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.

Extreme Preconditioning: Cold Adaptation Through Sea Swimming As A Means To Improving Surgical Outcomes
Extreme Preconditioning: Cold Adaptation Through Sea Swimming As A Means To Improving Surgical Outcomes

Keen sea swimmer and consultant anaesthetist, Dr Mark Harper, contacted the Outdoor Swimming Society regarding his recently published medical hypothsis that people who are due for surgery should take up sea swimming while they wait if they want to make a speedy recovery.

Dr Harper, from Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals believes that ‘extreme preconditioning’ – basically getting the body used to recovering from short, sharp exposures to cold – could enhance the body’s recovery after an operation.

He has reviewed studies on the the body’s response to surgery – raised heart rate and blood pressure, a lowered immune system and a release of stress-related hormones – and found that it is similar to the way the body reacts to a swim in the sea.  The bodies of people who swim two or three times a week and experience this response regularly, adapt so that their response is less marked and that their heart, immune and endocrine systems are better set to cope with stress – all of which is beneficial should they have to undergo surgery.

‘The best thing about the body’s adaptation,’ comments Dr Harper, ‘is that once it is established it lasts for months. So you could swim in the summer months between June and September, and your increased ability to recover will last for the rest of the year.’

Dr Harper is a sea swimmer himself, usually plunging in at 6.30 am off Brighton beach. 

We're hoping to be able to make the full hypothesis paper available on the OSS site soon, so watch this space.

OSS Book Of The Month: Taking the Waters: A Swim Around Hampstead Heath

Our OSS Book Of The Month for June is Taking the Waters: A Swim Around Hampstead Heath, written by Caitlin Davies, with photography by Ruth Corney. Ruth joined us to tell us about her ongoing love for, and relationship with, the wonderful swimming spots on Hamstead Heath.

Book Cover

When I first went to Kenwood Ladies' Pond it was love at first sight. I was almost breathless with emotion to find such a gorgeous place. I am from Manchester, and although I was wowed by Victoria Baths (a beautiful swimming pool built in 1906), coming to Kenwood Ladies' Pond in north London was a whole new experience. A couple of years later I started to document life there; in the winter I would be well wrapped up, and while I was fighting to get my freezing fingers to work the camera, game swimmers would be effortlessly entering the pond's icy waters. I met so many amazing women full of vitality and enthusiasm for life. Some didn't want to be photographed, such as a lovely religious woman who came every day, but she was happy to chat nonetheless. Others were happy for me to take pictures of them, and they were wonderful natural models.

Several years later, in 2000, I had an exhibition called "Rus in Urbe" (Margaret Drabble coined this wonderful phrase) which documented life at Kenwood Ladies' Pond. The Corporation of London was interested in my work and commissioned me to photograph life at Parliament Hill Lido. I could not have been happier! I love swimming, I love water and l love photographing people's relationship to it. 

Over the years my collection of photographs from the Ladies' Pond and the Lido grew, and I started to take photos at the Mixed Bathing Pond as well as Highgate  Men's Pond. I also started to swim more through the winter months (and often took a small waterproof camera with me – but there were times when I just wanted to savour my moment of swimming without any encumbrance!)

Several people had suggested that I do a book, but I only wanted to embark on the project with someone who would do justice to the ponds and Lido. I asked Caitlin Davies, as she was a writer and journalist I held in high esteem and, importantly, was a swimmer too! Although I had a lot of photographs, the book needed structure, which Caitlin gave it in deciding to present a chronological history of all swimming locations on Hampstead Heath. She spent over a year on research and interviewed around 100 people. Many shared their personal memories and photographs, some from as early as 1908. People have swum at the ponds for over 200 years – from champion swimmers and world-famous divers to international film stars and hardy year-round bathers. The challenge was to create an accurate account that would be a credit to these unique swimming spots on the Heath.

We were grateful to get help and support from the Highgate Life-Buoys, the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association, the United Swimmers Association of Hampstead Heath, the Parliament Hill Lido Users Group, the Heath and Hampstead Society, and the City of London Corporation.

In addition to modern and archive photos, the book has a selection of paintings, memorabilia, old advertisements and images from various sources ranging from artists and local residents to the Victoria and Albert Archives – all of which I hope make for an interesting and enjoyable read.

