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 

In memory of Jonathan Joyce: more good days?
In memory of Jonathan Joyce: more good days?

There is much sadness in our hearts, as a result of the loss of an amazing man and swimmer,  Jonathan Joyce (pictured), who left the world far too soon, while swimming in Devon earlier on 15 June 2013. 

JJ was a maverick, a free spirit, a joy and an inspiration, with a heart even bigger than his hair (which was massive). He seemed to live more in each day than many of us manage in a month. With his love of adventure, spontaneity, sense of humour and inclusivness, JJ was a much loved member of the OSS team and the embodiment of much that people cherish about the wild swimming community. He was brilliantly smart, competitive and visionary, and one of his ongoing gifts to the world is the free worldwide swimmers map,

JJ Tinside

JJ was swimming with a friend 25-30 metres of the coast of Devon (an endurance training swim, nothing out of the ordinary) when he lost consciousness, and later died. It is not known why.

Many of us were inspired by him, led by him and hugged by him. We are still thinking of ways we can honour his memory, but for now, you may want to reflect on the lessons in living he embodied in some of the obituaries written about him. One of his friends and business colleagues wrote this, which may inspire to have more good days - and spend more days swimming:

"Everyone has their good days. Days when they are at their best; full of energy and confidence, open to the world around them, its people and possibilities. Days when kindness and enthusiasm aren't hard and creativity comes naturally.

"For most people these days come once in a while. Tiredness, stress, hassle and worry all chip away at that version of self. After all, it's fucking hard work to be open, energetic and kind all the time, to take risks and encourage others, to laugh even when knackered, cold and wet.

"Of all the people I have been lucky enough to meet, Jonathan had the most good days. He had an incredible capacity to be at his best, regardless of any external or internal circumstance. Whip smart and charming, through sheer force of will JJ consistently won the battle to energise those around him rather than need energy from them, to look for the hard positive over the easy negative, to be the one saying "Why not?" rather than "Why?". "

JJ Dart16k

(JJ hugging Kari Furre after taking it one step further and swimming their Dart16k)

Jj first out

(JJ first out of the water at the Dart - two years running)

JJ Abersoch

JJ seeing the sun come up on a team mission to explore a Abersoch-round Tudwal's island swim

Kate Rew, August 2013


Outdoor swimmers are exposed to underwater sights including illuminated bubbles swimming when through bioluminescent water in the night, and daytime views of trout or sand eels, backdrops of vibrant green plants, sandscapes or rocks underwater. Above the water, open skies, lido life, riverbanks, cityscapes and shorelines would all be a shame to miss while blinking water out of your eyes.  

Aquasphere Kayenne Ladies £19.99

With a very flat profile these goggles were slight enough to slip in a pocket, and would be great as part of a very streamlined swimming kit. Most people found the small frames uncomfortable as they pressed on the lower edge of the eye socket. However people with smaller eye sockets or daintier faces found them comfortable. Adjusting the strap was incredibly easy, and could even be done with one hand while in the water. For some reason the texture of the strap drew loose hair into a tangle on it, so they are perhaps best worn with a swimming hat.
Verdict: good for dainty faced people

Aquasphere Mako goggles

Aquasphere Mako £10.50

Testers found these to be the same as the Kayenne Ladies. A nice flat profile made them portable and adjusting the strap was easy. Most adult testers found the small frame uncomfortable, but keen swimming kids and dainty faced women found them comfortable.  Best worn with a hat as hair got tangled in the strap. For those who aren't so dainty-faced Aquasphere offer a range of models, which are worth looking at if easy adjustment with their Quick-Fit Buckle is a priority.
Verdict: good for dainty faced people

Zoggs Predator Flex Polarized  £22 - 25

The model tested is not currently widely available. However it combines the Predator Polarized lenses  - great for outdoor swimming in sunny places - with the flexible frame work of the Predator Flex goggles. This model was very popular both amongst testers and as seen by their frequent appearance on other open water swimmers. They have an easy fit that seems to work well on most people.  While the polarized lenses were good for swimming in sunny water, they don't seem overly gloomy for swimming under overcast skies.
Verdict: most popular

Zoggs Tri Vison Mask £20

Goggles that are generously proportioned and almost mask like tend to be a comfortable fit for most people.  These ones have the comfort of a mask but are almost as small as goggles  - making them look less like chemistry laboratory goggles and more like swimmer's goggles. With a sturdy strap they stay in place for the duration of a swim. They are so comfortable that you tend to forget you are wearing them.
Verdict: easiest fit

Blueseventy  Siren £16

While these fitted most people well, their outstanding feature was the pink lenses. In theory pink lenses improves vision when light levels are low. In practice they endowed even mundane views with a pleasantly disconcerting  pink tint. They became an object of an entertainment more than a functional piece of kit. This is perhaps unfair as while they were entertaining they are also a good pair of goggles.
Verdict: best entertainment

Blueseventy Hydra  £23

Mirrored lenses are great for preventing the need to squint in bright sunshine. These are certainly good functional goggles. They look a lot more attractive than some of the garishly coloured goggles designed more for serious swimmers than people who like to hang out on the beach and value aesthetics. 
Verdict: perfect for a serious swimmer who likes to look like an elegant beach goer

blueseventy Blueseventy Element £13

Not as elegant to look at as the Hydra mirrored goggles but the bright orange strap made swimmers wearing them much easier to spot when their heads are out of the water. Being bright orange also makes them easy to spot lurking in the depths of a kit bag. They provide a good fit and there is something reassuringly rugged and tough about the strap and lenses. 
Verdict: excellent value

blueseventy vision small yellow lens gogglesBlueseventy Vison Small £20

A few swimmers extoll the virtues of yellow lenses for swimming in low light levels. As well as improving visibility they also endow a sunny quality to the water through their yellowish tint. Apparently yellow goggles can be hard to find, but Blueseventy includes them in their range of tinted goggles. They were an easy fit for most people in terms of the frame fitting most faces and the straps being easy to adjust.
Verdict: great for low light, or cheering up a dull day

blueseventy nero race goggles

Blueseventy Nero Race £19

Out of all the goggles tested these provided the sharpest views. Although the lenses are dark visibility remained good in varied levels of light. Frustratingly no one could get a good fit from them  - they leaked on everyone who tried them, But if these fit your face they will be superb.  Although they are called race goggles the straps were incredibly hard and fiddly to adjust. With outdoor races often having a rowdy start, this could be a problem for anyone wearing them in a race whose goggles got knocked and then has to try and retighten the strap while in the water.
Verdict: best vision (if they fit your face)

Spit is often touted as the solution to goggles being foggy, although it doesn't work for everyone. Along with the goggles we tried out Aquasphere antifog spray (£5.99), and all the goggles were kept fog free on swims in a range of water temperatures.  However if you don't keep your goggles scratch free, anti-fog spray becomes pointless as scratched lenses provide blurry views. Keep goggles stored in their case, or improvise one with a spare sock, to prevent them from getting scratched. If you get sand on goggle lenses don't try brushing it off - this will drag sand across the surface leaving scratches. Wait until the sand is dry and shake it off, or use water to rinse the sand off. 

It is worth trying out different goggles and finding the brand and model that works best with your face shape. If you can put a pair of goggles over your eyes and they stay on without using the strap when you lean forwards they have been able to seal around the contours of your face and are going to be a good leak proof fit. 

