Swimming Stories

Swimmers of the UK have jumped in with both feet, come sun or midsummer downpour. Here are some of their stories.

To tell us about your own swim, please email us (entitle the email 'For the Members Chat section') a few lines about what was special about it. Feel free to include a picture or two.


Name: Pat
Date: 07/09/09
Weather: Sunny Autumn Day
Location: Knoydart, West Highlands

On a pleasant, softly sunny, Autumn day I was walking on my own near Airor on Knoydart opposite Skye when I noticed that the receding tide was exposing a sandy causeway to a this little island where I had heard there were otters.

Suddenly I could hear gentle splashes and realised that seals basking on the far side had spotted me and were swimming round to inspect me so I stripped off and joined them, the most magical skinny dip ever! (I retreated before they got too inquisitive).

Adam Smith
Name: Adam Smith
Date: 04/06/09
Weather: Gloriously Sunny
Location: Rural West Oxfordshire

I've had an amazing couple of Sunday morning swims in the Windrush from Burford to Asthall. I say 'swimming', but rather imagine scrambling, in a river.

This is not a river for those who only like to swim hard, fast or long. But for those who want adventure, excitement and good old-fashioned fun, you would find it hard to beat.

The depth of the river varied from one foot up to 10 feet. We found ourselves swimming happily one minute, barely floating above the riverbank the next; giving in and hauling ourselves upright to walk, sploshing along for the next few yards only to find ourselves immersed to chest height again.

Starting at the bottom of Burford Hill and swimming under the bridge - something I had always wanted to do as a small child - the river runs between the manicured gardens of some very old and grand houses, then along the back of the church and past a very public car park where tourists were feeding a myriad of ducks and geese, including some of ducklings who, unused to people, swam about our heads, squeaking for food. The rest of the water fowl, not used to people being in the river, made a hasty (and rather noisy) retreat. We swam by the car park, gave a cheery wave, and left bewildered parents and non-plussed children wondering what to do with their remaining bagfuls of bread.

Onwards from here, the river is weedless, but plenty of trees and branches overhang it. We could see that the river was heading towards a converted water mill. We had two choices, swim back up to the car park and get out or carry on and under the building. We approached cautiously. It was obvious that the water was not very deep - a foot at the most, even if it was now very fast and flowing. We could also see that there was a clear path (and daylight) only a few feet away under the house and so let ourselves be taken under the building into what turned out to be a private patio.

Had its owners been about that morning, they would have been surprised to see two rubber-clad adults suddenly standing in their grounds where the river ran. A few hundred yards on, we were out of the town and into the meadows.

This time of year, the river has a lot of weed - the tough, sinuous, stringy kind rather than pretty lily pads, duckweed or algae. Breast stroke and occasional doggy paddle are the best options. Getting a good crawl going is tough because of the inconsistent depth of the water.

We made our way downstream, stopping occasionally to allow swans to pass or to talk to amused ramblers or just simply to just take in the serenity of the countryside.

The following week we returned to the Windrush to continue the adventure. This time, instead of swimming under buildings, we found ourselves sliding through sluice gates into mill ponds where the water had been diverted away from the buildings or to make small pools which seemed to be rather extravagant garden features. Luckily, we avoided meeting anyone and scaring them.

After swimming past the Old Swan pub at Swinbrook, we stopped to watch a pair of kingfishers dipping in and out of the water for a few minutes before carrying on, only to bump into a week old family of swans and cygnets. On a river that is barely 10 feet across, there was nowhere to go and we couldn't get out because the bank was too high. We had to force the obviously displeased swans downstream for a few hundred yards before we could get out onto the bank, walk around them and get back into the river. I've never heard swans hiss so loudly and there was a lot of posturing, but nobody was hurt.
It really was a fantastic couple of days' swimming, although it may not be for everyone.

You really can't 'swim' for very long and have to be prepared to work for your swim - standing up and walking occasionally, clambering over fallen trees and branches - but it really was wondrous in a way that I can only remember experiencing as a child.

For me, a true wild swim.

