you.

Eyes As Big As Plates
Eyes As Big As Plates

A return to the earth, a blend of figure and ground, the personification of nature: the solitary figures in the Eyes as Big As Plates series made me feel like a card lost from it's pack.

A collaboration between Riitta Iknonen (Finland) and Karoline Hjorth's (Norway), Eyes as Big as Plates is an ongoing art project, photographed in Finland, New York, Iceland and the Faroe Islands and coming to the UK in March 2014.

Inspired by folklore, Ikonen and figures celebrate the connection of people with their natural and cultural roots. 'I want to live in the world they've created,' said one post. In some ways, wild swimmers already do.

The artists are looking for senior models with a connection to Yorkshire for photos they are taking between the 3-6th March 2014, and are interested in talking to senior models throughout the UK. They work with people with a market connection to their natural and cultural roots to create individual costumes to wear out in nature. "Men or women, tall or short, small or big, as long as they are charismatic with an exciting life - we are interested!". Contact Riiatta.

The series will be widely exhibited in 2014, starting with a solo show in January in Fotogalleriet in Norway followed by the Ars Fennica show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Finland. A publication of Eyes as Big as Plates will come out in late 2014- early 2015.

Kate Rew, December 2013

What happens to your body in cold water?
What happens to your body in cold water?

Medic Mark Harper answers OSS members questions on swimming in cold water.  If you have a question for him, send him an email.

Q: What happens to the body when it's immersed in cold water?

Mark Harper: if you do not regularly delight in the joys of cold water swimming, the body has a number of responses to short winter dips.

The first are nervous reflexes. When the body senses intense cold, it sends signals to the brain which result in a 'gasp'- a much larger than usual breath in.  This is followed by hyperventilation, a greatly increased breathing rate.  This is involuntary, and cannot be controlled no matter how much you focus on your breathing unless you are used to or 'adapted' to swimming in cold water. 

The second set of responses to cold are hormonal. Exposure to cold water induces a stress response in the body that results in the release of the catecholamines, adrenaline and noradrenaline.  The most noticeable effects of these hormones are an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and a rise in blood sugar levels, but the raised blood flow also puts pressure in the kidneys, 'squeezing' out more fluid resulting in greater volumes of urine. 

Other than the desire to pee, you might not notice any of the hormonal effects except a strong desire to eat.  It is worth noting that the increase in appetite is greater than the increase in calories burned.

The cause of the swimmer's high is not entirely clear. Although endorphins may play a part, it could also be due to the increased levels of adrenaline-via a mechanism not entirely dissimilar to that of cocaine!

There was one interesting study which showed that a cold swim does increase your basal metabolic rate-in other words you could potentially eat more afterwards and not put on weight.  However, the study also found that people tended to overcompensate and take significantly more calories than the extra they burned off.

In temperatures of below 6 degrees - the average british winter swim - most people can only stay in for a few minutes before they begin to lose muscle power. So if you are dipping this winter make it snappy.

A word of caution - winter dips of the festive swim type are often undertaken by people who are not adapted to the cold.  Therefore they are not advised for anyone with a heart condition. Cold water immersion may increase the thickness and stickiness of blood, which together with the increased blood pressure and heart rate makes occasional plunging inadvisable for anyone at increased risk of a heart attack.

If you regularly swim in cold water, your body will learn to adapt - this will be covered in the next Q&A.

Mark Harper, December 2013 


Prescription Goggles: Aquasphere
Prescription Goggles: Aquasphere

If you require optical assistance wearing contact lenses under goggles is a risky way of being able to see while swimming. On outdoor swims there is a lot more to see than in swimming pools; perhaps a pool swim is better when not seeing grimy plasters at the bottom of the pool. Even when open water lacks crystal clear underwater views being able to see the time on your watch or sighting landmarks is useful.  However not only freshwater but also saltwater can be a home to Acanthamoeba keratitis, a type of bacterium that can cause serious eye infections, which can be sight threatening. People wearing contact lenses when in the water are much more likely to get eye infections caused by these bacteria.