Testing out goggles in rural south west Turkey provided an abundance of crystal clear freshwater and gin clear Aegean sea.  While these goggles were being tested out media from The New Yorker to the New York Times reported the use of goggles by protesters in Istanbul trying to keep tear gas out of their eyes. Luckily most of us are more likely to improvise novel uses for goggles along the lines of using them to prevent tears while chopping onions.  




Words & photos: Susanne Masters


Rutland Water Bathing Beach – Progress Continues
Rutland Water Bathing Beach – Progress Continues

The OSS has been following the creation of the new bathing beach at Rutland Water for some time now, and we recently caught up with Robert Aspley (OSS Inland Access Office) for an update on the progress of the project...

Lifeguards & Infrastructure

Due to the difficulty in organising enough volunteer life guards, Anglian Water Services are now looking to employ a core team of life guards, with additional resource being supplied through volunteers. The money raised from visitor car parking charges pays for the lifeguard salaries. Unfortunately this has set back the opening date.

An official opening is now planned for Easter 2014. In preparation for this the installation of the beach infrastructure at Rutland Water (sand, signage, buoys, etc) will begin in September 2013.

Anglian Water Services are disappointed that they could not get to an operating situation this year, but are committed to realising the project in 2014.

What have we learnt so far?

The problem has been that this is a ground breaking proposal for a Water Authority, and it has been a steep learning curve for all involved. Of course a non-life guarded beach is the simplest way to set up such a facility, but this is unlikely at present by most Water Authorities as they are very nervous about such a new venture.

A huge amount has been learned and the OSS now have a blue print for setting up a life guarded bathing beach that can be modified by other Waterpark owners to suit most sites. I can send this blue print to anyone interested in proposing a similar bathing beach in their area. All the donkey work has been done!

Don’t be deterred by the initial response which will probably be negative. You need to ask for a meeting with the Visitor Operations/Services Manager. Try and get someone from a local triathlon group and local sports council to attend with you, as I did.

Hopefully I will have some better news to report early in 2014.

Words: Robert Aspey // Contact Robert via. Email

A sad goodbye to a great man
A sad goodbye to a great man

It is with great sadness that we confirm the death of a much loved and treasured member of the swimming and broader community, Jonathan Joyce, this weekend. 

Jonathan, 41, was taken from the water during an endurance swim on Saturday and died later in hospital. He was swimming with a friend in the sea in Devon. Results of the post mortem are awaited but it is believed he suffered an unexpected medical event while heading for shore.

Jonathan was a strong swimmer with an infectious enthusiasm for life. He was an intelligent and generous man, who inspired great love and laughter, and was often responsible for great outbreaks of joy, adventure and good ideas. He was technical director of Storm ID, the creator of and a valued member of the OSS team.

His parting is a great loss to his friends, family and all the communities he contributed so richly and deeply to. 

Our thoughts now are with his family, friends and his sons. Condolences can be sent to and will be passed on. This is currently with the coroner, but further information will be shared.

17the June 2013 

Footwear for swimmers
Footwear for swimmers

Sea urchins

Footwear can protect swimmers' feet from cold, cuts and stings but often at the expense of altering buoyancy and swimming stroke.  In Britain the most painful threat to a swimmer's foot is the excruciating sting of a Weever fish. In warmer climates sea urchins can be a hazard. With only a thin covering of muscle and fat, feet are particularly prone to feeling the chill of cool water even in summer swims.  On emerging from the water it is much quicker to get up if knocked over by a wave or to navigate a rocky exit if you are wearing something that protects your feet from being cut and prevents them from being numb. Skinny dippers can be driven to wear something on their feet, even if they wear nothing else. An old pair of trainers may protect feet from sharp rocks, but they weigh feet down and if they have laces often need to be retied. So while old trainers are fine for a quick paddle there are better options for people who want to swim. We tried out a selection including multisport boots, surf boots, swim shoes and swim socks. 

Surf boot £21 Gul (shown above on left side of the photo)

Left to right: Gul surf boot and O' Neill multisport boot

Being a little flexible these shoes are easier to swim in, but do not offer as much protection as the multisport boot. Reportedly Weever fish spines can go through surf boots. Velcro fastening wrapping around the ankle at the top of the zip meant that they never came undone accidentally and even in rough water they never came off. Good grip and a flexible sole also make these good shoes for navigating slippery walkways, or staying upright when emerging from a cold swim. When the zip is undone they have a wide opening which makes them quicker to dry out than the multisport boot. (NB the boot tested extensively is an older version of the currently available one)

Verdict: worth getting if you are a swimmer who also dabbles in surfing

Multisport zipper boot £35 O'Neill (shown above on right side of the photo)

Designed for multi-sport use these boots have a heel fin (for flippers), are very sturdy and have a tough sole. Encased in 5mm of neoprene your feet stay warm even when the water is barely above freezing. Because of the neoprene your feet float and this is noticeable while swimming, and after swimming you may also notice different muscles aching due to your adjusted position in the water. The zipper gets stuck if  sand goes in it; this can be avoided by rinsing the zipper area before starting to undo them. Zippers can also undo themselves and doing them up while treading water is possible but tricky. With a hard sole foot flexibility is restricted, but this boot really protects feet from sharp objects. They take a long time to dry out even when placed near a radiator. (Any swimmer's kit left soggy is likely to smell horrible and deteriorate fast). Price varies depending on where you buy them. 

Verdict: a little restrictive on swimming stroke but so durable and warm you might not mind

Beachwalker shoes £19.99 Aqua Sphere

These shoes were tried out by different swimmers in different locations and they are not the best choice for a serious swimmer. They do not provide extra warmth but were heavy enough to affect swimming stroke. With a light sole and fabric upper they offer some protection from sharp objects and creatures that sting.  They did not seem sturdy enough for frequent use on sharp rocky scrambles in and out of the water. These shoes may be suited to people who want to mess around on a sandy beach or shingle beach without getting regular footwear wet. 

Verdict: don't offer much to swimmers but useful for beachgoers

Swim socks £24 Blueseventy

Blueseventy's neoprene swim socks made a good impression from the outset. People commented that they were nice and long, and actually looked quite good (the multisport and surf boots look odd worn with swimwear). During swimming these socks stayed on really well, the long length helped to keep warm well above the ankle, and while swimmers were aware of them they did not significantly alter swimming stroke . Textured soles helped with grip on slippery floors. They even helped a lot with getting changed as they kept feet warm and were no obstacle to getting dressed. Being squashable socks they take up a lot less room in a kit bag than swimming shoes or boots. One drawback is that while they offer some protection from rough or sharp surfaces they will not protect your foot if you stand on a Weever fish or urchin.

Verdict: keeps feet warm without compromising swimming


I have used a pair of O'Neill 5mm zipper boots for the past 5 years of winter swimming. I only use them in the summer when going for short swims with an entry/exit point over sharp or slippery rocks. However feedback from swimmers who are serious about racing and train in open water through the winter suggests that if you have an easy entry/exit the Blueseventy swimming socks are the best choice for preventing feet from going numb without altering your stroke. 

Words: Susanne Masters


Float Like A Butterfly: Crossing The English Channel
Float Like A Butterfly: Crossing The English Channel

In September 2013, Sylvain Estadieu will attempt to become the first man and third individual to swim butterfly across the English Channel. We asked him if he'd write a piece for the Outdoor Swimming Society, about his inspiration, motivation and training...