See you in the water!

Ruth Corney, May 2012

Taking the Waters: A Swim Around Hampstead Heath is available from all good bookshops and Parliament Hill Lido (£12.99 or £10  from the Lido)


Rutland Bathing Beach: An Update
Rutland Bathing Beach: An Update

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, of the RASLA, to see how the current drought had been affecting it's progress.

Due to draught conditions, the opening has been put back to summer 2013. The low water level leaves a long muddy area down to the waters edge from the existing grassed area and proposed beach area which would be difficult to manage. 

We need 2 to 3 months of the amount of rainfall we are experiencing now for water to be absorbed into the ground at depths where ground water is pumped from. The levels at Rutland Water will most likely be too low this summer because more water will be taken from the Rutland Water due to the lack of these underground water supplies.

However volunteer life guard training is being progressed in preparation for an opening in 2013, in anticipation that water levels will be back to normal. Hopefully this will be the case as 1976 was the last time water supplies were as low as this year. Some triathlon club swimming should go ahead this year in Rutland Water despite the low water levels as this can be more easily managed.

Anglian Water Services have stated they are still committed to opening the bathing beach, and some clearance work for the beach has already been done, but they want to wait till next year before spending any more funds on infrastructure works (signage, buoys, delivery of sand, etc) ready for an opening in 2013.

For more information, contact

Understanding Marathon Swimming at London 2012
Understanding Marathon Swimming at London 2012

Longtime friend of the OSS and Marathon Swimming Technical Operations Manager for London 2012, Colin Hill joins us to tell all about the event and it's place at the upcoming Olympics.

What is Marathon Swimming?

FINA (world aquatics governing body) open water swimming competitions are 5km, 10km, and 25km. The 10km event is known as Marathon Swimming.

Beijing hosted the first 10km open water swimming event at the 2008 Olympic Games. 10km Olympic Marathon Swimming highlights from the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 included the women’s event, in which Cassie Patten and Keri-Anne Payne of the GBR Team were swimming stroke for stroke, side by side for most of the 10km race. They were overtaken in a frantic final 150 meters when Russian Ilchenko had a well timed sprint to take first place.

In the men’s event Maarten van der Weijden became Gold medalist beating an exhausted David Davies (who led most of the 10km) on the final 50 meters with multi world open water champion. Thomas Lurz finishing in third.

The event cemented the place of Marathon Swimming as a serious Olympic sport. Team GB had taken 50% of the medals in Marathon Swimming in no small part due to British Swimming taking the sport as seriously as the pool events.

Understanding Marathon Swimming

The stronger swimmers try and set the pace so they have clear water and don’t get involved in wasting energy in the pack bumping and barging with others whilst also challenging the sprinters.

The sprinters conserve energy in the pack trying to sprint past the others in the closing stages.

Unlike pool swimming, the swimmers have to cope with the water temperature (not wearing wetsuits), water conditions, navigation (trying to swim in a straight line), physical contact of other swimmers and the distance itself (normally taking the elites two hours or under).

There is a ‘feeding pontoon’ where coaches hold out a pole with the athlete’s drinks bottle in a cycle water bottle cage with the national flag hanging from a pole for the athletes to take if they want as they pass.

Judges follow and monitor the race closely. Any athletes making intentional contact will be given a yellow flag (warning) or a straight red flag (removed from swim) depending on the severity of the incident. Two yellow flags equal a red flag and the swimmer is disqualified.

The athletes wear transponders on each wrist. The time starts when the athletes dive into the water off the start pontoon. At each lap the athletes swim under a timing pontoon which records their lap time.

The Venue: Hyde Park

The London 2012 Swimming Marathon will be held in the Serpentine in London’s iconic Hyde Park. The Serpentine has close links with Open Water Swimming through the Serpentine Swimming Club which is more than 100 years old.

The course will consist of six laps. It is a technical course that follows the perimeter of the lake and is marked out by pink and yellow inflatable buoys. Athletes must keep the pink buoys on their right and yellow buoys on their left. This is compulsory and athletes will be disqualified if they get the course wrong.

In August 2011 a ‘London Prepares’ test event took place with many of the top elite athletes taking part on the Olympic Course.