Sea swimmers may be reluctant to spend much on goggles, since they can be ripped off by boisterous waves and lost to the sea. But with increasing options for prescription goggles on the market the cost has reduced, although they are still more expensive than a bog standard sacrificial pair. We got someone with short-sight to try out Aquasphere’s Eagle goggles £31.49 to  £42.99, available in negative dioptre adjustments from -1.5 to -6.0 for each lens.  They are priced at £19.99 for the frame with standard lenses, and £11.50 for each prescription lens. 

Our tester experienced different perspectives of outdoor swimming. He found that while wearing prescription goggles he noted the extraordinary clarity of swimming in a spring fed river compared to a different river, and the sea. Another contrast was bumping into objects or brushing into unseen things in the water had been disconcerting, being able to see them was reassuring and made swimming more relaxed. Compared to his usual goggles these were less comfortable; in his case they were too tight across the nose. From previous goggle testing it is apparent that not everyone has a face that fits the Aquasphere curved model. If your face does fit, the curved lenses and relatively flat frame offer a wide un-obscured field of view.

Out tester used to wear contacts under goggles and was horrified to find out about Acanthamoeba keratitis. He also commented that wearing goggles over the contacts reduces the risk, but “Even the best goggles don’t always keep water out.” He has now converted to prescription goggle wearing, although he is interested in finding a pair that have a more comfortable fit for him.

Verdict: Reasonable price, and the experience of clear vision for open water swimming is great. Worth checking the fit of the frame on your face before buying

Text and photos by Susanne Masters


Welsh access - we need YOUR help
Welsh access - we need YOUR help

As a swimmer and proponent of greater access to inland water in Wales last week I attended a meeting about the forthcoming green paper from Welsh Government about broadening access to the countryside - specifically including water. 

There are a few tasks that I need your help with - at present, you can probably do two out of the four... certainly one of them, you can do immediately.

There have been a series of pre-consultation consultations in the last couple of weeks. Briefly, this is the most significant piece of proposed legislation that has huge potential to reform access to countryside in Wales. This is a golden opportunity - there are some excellent politicians who really understand the outdoors in some powerful positions.  We need to make sure that outdoor swimmers voices are heard - because we are the many.  The landed gentry are the few - but they have very loud, very well connected people voicing their opinions.

The discussion document that was circulated prior to the meetings can be downloaded here.

The general principles are a presumption in favour of broadening access.  There is a recognition at many levels that current legislation around access to the countryside (not just water) is complex and unclear, and puts people off from benefiting from all of the health & social benefits of outdoor activities.

To summarise a very very full meeting - there are a few key actions that we need as many people to do as possible. 

Firstly - we need as many people as possible to complete this survey:

The pre-requisite is that you must have completed some sort of outdoor activity in Wales at some point in the last year.

Wales Outdoor Activity Tourism Survey

The survey is being done by Visit Wales - to look at the economic importance of outdoor activity tourism in the Wales.  I would like to point out within 24 hours of the angling fraternity being made aware of this at the meeting in Builth Wells - there were over 2000 angling focused replies.  Make no mistake - there are a lot of people who are starting to mobilise in an attempt to restrict the remit of the proposed legislation.

Secondly - the Green Paper is on the way, but right now - get in touch - email the Welsh Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths, directly, and tell him YOUR opinions on the proposals.  It DOES NOT MATTER where you live.  Welsh residents are weighted more highly - but contributions from elsewhere are welcomed - it is recognised that the largest tourist spend in Wales comes from the English.

The Minister has clearly stated that he wants to "increase access to the outdoors" - so it would be great if you could explain to him why that is a positive thing for you, and what you benefit from access to the outdoors.  Explain the sorts of activities that you enjoy doing.  Perhaps mention that the present law is unclear (if you think it is), which means that sometimes you are not sure whether you are "allowed" to swim in places.  Greater clarity in law would give people greater confidence to go and explore places, knowing that what they are doing is not going to get them into trouble, and therefore increasing access.

Email John Griffiths - the Minister for Culture & Sport directly. 

Thirdly - we need people who live in Wales or run business in Wales to speak to their Assembly Members (especially Plaid Cymru AMs)

You can find out who they are here.

Basically, there is weighting on everything we do.

Sending in a copy-paste template email is counted - but not weighted highly.

A group response (from OSS for example) is counted - and weighted a bit.