It all began at the age of three. My Mom had decided I’d be an aquatic creature and I seemed to like the idea very much. Splashing around in the shallow end, playing pirates on the foam mattresses, playing submarine under them. Then came the time to try and collect swim badges. The First Triton for being able to hold one’s breath for 5 seconds, the First Duck for reaching the bottom of the deep end, the Silver Otter for clearing one length of both breaststroke and front crawl and finally the most coveted Dolphins (Bronze, Silver and Gold) that required the young apprentice to manage a 400-meter individual medley within increasingly tough intervals. I dived in full of confidence, reached the wall once, twice, thrice, four times, managing every now and then to actually clear the surface with both arms simultaneously and succeeding to somehow squeeze in the occasional breath. The backstroke, breaststroke and crawl part went a bit more smoothly, I think, and as I reached the wall for the very last time, I looked up at my coach, trying to figure out if he’d stamp my “Achievement Passport” and make me the first of my class to get the Bronze Dolphin. All exhausted that I was I could still sense a disturbance in the Force … I got out and followed him to his desk where he grabbed my folded A5 piece of cardstock, handed it back to me and said, I quote, but not really:

“No-can-do’s-ville, baby doll”.

Turned out there wasn’t enough flying in my butterfly after all.

This is only one of many “beginnings”. It’s obviously not the moment I booked my tide with Mike Oram to attempt a crossing of La Manche in butterfly. This isn’t either the moment when I started to consider long-distance butterfly as something I’d like to be doing, it’s merely one of my first encounters with the coleoptere.

The idea came to me through many moments. Swimming the Channel, which I eventually did (in f/c) during the same weekend as Lisa Cummins and Owen O’Keefe, was inspired by Ned Denison (excuse the name dropping!) during my time in Cork City, one of these few places in the world where there’s (way) more than one Channel swimmer per million individuals. Swimming butterfly in open-water came to me not long after my EC swim, as I was trying to find something new, in order perhaps to trump the post-Channel gloom. I decided I would return to Cork and try and swim four laps of Sandycove Island as a medley, one mile of each stroke basically. I was lucky enough to get three wonderful support swimmers on that occasion, one of which, Gabor Molnar, would end up quitting smoking, taking on swimming full time and swimming between England and France less than a year later! Now that’s determination!¨

Looking at the island from the slipway after this medley experiment, my back all but broken in two, I tried to imagine what it would be like to actually swim butterfly from Dover to Cape Gris-Nez. If it hurt that much after just a mile of it, surely I would not last 34 kilometers. And yet Vicki Keith and Julie Bradshaw had done it, and more swimmers around the world seemed to take on similar challenges. Surely I could train a bit more … just to see … plus, would it really be a challenge if I knew I could do it? I followed the same process as when I decided to leave France for Ireland:

Me: Do I want to do it?
Me: Not really …
Me: Sure?
Me: Nyeah …
Me: Meaning?
Me: It might be difficult …
Me: And?
Me: Yeah, you’re right, let’s do it.

So here I am now, in … Gothenburg, Sweden (via New-Zealand, long story), waiting for the layer of ice on top of the lakes to melt so I can test my stroke, refined in the pool over a long long winter, in open-water. It’s not Phelpsian in speed or stroke-rate. It is geometry-variable though. Breathing to the front, on either side or even looking down. Short strokes in order to change direction or accelerate, long pulls and long glides once in cruise speed, even longer and deeper glides when tired. The only variation I haven’t managed (yet) is doing a tailspin in the middle of a stroke whilst over the surface.

Almost eight months into “real training”, including a handful of 20k-sessions and a big bunch of 4-to-10k straight-through butterfly swims, it’s going to be great to finally taste the open-water in Delsjön and the Archipelago. Delsjön is a lake near central Gothenburg, home to mostly kayakers and triathletes, and most importantly only one golf course away from my apartment. The Gothenburg Southern Archipelago is quite similar to the one in Stockholm with its hundreds of little islands covered in red wooden houses. It could be a great place for a long day of training, swimming from one island to another and getting rewarded by a classic swedish”fika” (typically a cup of coffee and a bun) at each stop.

July will be exciting as I will be heading back to Ireland to take part in the Cork Distance Week, nine days of river, lake and sea swimming. This will be a great test before heading to Dover, especially the last day, the Total Body and Brain Confusion Swim, which is meant to illustrate the aphorism “Expect the unexpected” … let’s just say the camp’s volunteers have imagination … and a sense of humour

August will see me go back to the lake Vidöstern for Sweden’s longest open-water race (21,5k). I have unfinished business there as I only managed 13k last year. On top of that, my Viking Princess along with the other swimmers’ better halves got so spoiled (a lof of fika, see above) by the amazing organizing committee while we were swimming that she practically begged me to go back!

And finally September … this is when we shall see if I’ve grown strong enough wings!

You can keep up to date with Sylvain's progress on Facebook.


Kit Review: Changing Robes
Kit Review: Changing Robes

Changing robes provide a warmer and more discrete alternative to trying to get changed in public under a towel.With the help of the Seabrook Seals who have been swimming through the winter while they train for their upcoming Channel relays, the OSS tested five different changing robes.

 Changing robes (left to right) DIY, Togabeach, Dryrobe, Robie Robe

DIY from £9 per metre (depending on your height and fabric width 2m is enough for most people)

There are two ways to make a changing robe yourself, stitching together two towels or making a robe out of towelling material. Two towels stitched together with gaps for the arms and head to go through is quick to make, but the resulting narrowness restricts getting dressed.  We tried out a voluminous floor length model made by Amanda, the Dorset OSS representative. Its length made walking around a hazard, but for getting dressed the extra draught exclusion was much appreciated.  One swimmer who came to the beach with just a towel for getting changed during freezing February weather had an epiphany when he tried this changing robe out and realised it is definitely warmer getting changed under cover.

Verdict: the cheapest option, and you can customise length and design


Robie Robe Extra Long £38.99

Robies have dominated the market for a long time.They are cut only a little wider than body width, so they almost look like an item of clothing. This also means that there is not much space in there to put clothes on the top half of your body. People who already had them said that theirs had split down the side from the armholes as they got changed underneath them, but this deterred no one from using them. They are liked because they come in a range of colours, dry you well after swimming and dry out easily at home, and the hood is perfect for combining warming up and drying off. There is one drawback to Robies for women; the large armholes are prone to giving good views of sideboob. While showing sideboob is considered a fashionable and classy alternative to showing cleavage in some circles, it may not be what a person using a changing robe wants to do.

Verdict: popular, possibly better for men than for women, worth getting the extra long size for extra coverage


Original Dryrobe £74.99

Most lusted after.  Every time I took the Dryrobe down to the beach it was the first one to picked by changing robe testers. It is a zip up changing robe with a wind proof outer layer and a warm inner layer of synthetic wool. Comments that people made included:

“I love it. But I need a towel as well. Its like a big warm hug”

“I feel like I’ve got a big blanket on. It would be brilliant after getting out of the water and for sitting on the boat”.

Testers needed a towel to dry off, and it was too tight to change the top half of clothes underneath it. It was a bulky, but lightweight so carrying it down to the beach was not difficult.

Verdict: even though it needed to be used in conjunction with a towel it was the warmest robe and uniquely useful for swimmers to keep warm in their kit pre and post swim 


Togabeach Towel large £38

A hoodless, knee length changing robe that is more for summer swimmers as it leaves the head and legs exposed. However out of all the changing robes tested Togabeach (along with the DIY robe) had enough space to get dressed in while remaining completely underneath it without flashing. Some people commented that the opening for your head to go through is a tight fit, but one person said this was preferable to a wider neckline, which would slip over their shoulders or be revealing if they lent forwards to reach for their clothes.