Adam's route from Burford to Widford (Google Maps)

Adam's route from Widford to Asthall (Google Maps)

Find the entry on the OSS Swim Map here:


John Mitchell
Name: John Mitchell
Date: 09/06/08
Weather: Inclement
Location: Vesuvius Bay - Vancouver

At three o'clock on Monday the ninth of June, competitors took to the water for the inaugural swim around the island. The event took plane in Vesuvius Bay but due to inclement weather, entries were limited to John Mitchell (UK) and Vida (Chocolate Labrador).

"I think the rain kept some people away" John told us, "but overall I was pleased with the turn out".

The course took swimmers out from Vesuvius beach to the furthermost rocky island, counter-clockwise around the island, and back to the beach for the finish.

"The cold water was a real shock," John said after the race, "but I was keen to take an early lead and with Vida biting at my heels there was no time for hesitation." However, Vida was soon forced to retire early from the race due to an irrepressible desire to play on the beach.

"I'm very proud of Vida for giving it a go, he is a brave dog and a great friend; he can walk with his head held high." said John afterwards.

Applause and hugs greeted finishers at the end of the race, followed by fish & chips and pots of tea at Seaside restaurant.

Event organisers were delighted with the day's success and wish to thank all those that came to support the swim, inviting them back next year.

Final Race results:

Boys (25 - 28): John Mitchell (22:38).

Canines (all ages): Vida (DNF)

Anne Celine Jaegar
Name: Anne Celine Jaegar
Date: 24/05/06
Weather: Any weather, including when there is a 'Sturmwarnung' (storm warning - which you can see by the little orange light flickering on the mini tower on the south side of the lake).
Location: Woerthsee Lake (one of Bavaria's cleanest lakes), 30km south of Munich, Bavaria.

If you're ever lucky enough to go for a swim in the Woerthsee, after you've gotten over your excitement about how mild the temperature is, you'll soon realise that it is silkier, smoother and softer than any water you've ever swam in. A single stroke is like diving into a pool of down feathers. The lake is small enough so that depending on your skills, you can swim to the island in the middle, across it or right around it. During your swim, you'll be able to check out the beautiful bavarian-style houses on the lakefront, as well as the Alps in the background (when there is Foen - a certain weather condition). You may be accompanied by Herbert, the local duck and his offspring, or Glenda, the local swan. When you emerge from the waters, mermaid (or mer-man) that you will have turned into cos you'll have gone much further than intended, you'll feel clean, healthy, fresh and zingy. What's more, as soon as you step onto the jetty, you'll turn around and go straight back into the water as not even the air and breeze that surrounds you will compare to the softness of the lake. Take a trip to the dip. It's worth it.
Richard Bullock
Name: Richard Bullock
Date: 14/05/06
Weather: Twilight on a calm, clear Saturday in early Summer.
Location: The Thames, near Shillingford

The four of us parked up and walked back across the high bridge over the river. I looked with trepidation over the balustrade. The river oozed relentlessly twenty feet below. Muddy with the recent heavy rains it had reverted to its primal aspect; a timeless, unknowable, uncontrollable rent in the heart of this most tamed of countrysides. Or perhaps it was just that I had forgotten my wetsuit.

We climbed through the undergrowth down to the path along the bank. "It's quite muddy, isn't it?", I offered. My only previous swim in the Thames had been a Pimms fuelled leap from a riverboat near Henley some years before, and I remembered the water being startlingly clear. No-one seemed to share my concerns. In fact the enthusiasm of my three companions seemed to be growing in direct and opposite proportion to my own. I couldn't help noting that Oliver - who couldn't come in because someone had to carry the towels - was the most eager to see me in the water. "You don't have to come in, you know", said Kate, meaning quite the opposite.

We came to what was deemed to be an appropriate entry point. There were stinging nettles and a short, steep muddy patch of bare earth. Perfect.

The girls ably changed into their wetsuits while I did a kind of unbalanced jig with my underpants around my ankles. Finally we stood ready. Kate and Vics looking like S&M Swann Vestas in wetsuits and bright pink swim hats, and me distinctly underdressed. Oliver helpfully tried to persuade me to don the spare pink swim hat on the grounds that it would help keep me warm...