An individual getting in touch with their AM either in person, by email, by post is weighted VERY highly.  All you need to do is raise the issue with your AM, and ask them where they stand.  Ask them to contact the Minister.

Finally - when the Green Paper is published (December) - send in your opinions.

The time frames are tight - and we need to move fast to make sure that our voices are heard.

I appreciate not many of you live in Wales - but if you do, or know people who do - please get in touch.  Because trust me, the anglers and the landowners are working hard on this one.

For the background on the review - have a read of this document.

Dan Graham (OSS Inland Access, Wales), September 2013

Seen pictured swimming on the River Dee, a highly contested and controversial area in terms of access in Wales at the moment.



Cold swimmers: space blanket, wool blanket - or plastic bag?
Cold swimmers: space blanket, wool blanket - or plastic bag?

Mark Harper

In the first of what we hope we will be a long and informative relationship, medic Mark Harper answers questions from open water swimmers about cold water and how their bodies react and adapt to it.  If you have a question, email it to Mark, and you may see an answer next month.

Q: What will warm a cold swimmer up fastest post swim - blankets, silver space blankets, down jackets, or plastic bags?

Short answer: they're all about the same!

Long answer: My area of research is perioperative hypothermia or why people get cold when they have an operation and what can you do to prevent it.  Research into cold water swimming has helped my patients and, conversely, research into perioperative hypothermia can help swimmers.

If you have a cold swimmer on your hands, there are two steps to warming them up.  The first priority is to stop them losing any more heat by trapping a still layer of air around the body.  The second stage is to actively warm them up.

To help decide what is best at preventing further heat loss we can refer to a study that looked at heat loss over time in anaesthetised patients using a number of different materials: specialised and expensive covers (Thermadrape-which is similar to a space blanket; Bair-Hugger-a specialised cover through which you can blow hot air-in this study it was just used as a blanket), standard, cheaper options such as cotton sheets, paper and...plastic.  The results are illustrated on the graph below (David Sessler with permission). 

What the researchers found was that there was very little difference between the specialised and expensive covers and plastic bags.

They also found that increasing the number of layers made little difference.  However this was in a hospital where the air would be still and around 20˚C. Although the principles remain the same outdoors, with wind and lower air temperatures, more layers may be needed to prevent heat radiating into the environment and to keep that still layer of air around the body.  Down jackets, for example, are good at dealing with the former and thermals with the latter. 

The research also showed that the more of the body that is covered, the greater the reduction in heat loss - so pop on a hat and some gloves, as well as clothes.  Although a hat is undoubtedly a good thing in the cold, heat loss through the head is not as extensive as widely believed.  The figure-which ranges from about 70-95%-that is commonly quoted for the proportion of heat loss through the head actually comes from a study in which all but the participants heads were enclosed in immersion suits.

The question of whether or not to remove a wet swimming costume is an interesting one.  Water has a much higher 'specific heat capacity' than air.  In simple terms this means that the amount of heat that can be contained in a kilo of air is significantly less than the same quantity of water.  This means on the one hand, a wet swimming costume will take a significant amount of heat to warm it up.  On the other hand, once warm it will contain more heat and insulate the swimmer.  Overall, in a cold environment with no external heat source it is probably best to remove a swimming costume but it is not so critical in front of a roaring fire.  And the relatively small area covered by their costumes means that modesty may be preserved in the men. 

It is important to note that covering up just prevents heat loss-it doesn't actually put any extra heat into the body.  Without an external heat source, warming-up will only occur very slowly as the body produces its own heat through muscular activity and metabolism.   Beyond that, the more heat you add to the system, the quicker the rewarming process will be.  There is too much to say about active warming here (another time maybe?) but hot drinks do have a specific heat capacity so will help-and from personal experience can be highly recommended-for cold.  The issue here is stomach capacity in that you would need gallons to actually warm up.

In conclusion then, as long as you can keep a layer of warm, still air next to the body it doesn't really matter what you use - a large bin bag will be just as effective as expensive space blankets at reducing heat loss.  In fact a study published earlier this year showed plastic bags to be an effective (and low-cost) way of preventing hypothermia in newborn babies.