Verdict: best for modesty, perfect for summer swimmers who also enjoy lying on the beach 


Chawel Hybrid £29.95

Chawel changing robe

The Chawel is made of lightweight fleece and nylon, and is intended to be used as a changing robe that can also be used as a sleeping bag and pillow. One drawback is the colour range: violent orange, pink or green. No one really wanted to try this one out. When someone gamely tried it on the lack of armholes made it difficult to pick up clothes and perilous; cold water swims reduce co-ordination so not being able to put your hand out for support made balancing difficult. Further drawbacks included poor drying ability and on a sunny day the orange part of the Chawel was rather transparent – a bit like Marilyn Monroe posing under diaphanous scarves, probably the last thing someone choosing to use a changing robe is aiming for.

Verdict: doubles up as a spare sleeping layer, is portable and lightweight, but comes in screaming colours, has poor drying ability, no armholes, and is a little transparent so will not save your blushes.       


Different types of changing robe will suit different swimmers as illustrated by the redistribution of changing robes after this test had finished. Amanda’s giant DIY changing robe went to one of the testers (it was the first robe she feels has enough space to get changed under), while Amanda has defected to the pink Togabeach towel. The incredibly warm Dryrobe became part of the Seabrook seals kit and will go on the boat with their Channel relay team to get them warmed up when they get out of the water. I have kept the Robie Robe to use in Dorset, but it was too bulky and heavy to come come abroad with me. And the Chawel?  I feel guilty admitting that when my dog was soaking wet I wrapped him up in it and he warmed up brilliantly.  However before heading off to Turkey for field research I eyed up the Chawel remembering that last spring it was unseasonably cold and an extra layer on my bed could have been handy.


Overall with changing robes the longer you can get them the better for staying warm. Cotton towelling material is better at getting you dry but synthetic fibres feel warmer. Wider robes are much easier to get changed under. Wider arm and head holes make it easier to get changed but also give people standing next to you more of a view.

Words: Susanne Masters

With special thanks to: The Seabrook Seals - who are raising funds for a few causes with their Channel Swim... 


Going Wild In The West Country
Going Wild In The West Country

If you are heading for the South West this summer, and would like to explore the region’s idyllic swimming holes and secret covers, then you might be interested in the new Wild Guide from the authors of Wild Swimming. Covering Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset. It features over 200 wild swimming locations, and there are other watery delights too including sea caves to swim into, rock pools to wallow in, waterfall chutes to river tube down, places to snorkel with basking shark and dolphins, forbidden blue lagoons and quarry pools, canoe journeys to explore by, sunset cliff tops and ocean hillforts and remote beaches to wild camp upon and relive your adventures around a driftwood fire.

‘I’m naturally biased to the south west,’ says Daniel Start who lives on the river Avon in Somerset. ‘It has some of the best swimming and cleanest waters and it’s fantastic fun finding new places without having to go abroad. And if the weather’s bad there’s plenty to do in the woods or underground!’

A large chunk of the book is dedicated to inland adventures too, for your not so aquatic friends, and these are packaged up into ideas for weekend itineraries, including suggestions for ancient forests, lost ruins, grottoes and caverns, sacred stone circles, wild meadows, campfire campsites and artisanal food producers.

Daniel will be sharing some of his favourite south west wild swims and adventures on the Wild Swim Map next month, but in the meantime you can buy get pre-order discounts of the Wild Guide book online using the ‘OSSApril’ code (33% off, delivered before publication). OSS members are also invited to the launch party at Stanfords Bookshop in Bristol on Wednesday 8th May at 7pm.

Pondlife - Al Alvarez & The Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds
Pondlife - Al Alvarez & The Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds


For the best part of his life Al Alvarez – poet, critic, novelist, rock-climber and poker player – has swum in the ponds of Hampstead Heath almost daily. In his new book, PondlifeAlvarez - an athlete in his youth, now in his eighties - chronicles what it is to grow old with humour and fierce honesty, from his relentlessly nagging ankle which makes daily life a struggle, to the devastating effects of a stroke and the salvation he finds in the three S's – Swimming, Sex and Sleep.

In advance of the reading, we are sharing, with permission of the publishers, an extract from the book.

Following extract taken from Pondlife

Tuesday 16 April. 52°F

Brilliant, cloudless day, all the trees in bloom – cherry, apple, etc (though not mayflower: that high-up burst of white I saw the other day is something else entirely). I dumped the car at the foot of West Hill for the Kosovans to wash, then crept uphill through the traffic jam to the pond. I felt awful; my ankle ached, my legs ached, my head ached.

I was playing poker at the Vic last night and lost, then decided to read myself asleep instead of taking a pill; naturally, I slept hardly at all. Losing is always a downer, but this down was exacerbated by sitting next to Ron, a wild Afro-Caribbean gambler. Usually, he’s just what you want at the table because he throws his money around like confetti; this time he got lucky against me in a couple of expensive hands and thereafter treated me as a foolish old man – in fact, kept calling me ‘old man’. I got my revenge on him eventually – let him keep betting into me when I had a straight flush – but I ended up losing and knew I deserved to; it was a hard game and I was playing too loosely.

So old man is how I felt – battered, beaten, depressed – as I limped my way uphill. Then I turned off onto Millfield Lane, left the traffic fuming behind me, and suddenly it was a shining spring day: everything in bloom, the birds going crazy, the water sparkling. I swam almost to the far edge, then dried myself slowly and soaked up the sun. This is as perfect as it gets – the water still chilly, the sun hot. The lifeguards have set up canvas chairs in front of their hut; they lounge there, contentedly taking the sun. Theirs has to be one of the pleasantest jobs in London.

Wednesday 17 April. 52°F

Another exquisite day: chilly water, hot sun. I swam out to the far barrier, then came back lazily, admiring the sky. The noisy clouds of seagulls are long gone and pigeons have taken over; they fly in pairs, urgently, as if on important business. A Virgin jet climbs majestically from Heathrow; its wings and fuselage are shining, its big tailplane is vivid red. Because my ears are under water it seems to move as silently as the birds.

Saturday 20 April. 52°F

Finally, a perfect spring day: the air warm and soft and delectable, everything in bloom. The water temperature hasn’t changed – yet – but that makes the swim even better. Curiously, there wasn’t a single bird on the water. One of the swans was moving around on the shore off to the left, a couple of ducks arrived after I finished, but I had the pond wholly to myself while I swam. This is as good as it gets (perhaps made even better by having won back last night most of the money I lost on Monday!).


Pondlife by Al Alvarez is published by BloomsburyAl Alvarez will be speaking about the book with his editor Alexandra Pringle at the Hatchards Bloomsbury Book Club on Thursday 28th March.

Kit Review: Measuring Water Temperature
Kit Review: Measuring Water Temperature

If you are swimming outdoors and the people watching are in coats, it is a sign you are in chilly territory. The key reason for knowing the temperature of water you have swum in is to demonstrate your prowess. Even non-swimmers are impressed by a 5°C swim.

There are plenty of indicators of temperature. For example count the expletives used by friends who curse on cold-water entry, or the pitch and duration of shrieks emitted by screamers. There are the grades of cold involving bodily parts. Politely I will stick to commenting only on the level of cold required to make your teeth feel chilly (about 6°C for me). If you want to be more precise and use a thermometer keep in mind that most will require at least 5 minutes immersion to give an accurate reading.

Chilly waters... but how chilly?