Vics elegantly lowered herself down the bank and into the water without so much as a murmur of discomfort. Kate followed and.. joy! Slipped and fell the last few feet with a shriek and a splash! I roared with laughter and strode manfully to the waters edge where inevitably my feet flew from under me and I had no choice but to fling myself horizontally to the ground and slither into the water like an albino hippopotamus that had somehow been forced into a set of beige swimming trunks.

Although I had prepared myself mentally for the worst it was surprisingly cold. The others, however, had struck out for mid-stream. I felt the pull of the current and followed.

I looked around at the wooded river banks and suddenly realised that I had entered a new and alien world that was on my doorstep. The trees reared above us like giant coral fronds, stirring in the slightest current of air far above and from far away. I looked over at Vics and Kate and saw that they were smiling as they paddled with the easy flow of the river. I turned on my back and saw the sky's silver blue luminescence become tinged with gold as the day ebbed and the birds sang and leapt through the air overhead.

I felt as though the river were carrying us on its shoulders as we flowed with it through a land suddenly made magical. I had been in England for three weeks after a long spell in North Africa, but suddenly I was home again. I had caught up with myself at last, and there is still wonder to be found at the end of the garden.

Emma Harvey
Name: Emma Harvey
Date: 21/04/06
Weather: Cold and sunny
Location: Boating lake in Frampton on Severn

It was Saturday 22 April, pretty early by anyone standards, but especially early considering I had just survived the first night of my first ever stag party. 'Bring your swimming costume' boomed the stag a few days earlier 'There are lakes. We can swim'. 'Alright' boomed I, although my internal booming went something more along the lines of 'Yeah, right I plan to be saturated in cider and swamped in duvet by the time any appropriate swimming time might raise its ugly head'. But then it all went horribly wrong. Frampton-on-Severn was beautiful, the weather was pretty fine, I FELT pretty damned fine and the next thing I knew I was snugly (very very snugly) tucked into a wetsuit (and a charming brown corduroy jacket as you can see) slipping on wetsuity socks and wetsuity gloves and suddenly I was up to my neck in lake. But I was also dry. How could this be?! 'Don't ask too many questions' I thought, dreading the idea that there might be some valve I was supposed to release to let April showers flood my toasty body. But do you know what? Even with my head fully immersed Patrick Duffy style the water pretty much stayed out and I pretty much had the wonderful, invigorating, cider clearing swim. For at least an hour. I kid you not. Am I a convert to the pleasures of the outdoor swim? I think I might be. But don't push it..... I ain't doing it in snow!

Joanna Jolly
Name: Joanna Jolly
Date: 31/08/04
Weather: Cloudy, but not too cold
Location: Corrywreckan whirlpool, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

We had to wait a good half hour before the huge standing waves of the Corrywreckan calmed down enough for our swim guides to even contemplate starting the swim. It's said to be the world's third biggest whirlpool; a treacherous stretch of water between two Hebrideans islands. If your safety guide times it right, there's about an hour of slack tide in which you can race across. As we started the swim weak beams of sunlight poured into the water and turned the black depths into a welcoming murky green. I was in a group of eight, trying to get across before the tide began to tug us away from the shore. It's a big stretch of water, but I never felt alone as I settled in a rhythm of stroking and breathing with half an eye on the bright hats of my fellow swimmers. And we did all make it! Just as the whirlpool began to pick up speed and threaten to sweep us away.
Stella Duffy
Name: Stella Duffy
Date: 01/01/70
Weather: Sunny
Location: Lake Whakamaru - New Zealand

I swam across this lake was I was 14. I didn't mean to but I started swimming and when I turned to look back at my parents behind me on the shore, I found I was already halfway across. At the other side I was enormously proud. My parents - when we met up again - were understandably furious.

In 2002 I wrote a show called Breaststrokes about breast cancer and swimming. In making it I realised my experience of illness was very similar to my understanding of every other big event in my life, including swimming across Whakamaru at 14. It was a journey. It made a difference. Not all the differences were bad. Some of them were amazing. When I was having chemo I was lucky to be able to swim many times in the Pacific while working in San Diego, it made a huge difference emotionally. I like to think it helped physically too.

I prefer to swim in the sea, the Pacific ideally as I like a good horizon. A lake will do if there is no sea but Brockwell Lido isn't too bad either. Water needs no roof.

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