Mark Harper, OSS Expert Advisor, Cold Water. August 2013 Email Mark your questions!

Watermarked: be part of the story
Watermarked: be part of the story


Artists Becca Thomas and Clare Charles won the OSS Creative Grant process last month for their project proposal Watermarked. Watermarked is a sound art project which will archive the personal stories of those for whom swimming is part of what defines them. These stories will be aired as radio shorts or stored on the blog

They are now looking for voices to take part in it.

Are you an outdoor swimmer who would like to share a special swimming place? Do you have a story you'd like to tell about why swimming is important to you? If so, Becca and Clare would love to hear from you. They will be travelling around Wales and the West from 19th - 23rd August and arranging further tours later in the summer.

If you are interested in your story forming part of this archive, please contact them at You can follow the project via and on twitter @watermarkedhome.

You can watch the project develop on their blog, and keep an eye out later in the summer for the events where the final artwork will be aired.

The artists recent swims:

Kate Rew, August 2013

A 4,700 mile Journey Across the USA for a Healthier Happier World
A 4,700 mile Journey Across the USA for a Healthier Happier World

American Rob Greenfield recently cycled 4,700 miles across the USA to spread the message we should use less water. Here he tells his story...

Water.  You love it right?  You especially love swimming in it, in the outdoors?  You and me the same, my friend.  That's why I just pedaled 4,700 miles across America and used just 160 gallons of water in the process. 

The Average American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day.  The average European is twice as efficient, using 50 gallons per day. In sub-Saharan Africa the average citizen uses ten times less than the average European, at 5 gallons per day. On my mission to inspire a more earth friendly way of living I used less than 2 gallons per day.  Improvements can be made across the board and if we want to keep enjoying natural water the way we do today we are going to have to make these improvements.

104 days and counting without turning on a shower.  I bathed in lakes, rivers, rainstorms, leaky hydrants, and cow-drinking troughs fed by natural wells.  104 days without using a washing machine.  I washed my clothes in rivers, lakes, and leaky fire hydrants.  In 104 days I turned on just 2 faucets, harvesting most of my drinking water from natural and leaky sources. 

During the journey I launched a campaign called "Drip by Drip" and pedaled from New York City to Boston in the middle of a heat wave drinking only water from leaky faucets. I drank from spraying fire hydrants, leaky faucets, showers, and hoses, chewed on discarded cups of ice, scavenged for bottles of water on the roadside that people tossed out their windows, and drank from dripping AC units and dehumidifiers.  Don't worry I had a filter to keep me safe and healthy. I drank just over a gallon of water each day for a total of 8 gallons and biked 260 miles.  Besides those 8 gallons I also flushed some toilets.  Each time I watched this source of clean drinking water go to waste, thinking about the fact that I had just flushed more than a days worth of drinking water down the drain.  This journey changed the way I view water and inspired 1000's of people to reduce the strain they put on our water supplies.  I am just one-man bit I have made an impact in many lives and you can too, should you choose to.

Many of us in America have forgotten that water is a valuable and limited resource.  Many people who buy their water in a disposable plastic bottle for $1 assume the value of that water is in fact $1.  But water is life; therefore a monetary value cannot be put on it.  With water we live, without it we die.  That is why I chose to ride 4,700 miles across my country.  I am waking people up to the fact that our resources are not limitless and we can't keep up at the rates we are going at, at least if we want to live on a hospitable planet where water is clean to swim in.

The earth is connected and it goes much deeper than water conservation.  It comes down to consumption, to the foods we purchase, to the products we buy, to the electricity we use, and to the lives we are living.  Maybe the water will always be there to swim in, but will we still want to swim in it if it's full of trash or worse yet loads of chemicals?  We need to support farms that are growing food naturally so that chemicals don't end up in our water.  We need to buy products that don't spew pollution into the air, which ultimately ends up in our water.  We need to bike, walk, and take public transportation to reduce the pollution we are creating.  It is very simple things that anyone can do, if they chose to, that will collectively be the change.  It's going to take the action of each of us as individuals.  But beyond that banning together to stand up for the water we love and keeping it clean!  You've probably heard the saying "If you're not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem."  It's true. 