Chilly WatersI talked to the Boscombe beach lifeguards to find out how they get the sea temperature they put on display every day. Ben said, “There was a guy who took the temperature in the water off the end of the pier every day but he died. I mostly use surfer websites like “ So a belated thank you and appreciation is due to the man who used to do the Boscombe sea temperatures.

Dive and surf watches are the hassle free way to get an accurate water temperature; wearing a watch doesn’t disrupt your swimming. If you don’t have a dive or surf watch already it is going to be an expensive purchase, unless you adopt a friend who is already equipped with one.

Cheaper options that you can swim with are pool thermometers and bath thermometers, both of which are designed to work while immersed in water. A digital thermometer designed for taking a person’s temperature won’t work and is most likely to be destroyed by attempts to use it in the sea, lakes or rivers. Pool equipment websites have numerous options. You can pay nearly £30 or you can get one that does the job for £5. Likewise bath thermometers – usually designed for children’s baths so they are shaped like animals and in primary colours – can be bought online from pharmacy or childcare stores and also in high street shops. It is better to have an assistant to tow the thermometer attached by a string to their swimsuit because trailing thermometers are inconvenient, and if the sea is rough can become hazardous. I know a successful Channel swimmer who was nearly choked by a thermometer that got wrapped around her neck while on a training swim.

There is enough mercury in the sea already to cause health problems for fish so if you are tempted to try out a regular thermometer use an alcohol one, not a mercury one, in case your thermometer gets broken. It is more difficult to attach these thermometers securely to string for dangling in the water – unless you get hold of an outdoor thermometer, used by gardeners and budding meteorologists, which is set in a frame for attachment to a wall. The frame also works well as a place to tie string to tow it with. Again it is good to have a minion to do the temperature measuring for you because wall fittings are angular and will scratch you while swimming, as well as presenting the previously mentioned risk of throttling.

P.S. With the plethora of waterproof watches that measure temperature available I will be testing them in a separate review later on.

Words: Susanne Masters

Beyond the Beach: The Secret Wild Swims of Torbay
Beyond the Beach: The Secret Wild Swims of Torbay

Torbay – made up of the three seaside towns of Torquay, Paignton, and Brixham in Devon - used to be known as “Queen of the Watering Places”.  Its crystal-clear waters are among the safest and shallowest in the UK, and yet in recent decades this seems to have been forgotten. Beyond the Beach: the secret wild swims of Torbay, is a new guide to what was once one of the UK’s best known and loved swimming locations. 

beachLocal swimmers and OSS members Matt Newbury and Sophie Pierce know this beautiful corner of Devon intimately, and have put together a guide containing 15 detailed aquatic explorations, taking in caves, coves, cliffs and corals. The book is illustrated with striking images by award-winning underwater photographer Dan Bolt.  Each chapter contains practical information including grid references, postcodes, and the length of each swim, as well as the history, popular culture, geology and marine biology of each unique section of the coast.

Matt and Sophie also look at Torbay’s proud history of sea swimming, as well as explaining everything a sea-swimmer needs to know, from tides through to temperatures. The book reveals a wild and beautiful side to this very special piece of coastline, away from the main beaches. From the terracotta cliffs, to spectacular limestone islands and arches, the new guide aims to show that Torbay is a fascinating aquatic playground waiting to be explored.

Sophie's round up of her top Torbay swims for the OSS follows. Each spot is linked to the OSS Wild Swim map - so if you'd like more information, pictures and other swimmers tips, just click the links: 

Anstey’s Cove, Torquay:  Park at Anstey’s Cove car park behind the Palace Hotel.  The walk down to the beach is spectacular, through romantic ivy-covered overgrown woods , with glimpses of romantic rocky pinnacles ahead of you.  The sea is usually flat calm.  Swim from Anstey’s Cove across to Long Quarry Point, where the distinctive ‘witches’ hats’ of the double pinnacles point dramatically into the sky.  Just behind the pinnacles is a secret cave with an inner pool, deep enough to swim in.  On the way back you can swim to Redgate Beach with its stunning pink shingle.

Oddicombe Beach, Torquay: Park on Babbacombe Downs and take the cliff railway down to the beach.  Swim northwards, past the dramatic rock fall where there is a huge red scar in the cliff.  At the northern end of the beach is a small red sea stack to swim around, and beyond it you can see some steps carved into the cliff – this is the old Gentlemen’s Bathing Place.  Swim on northwards and you will find a large, intrieguing cave on two levels, almost like an ‘upstairs ‘ and ‘downstairs’.

Roundham Head, Paignton: Park in the car park by the Harbour.  There is a hidden beach behind the harbour called Fairy Cove where you start the swim.  Swim out over the reef and make your way around the headland; you will constantly marvel at the stark shapes and geometry of the red sandstone.   There are caves and holes, some of which look like rooms.  The swim finishes at Goodrington.

Broadsands to Elberry, Paignton: Park at Broadsands car park.  Swim out over the sandy beach and turn right, swimming along the shore towards Elberry Cove.  There is an astonishing change from  the red sand of Broadsands; the coastline turns into grey limestone, in fantastical shapes.  You can see the outlines of fossilised corals millions of years old.  Elberry Cove is different again, like a Greek beach with stunning white shingle.

Fishcombe to Churston, Brixham : Park in Fishcombe Road and walk down to the small shingle beach at Fishcombe. There are old concrete steps into the water, showing this has been a popular swimming place for many years.  Swim out to nearby Churston Cove, past a tiny sea arch that you can swim under if you’re not too claustrophobic!  Look out for the seal who’s well known in this area – we’ve swum with him a few times.  The sea here is crystal clear and you may well see fish. 

St Mary’s Bay to Durl Rock, Brixham: park at Sharkham Point.  Start your swim from the northern end of the beach and swim along the coastline. Almost immediately you will see a dramatic cave.  The water is a particularly striking shade of jade here, in contrast to the red cliff above.    Durl Rock, which protrudes from the cliff like a tiny peninsular, is  an unusual feature, which looks rather like a swimmer floating on his back.   You can get out here and do some diving before heading back.

You can buy the book at


Words: Sophie Pierce 


Winter Training: An Insider's Guide to a Smoother, Easier, Happier Swim
Winter Training: An Insider's Guide to a Smoother, Easier, Happier Swim

Whether you have your heart set on the Dart 10K, a channel crossing or a more serene full moon swim, winter can be the perfect time to make peace with your local indoor pool and improve your technique and fitness for more exciting outdoor swimming expeditions in 2013.

Last year, with this in mind, master coach Dan Bullock and OSS founder Kate Rew put together a comprehensive guide to improving your front crawl stroke and your fitness. Now that winter is once again upon us, I thought it might be useful to post again!

The guide can be found here - Winter Training: An Insider's Guide to a Smoother, Easier, Happier Swim - we hope you enjoy and find it useful this winter!


The Pleasures Of Marathon Swimming
The Pleasures Of Marathon Swimming

Got the swimming bug – and wondering whether you’ll swim the Channel? Karen Throsby is a lecturer at Warwick University, and is researching people’s experiences of marathon swimming, including her own. Here she describes why, far from being awful, there is untold pleasure in marathon swimming.

I’m an unlikely Channel swimmer. I live in the West Midlands, about as far from the sea as you can be in the UK; my body isn’t one that would be easily categorized as ‘athletic’ by conventional standards; I have a sedentary job as a university lecturer; and I get ferociously seasick as soon as I even think about getting on a boat. And yet, since 2008, I have swum around Jersey, from Jersey to France, the English Channel and the Catalina Channel, and have just dispatched my paperwork for another English Channel swim next summer. To be honest, no-one is more surprised than me at this unexpected turn of events, and if you had told me 5 years ago that I would have a savings account called “Channel Swims”, I would have laughed at you. And yet, I can’t get enough of it.

Karen Throsby, Alcatraz Swim - Photo Credit, Karen Drinkwater

A couple of months ago, I was at an academic conference talking about some of the research I’ve been doing with Channel swimmers. In my presentation, I mentioned how pleasurable marathon swimming can be. After my talk, a renowned sports sociologist came up to me and declared indignantly: “I just don’t see where there can be any pleasure in it. It must be awful”. And this is what I used to think too…before I got hooked.

I think that most people can appreciate the pleasures of completing a long swim – the triumphant feeling of a difficult task completed. But the idea that marathon swimming can be pleasurable in itself is harder for many to imagine. And yet, in my research interviews with swimmers, I have heard time and time again of the compulsive pleasures of simply being in the water for long periods of time.

People talk about it as freedom, or as being like flying; one UK swimmer described it as “stretching, reaching, gliding bliss”. And I know that I’m not the only swimmer for whom time just disappears in the hypnotic, embodied rhythms of swimming, with whole hours collapsing into what feels like moments.

People talk about it as freedom, or as being like flying; one UK swimmer described it as “stretching, reaching, gliding bliss”.

Without question, marathon swimming involves some dark moments: at various times, I have been frightened, sick, in pain, cold, exhausted and could think of little else but getting out.


Karen, Happy At Sea - Photo Credit: Nick Adams

But alongside these moments are the incredible, extraordinary pleasures of the long swim: the luxury of doing nothing but swimming all day; the beautiful, constantly shifting aquatic environment; the light through the water; the flash of a fish; the honk of a boat’s horn; the hypnotic tap, tap, tap of the hand entry; the embodied sense of power, grace and co-ordination that completely escapes me on land; the water-level perspective on the shore or horizon; the full-body tiredness at the end of the day that makes every surface look soft and yielding enough to take a nap on. This is what I want people to know when they tell me that “it must be awful”; this is why I swim.

Media Intern Opportunities
Media Intern Opportunities

The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) is a groundbreaking not for profit organisation that has been a key player in the establishment and explosion of the wild swimming movement since 2006. Using the media (radio, TV and print) and social media the OSS has changed public perception of swimming in rivers, lakes and seas, and founded a thriving subculture of wild swimmers.

We are now looking for a few talented and inspiring media interns to work with us in 2012/2013 to take the movement on to the next level, and help inspire and inform swimmers worldwide through our various platforms, such as our official web siteWild Swim map and our Facebook group.

We are looking for talented people who want to further develop their passion for writing and the media. Depending on the project we are looking for a 6 to 12 month commitment for each project.

The areas covered by these projects are:

  • The creation and daily/weekly maintenance of a media newsfeed of swimming related stories on the OSS website and OSS Facebook site.
  • Monthly contribution of highly readable news stories and interviews to the OSS website and newsletter. Our readership has a broad and varied interest in all things related to water, so this may include investigative news stories (for example on inland access and ecology), interviews (for example, with swimmers), book and culture reviews, and fitness and training information pertinent to swimmers.
  • Developing the wildswim map in terms of content, profile and worldwide use. There are various roles within this project: writing up existing content and putting it online, working with selected pioneering swimmers to put their information online and develop their profile, and a more proactive and marketing role: using social and other media to increase worldwide use.

This is a great opportunity for students and graduates to gain some hands on experience and to use their developing skills in writing, news reporting, marketing, and use social media, to fill their CV with good solid achievements that will contribute to their wider future job searching. Will we happily work with colleges and tutors if this counts towards coursework.

Please send a covering letter with information about the project(s) you are interested in, relevant experience and some relevant examples of your work to Jamie Cross, Volunteer Manager at .

Should you have ideas for us outside of these projects, please let us know, we’d love to hear from you!


OSS Dart 10K 2012 - The Swim Before the Storm
OSS Dart 10K 2012 - The Swim Before the Storm

Saturday 22nd September saw over 650 brave swimmers taking to the River Dart in Devon for the 3rd annual OSS Dart 10K.

Although the weather was fair, the waters were cold and choppy measuring just 14 degrees at Totnes. A few couldn't quite take the cold and left the water early, but the vast majority continued on and arrived jubilant for the celebration at Dittisham.  The fastest swimmer made it in just over two hours and the 'least fastest' in just under five.

The red wave swimmers set off from the steps...

One unexpected highlight of the day was the appearance of local Dart resident Sammy the seal who swam alongside and lent his support.

The lovely green in Dittisham saw a big top tent, various delicious food stalls, a hot chocolate in this year's Dart 10K mug for every swimmer and the wonderful sounds of the sea shanty singing group, the Old Gaffers.

However the biggest mention must go to the incredible OSS volunteers who registered swimmers, stewarded the various areas and manned the feeding stations - all with the biggest smiles. Thank you!!

The blue wave swimmers, ready for the off...

Money is still coming in, but so far Dart 10K swimmers have raised nearly £20,000 for various charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, Bliss, Bowel Cancer UK, Great Ormond Street and the Stroke Association. A huge congratulations and thank you to all who've raised money - we're in complete admiration.

And of course the following day the heavens opened - we were very lucky indeed..!

So many swimmer have been in touch with their fantastic thoughts on the day, but here is one of our favourites from swimmer Rosie Newport who we think sums it up pretty well:

I just wanted to say thank you for such an amazing swim, it was mad it was cold it was muddy, it was disorientating, it was orientating, it was friendmakingly unusual, it was crazy coincidence it was amazing, the paddle boarders were wonderful, the wading through mud banks with frozen feet was unexpectedly warming, the speed of the green hats inspiring, the yellow hats taking photos giggle making, the welcome sight of stoke Gabriel church and the glow of the pink pub, but best of all the wonderful wonderful hug from my beautiful five year old daughter as I stumbled up the muddy river side. I will be back next year. Thank you. The sense of achievement and the glow of pride are warming. The raising of £1000 for great ormond street humbling.... donations from our friends, generous. 

A rest then back to the water.

Happy swimming days

May the waters be warm and the ripples small...


Calling All Peak District Swimmers!
Calling All Peak District Swimmers!

Photo taken from Wild Swim Map - taken by EV & TV

Words below - Kate Rew

This month, we're placing a special focus on swims marked on our Wild Swim Map in and around the Peak District. If you've swum in the area, we'd love you to add the location to our map, to help build up our collective knowledge of the district's wonderful swimming spots.

Black Mere Pool, home to one of the only inland mermaids in Britain, sits in a windblown bowl on a ridge between Leek to and Buxton, not far off the A53. 

Its waters are dark and peat-stained. Cattle refuse to drink there, the stories go, and birds will not fly over it. They say it’s level never changes, even in drought, and it’s surface never freezes.

We stop in Esso to ask directions. "It’s bottomless, you know" says a guy on the forecourt, the red and white banner of the petrol station bright in the day’s grey. "They think it’s a u- bend: it goes down at Black Mere, and comes up elsewhere. A fire engine pumped it once during a moorland fire, and the water level did not lower."

Out to the west, this part of the Peak District has a greater emptiness than the others, and folk tales rear out of the howling waste like landforms in fog: migrating, mutating, never quite knowable. Black Mere, still and black with peat hags and sumps around it’s edges, fishes up more tales than most.

In medieval times a young local man, Joshua Linnett, had a young girl branded as a witch and drowned her in this pool. As she floundered she cursed her accuser and said he’d suffer the same fate. Three days later he was found floating face down, his face torn by talons.