So if you want to continue to have the clean water we do today (or better yet the cleaner water we had just a few generations ago) and pass it on to the next generation then be a part of the solution.  Conserve water and live a life beyond yourself.  Take it one step at a time.  Remain positive and don't beat yourself up.  You can do it and you can have fun doing it!

Many of us that are a part of the Outdoor Swimming Society might already be doing our part as individuals.  Congratulations if you are!  Be proud, but don't stop there.  Inspire your neighbor to grow food instead of a lawn.

Water is precious and I learned to appreciate even the smallest of sip.  Many nights I went to bed thirsty and that has deepened my admiration for water.  I learned that when you live simply you live free.  It's easy to be happy when your source of happiness is water, food, friendship and simple shelter. 

PS. 104 sweaty days of cycling and I smelled just as good as pretty as a bouquet of roses.  If you don't believe it you can come to my home and take a whiff for yourself; I still haven't showered.  And if you are in San Diego stop by and we'll go for a swim together!


About Rob: Rob Greenfield is a native of Ashland, Wisconsin and grew up with a deep love for water.  He spent many of his younger days swimming, fishing and catching frogs and later took up competitive swimming.  Water is near and dear to his heart and after he high school continued his studies in Aquatic Science at University of Wisconsin- La Crosse.  He currently resides in San Diego, California and never strains too far from a natural body of water.  He is an adventurer with a mission to inspire people to start living a more healthy happy earth friendly life.  Learn more about this adventure and many others at Greenfield Adventures and follow him on Facebook.

Rob Greenfield, August 2013 

Aquabuddhism: How Swimming Can Quieten The Unruly Mind
Aquabuddhism: How Swimming Can Quieten The Unruly Mind

Words; Patrick Taggart

There are many reasons to love wild swimming - the sense of adventure; the joy  of immersing yourself in beautiful watery places; the thrill of getting up close and  personal with nature; the satisfaction of achieving goals; and the pleasure of a good  workout – to name but a few. But there is another good reason to swim in the great outdoors: to benefit your mental health.

In 2010 I suffered a catastrophe. At least that’s how it seemed. Now, of course, I smile at the melodrama associated with the word ‘catastrophe’, but that’s how it felt at the time. Amongst other things, I was dealing with the aftermath of having been diagnosed with and treated for prostate cancer.

Aware of my precarious mental state, I did three things: I got some counselling; I investigated Buddhism; and I went swimming. All three helped a lot.   

Swimming helped in two ways. First, swimming helped me to discipline my unruly mind, to stop being preoccupied with past regrets or future worries. Let’s put it this way: in the seconds after you’ve jumped into cold water you’re not going to be wondering whether your answer to that tricky interview question last week was good enough! Also, as you swim you can direct your attention to the feel of the water and the refinement of your stroke, thereby subduing obsessive thoughts about what you should have said during that bruising encounter with a colleague the other day. In short, swimming, particularly I think in cold water, can make you calmer and more content.

Second, contemplation of the qualities of water can help you develop a more constructive outlook on life. Contemplation can be a physical act as well as a mental one. Why not try this little experiment next time you go swimming.

At the start of each stroke reach forward and grab the water tightly in your fist before pulling back strongly. Try this for a few minutes and observe how it affects your swimming. Now swim normally, with open palms, for a while. You’ll now be swimming faster and with a lot less frustration! 

It’s foolish to try to hold water tightly. I believe it’s equally foolish to try to grasp many other things in our lives – health, wealth, relationships – in a vice-like grip, since all these things, although within our influence, are ultimately beyond our control and subject to change. Perhaps it is better to live as we swim, holding all things with open hands.

If you’d like to explore what I playfully call “Aquabuddhism” or learn more about the wonderful and varied swimming opportunities in Northern Ireland, where I live, visit this site. News of Aquabuddhist exploits is posted on the Facebook page

I’ve also added my favourite swimming spots to the Wild Swim Map:

Ballyvester Bay 


Benderg Bay

Bloody Bridge River

Ely Lodge

Helen’s Bay 

Janest’s Rock

Maggie’s Leap

Otter Zawn 

Pans Rock


Reagh Island

Shimna River

Strule Meander

Trory Jetty/Devenish Island 

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