In another story the mermaid was brought here by a sailor from nearby Thorncliff, who fell in love and brought her back from the sea. 

Whatever the origin of this creature, she is said to live here, half-fish, half-human, rising at midnight to lure single men to her and then drown them in it’s appalling depths.

We arrive in a big wind to meet her, shouldering the car door open. The wind snatches papers from the back seat, swirling them away, then swipes at our legs with the bitterness of the damned. We change and hope across the peat hags, semi-naked. Colin steps on into an unstable bit of bog and is quickly swallowed, his downward progress leg halted only by the impact of his groin on firmer ground. He pulls his leg out, like a cold filthy ham.

We get in, exchanging one concentration of partly decomposed plant with another. It stops short of being actually wretched. The water is chilling and I swim across it’s depths with gasping alarm. On the journey back, Colin duckdives, in search of the mermaid and her underwater lair - his flesh quickly unseeable and disappearing.

He emerges with the news that the unknowable depths are six feet – either that or he hit a ledge.

We retire for lunch at the Mermaid Inn down the road - Colin sad that he didn’t get hijacked by a watery siren, and determined to return alone, in the apogee of darkness, when supernatural forces are at their most powerful, and magic creatures haunt the night.

Swims already on the map – do visit, and add photos and comments:

Black Mere Pool. Staffordshire - Black Mere Pool, home to one of the only inland mermaids in Britain, sits in a windblown bowl on a ridge between Leek and Buxton. Its waters are dark and peat-stained. Cattle refuse to drink there, the stories go, and birds will not fly over it. They say it’s level never changes, even in drought, and it’s surface never freezes.

Three Shires Head - A series of water falls and plunge pools (known as Panniers Pool, a reference to the pack-horses that once used the bridges) where the counties of Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire all meet at the 'Y' shaped junction of two converging rivers in the beautiful peak district. 

Slippery Stones Plunge Pool.  A lovely plunge pool, busy on bank holidays and weekends. 

BBC Radio 4: In Praise of the Lido
BBC Radio 4: In Praise of the Lido

In their heyday, Britain's lidos attracted thousands upon thousands of visitors every week. Dreamt up in the 1930s as a "poor man's Riviera" - the rich were going to the South of France for the summer, but on a good day at the Lido, you could almost believe that you were on the Croisette at Cannes rather than Tooting Bec; that it was caviar in your hand rather than a bloater paste sandwich.

The pools were nearly killed off by the advent of the package holiday in the 1960s and 70s, which meant that ordinary people could finally go to the real Med for themselves; suddenly, the lido looked very homespun - even naff. But many have survived and have a devoted following... This excellent BBC Radio 4 programe, currently available on the BBC Iplayer, explores the history and legacy of these fantastic outdoor swimming spots, with input from comedian Arthur Smith, design guru Stephen Bayley and even former spin doctor Alasdair Campbell.

Olympic Inspiration: The Next Generation of Wild Swimmers
Olympic Inspiration: The Next Generation of Wild Swimmers

Thanks to Chris Ayriss for the following article.

The 2012 summer has been typically British; short blasts of hot sunshine, damp around the edges and a determination on the part of the nation’s swimmers to make the very best of it. When the sun shone, swimmers were out in force across the country, thousands of them, even if most were unaware that they were ‘wild swimming’ or even of the existence of the Outdoor Swimming Society. Ever since the lido era changed the focus of swimming from the early morning to the sunny day, it takes a spell of good weather for our numbers to be revealed. Yet when it comes to our freedom to swim and the general public’s perception of swimming in the wild, there is still a long way to go. There have been hopeful signs. Progress by swimmers at Sparth and promises of a bathing beach at Rutland Water are two good examples, but, alas, two swallows don’t make a summer, and our freedom to swim lies very much in the balance. Recognition that some may wish to plunge into the Thames sparked a ban by the Port of London Authority and a backlash from the Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

For my part, I feel irresistibly drawn to water, and slighted when prevented from swimming in it. I feel a sense of belonging; of attachment to the aquatic environment; a sense of deep satisfaction and fulfillment as I sink in and swim, and of course swimming is such fun, it puts a smile on the face of the swimmers as well as the faces of those looking on. I remember watching a Michael Palin travelogue; his train broke down in the middle of nowhere and as it was going to be quite a wait for a rescue business men, mothers, bankers and children stripped down to their underpants and went swimming in a nearby lake. Of course, the British wouldn’t dream of leaving the train, but perhaps we would become a little less stuffy if we took off our ‘official hats’ from time to time and connected with people and with the fun of actually being alive.

I revisited Blenheim Palace at the beginning of August and savored a stolen moment of sheer bliss. The majestic setting steeped in history and the beauty of the scenic panorama inevitably drew me in. Like a bright lustrous wine that can be savored on the palate for but a moment, my swim in the main lake was, alas, a singular pleasure. Much as I would have loved to swim beneath Vanbrugh's Grand Bridge and on into the Queen Pool, two 'concerned' members of the Blenheim staff requested that I not go back in for fear that I might encounter fishing hooks and line. Anxiety that should I be injured, they would be liable brought an end to my discreet adventure, even if it did not sit well with the Churchill spirit. With their reasoning I did not agree, but their instantaneous appearance from nowhere, along with their pleasant good manners made it hard to be confrontational. A little earlier I had enjoyed seeing an owl swoop over the heads of wide eyed children, a mock jousting tournament and sword fight ending with a pretty girl being dragged behind a horse in a sack. Swimming in the lake seemed much less dangerous, but then you can’t be too careful can you? Well perhaps you can. If we don’t encourage sport and activity how will we inspire a generation? Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee have shown us how it’s done; now it’s up to the Nation to keep the flame alive.

Across the country news reports have expressed concern about youngsters cooling off in the brief spells of sunshine. A hard hitting video produced by United Utilities has been targeting teenagers warning that it is never safe to swim in open water. In Plymouth there has been much concern about tombstoning. Participants as young as eleven are reported to be risking their lives by plunging from great heights into the sea, yet by way of contrast, the nation has been gripped by the display of somersaults and agility as Team GB divers competed for medals at the Olympics. Divers spun with heads just missing the diving board, entertaining a worldwide audience to standing ovation. One teenagers’ desire to compete was fuelled at a young age having joined the divers on Plymouth Hoe. Not that long ago youngsters were able to jump from the seaside diving boards with a depth gauge reminding them of sea levels and safety. The British were proud to see Tom Daley receive his well deserved medal, applauding his achievement at the Aquatics Centre. Teenagers love the thrill of jumping and diving, those of us less brave are content to stand and watch and cheer them on. Perhaps it’s not the active teenagers of Plymouth who should be condemned, but rather the authoritarians that wrecked the facilities, which for me were the highlight of Plymouth Hoe, leaving the would be ‘Tom Daley’s’ little choice, other than to jump from the cliff top.

Youngsters are our future, and this is especially true when it comes to wild swimming. The National Trust has listed wild swimming as one of fifty things children should do before they are 11 3/4. Even ROSPA now recommend wild swimming. Yet wisdom dictates that newcomers receive a little education if they are to do so safely.

A paper in the Lancet, timed to coincide with the Olympics, compares the rates of physical activity worldwide country by country. Great Britain was highlighted as one of the least active, with those 15 years and over far less lively than those in France, Australia and despite the stereotyping, even America. According to the Lancet, insufficient activity has nearly the same effect on life expectancy as smoking!  I think we should get out and grab life while we can. Let’s get active and swim our way into the future.

Perhaps the weather is to blame for our British reserve, for our stiffness and self rectitude. In hot countries the beaches, pools, and rivers fill as the mercury rises. People stop worrying and just get on with the happy business of cooling down and relaxing. Does the swimmer have the right to swim? I say we do. Let’s be inspired by the 2012 Olympics, let’s get out, get active and set an example by swimming free in 2012.


OSS Book Of The Month: The J. M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society
OSS Book Of The Month: The J. M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society

The J. M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society book cover


It's not often that we feature a work of fiction as our OSS Book of The Month, but if you're heading off on holiday this month, here's one for your beach bag - The J. M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society, the first novel from Barbara J. Zitwer.

The story follows overworked and undervalued New York architect Joey Rubin, who has travelled to Stanway House, the sprawling estate in the Cotswolds, where James M Barrie wrote his most famous tale, Peter Pan. As she works on the refurbishment of the house, and it's conversion to a hotel, she longs for a conversion of her own, from her sense of incompletion and disconnection to life.

As we all know, this is where outdoor swimming comes in! Everything starts to change when Joey encounters the formidable "J. M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society", who gather almost daily to plunge into the pond near the stately home, have between them survived widowhood, the Holocaust and the death of an adult daughter. In this knowledge, breaking the layer of ice on the pond in the colder months is the least of their hardships.

All in all, a fast, fun summer read, perfect for picking up in between trips down the beach for a dip in the sea somewhere!


We Know Where You Swam Last Summer: The OSS Team Share Their Favourite Swimming Spots...
We Know Where You Swam Last Summer: The OSS Team Share Their Favourite Swimming Spots...

With some glorious summer weather just around the corner (surely...) the OSS team decided to share some of their very favourite wild swimming spots, by recording them on our amazing Wild Swim map. Just click on the link to be taken to the swim's full profile on the map - we hope you enjoy exploring them...

Kate Rew (OSS Founder)

Sea cave near St Davids, Pembrokeshire - an exciting and remote coastal swim

Hidden river channel near Machynlleth, Pembrokeshire, Wales: crystal clear and good for jumping:

Lynne Roper (Blog)


River Walkham from Grenofen to Doublewaters near Tavistock, Devon - Beautiful, moorland river tumbling through ancient woodland. Little pools and slides, culminating in a large pool below Doublewaters near where the river meets the Tavy. 

Crazywell Pool near Dousland, Dartmoor - Spring-fed pool in an old shallow-cast mine working on the high open moor, around a mile from the road. Large and deep with easy access. Skylarks sing overhead.

Crazy Well Pool

Pauline Barker (Regional Rep for Devon and Cornwall)

Cawsand Beach - Cornwall - A gently sloping sand and shingle beach leading out into a designated swimming bay with marker buoys in the summer. The Cawsand Ferry runs a shuttle service to here from Plymouth Barbican during the summer months. A group of swimmers swim here at 9am on Saturdays and Wednesdays - see here for details.

Thurlestone Beach/South Milton Sands/Burgh Island/Aveton Gifford to Bantham River swim - A Cluster Of Swim Spots In South Devon - Swim through the offshore stone arch at high tide South Milton or explore the shipwreck just along the beach at low tide at Thurlestone. Swim round Burgh Island. Swim 3 miles downriver with the outgoing tide from Aveton Gifford to Bantham.

Laura Moss (OSS Volunteer)

Skye Faerie Pools - swim through an underwater rock arch in crystal clear water under the gloom of the Cuillin Ridge.

Montcuq Lake - swim out to a platform in the middle of a manmade lake in Montcuq, near Cahors, France - beautiful green water.

Jamie Cross (OSS Volunteer Manager)

Fairlight Glen - a small cove surrounded by cliffs and a great nature trail walk to get to it. Special as I discovered it when I was 15 and camping with my parents in Hastings.

Pladda Island - I have picked Pladda but it could have been anywhere on Arran. Especially Corrie harbour on the East coast. I hope to go back at some point over the summer and explore and publish some more swims on the map.

Tony Barstow

Saunton Sands - a great beach for that after work swim and BBQ with the kids.

Tinside Lido - a timeless lido experience. Classic

Rachel Smith (Northern Ireland Rep & General Volunteer)

Glaslyn - High and Adventurous swim loved swimming on a mountain a different way of looking at Snowdon.

Benderg Bay - a beautiful walk , clear water , possible for all abilities and often lovely seals.

Benderg Bay - Photo By Rachel Smith

Mike Alexander (OSS North Wales Rep)

Fron Goch to Aberdovey - a tidal "journey swim" in the Dovey Estuary, from Fron Goch Boatyard to Aberdovey Jetty.

Rhug to Carrog - a river "journey swim" in the River Dee from Rhug to Carrog.

OSS Book Of The Month: Caught By The River - A Collection Of Words On Water
OSS Book Of The Month: Caught By The River - A Collection Of Words On Water

This month, we're reading the very first paperback edition of Caught by the River's acclaimed collection of essays on British rivers. Featuring a brand new cover by James Lewis and a new introduction by Charles Rangeley-Wilson, the book includes Irvine Welsh on the Black River, Roger Deakin on fen-skating, and Jarvis Cocker on an inflatable dinghy in the River Porter...

We'd also like to point you in the general direction of this lovely event, hosted by Faber Social, with readings from Chris Yates, Robert Macfarlane, Kirsty Gunn and Alice Oswald.

Dartmoor Lake Becomes Pop Up Lido
Dartmoor Lake Becomes Pop Up Lido

A beauty spot on Dartmoor was turned into a 'pop-up lido' for a group of Devon's hardy wild swimmers - complete with an art installation consisting of a lifeguard's chair, a red flag and a large beach parasol.

The chair narrowcasted safety information and relaxing whale song on a temporary radio station, "Crazywell FM"  to people lounging by the pool.

Between fifty and seventy people came to take part in the 'living artwork', setting up deckchairs and towels around the 'pool', swimming, picnicking and listening to 'Crazywell FM' on their portable radios. The radio narrowcasted helpful information on swimming techniques, flood prevention and even the spiralling trill of the Bearded Seal to people as they lounged round the Pool.


Artist Alex Murdin wanted to create this artwork at the remote and mysterious Crazywell Pool when he learnt the legend of its waters rising and falling with the tides, connected by a mysterious underground tunnel to the sea ten miles south at Plymouth.

Mr Murdin, who was previously responsible for a project to try get lidos fitted out as aquariums, says this event is the reverse, getting natural 'aquariums' fitted out as lidos. He says:

"It is a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people in Devon returning to 'wild water*' as our swimming pools are threatened by austerity measures. It also aims to get more people interested in conserving our marine and river wildlife".

For more information on the project, contact Alex Murdin on 01364 654669 or through his website.

*2.35% of UK's population (approximately 5.95million nationally and 511,000 in Devon) participated in outdoor swimming according to the Watersports and Leisure Participation Survey, British Marine Federation, Maritime & Coastguard Agency, Royal Yachting Association, Royal National Lifeboat Institution (2006)

Sophie Pierce


Wild Swimming Code of Conduct - BBC Radio Wales
Wild Swimming Code of Conduct - BBC Radio Wales

For the next week you can listen again to a wild swimming feature on BBC Radio Wales program Country Focus. In the section, the show's Community Reporter, Huw Jenkins, speaks to Dan Graham of Gone Swimming about the legality of accessing water, and the true meaning of wild swimming.

The feature is the first item on the radio show, which can be found here.

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