Who Will Be Competing During The Olympic Games?

25 athletes compete in both the women’s and men’s races.

To date 10 female athletes have already qualified for the Olympic 10km Marathon Swimming event by coming in the top 10 in the 14th FINA World Championships 2011 held in Shanghai. Keri-Anne Payne secured her place as world champion for the second time at the event and became the first person to qualify for the GBR team.

10 male athletes have also qualified for the Olympic 10km Marathon Swimming men’s event by coming in the top 10 at the 14th FINA World Championships 2011, Shanghai.

The final opportunity to qualify for the Olympic 10km Marathon Swimming event is the FINA Olympic Marathon Swim Qualifier 2012 to be held in Portugal on 9th – 10th June 2012.

Where To Watch The Race

There is a ticketed area for the Marathon Swimming event on the North Side of the Serpentine (opposite the Lido). This will have a grandstand and standing area, as well as video screens for spectators to watch the swimmers as they go around the course. Apart from the Serpentine Bridge on the West side of the lake, which is not open for viewing the race, the rest of the lake is free to spectators. There will be many good viewing points around the lake. If you are a real swimming fan, make sure you arrive early to pick a good spot.

Further there is a Live Site within Hyde Park where a large video screen will televise the Olympic sports and will create a fantastic atmosphere for sporting fans.

Interesting facts

• Average water temperature in the Serpentine for August is 19.1 degrees Celsius.

• Average air temperature in August is between 13.6 and 22.7 degrees Celsius.

• Factoid: Ky Hurst the Australian swimmer has appeared on the down under version of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’

• Germany has two athletes racing in the men’s race, as they had two athletes finishing in the top 10 at the 14th FINA World Championships 2011 in Shanghai. After that event only one place per country is available.

• Each Christmas day the Serpentine Swimming Club holds its annual race the ‘Peter Pan Cup’. The race started in 1864, and in 1904 author J.M. Barrie presented the first annual Peter Pan Cup to the event's winner.

Daniel Start's Ten Favourite French Swims
Daniel Start's Ten Favourite French Swims

Following on for Daniel's article yesterday, today we're sharing his favourite swim's from his new book Wild Swimming France... We're also offering a special 40% discount off the book's RRP for OSS readers, valid for a week (from 1st May.) 

Chenonceaux  - (Tours 30km)  

The great river Loire is too large and wild for swimming but many of France’s most beautiful châteaux cluster along its smaller, more gentle tributaries. The charming river Cher flows among vineyards and orchards and is the setting for the exquisite, châteaux of Chenonceaux. It is popular with tourists in seasons but you can easily escape the crowds by approaching for free along the woodland path and swimming from sandy bays in the idyllic river pool which lies upstream. The perfect line of white Renaissance arches spans the river and provides a stunning backdrop reflected in the pool,  especially at sunset. At the Chisseaux D40 road bridge follow the footpath 10 mins downstream along the left bank of river downstream (lat long: 47.3247, 1.0731). To the east are several other delightful swimming locations, such as the sandy riverside beaches at St-Aignan  and quiet riverbanks of Chatillon-sur-Cher. 

Cascades du Hérisson – (Mouchard  30km)

Waterfalls dominate the Jura region, and the Cascades du Hérisson is a good place to start, not least because all the signs seem to point you in that direction. Start by climb up and above the dramatic main falls of L’Éventail and the Le Grand Saut. Neither of these has a plunge pool but if you continue further through woodlands on the marked trail you will come to the Le Gour Bleu, a perfect plunge piscine set in a wooded glade with beach and a waterfall. You can climb up and behind the curtain of rushing water and explore behind the falls too – a real treat. Follow the D678 from Lons-le-Saunier (Lat Long 46.6147, 5.8605). Lac du Val is on the road to the visitor centre for the falls and is also good for a longer swim.

Lac d’Annecy – (Annecy 5km) 

Lac d’Annecy, in its gentle but dramatic mountain setting, is perhaps France’s most famous swimming lake. The water is a deep-turquoise hue and subterranean hot springs ensure the temperature is always pleasant. There is a fair amount of development along its shoreline, so to escape to its wilder parts, follow a 45-minute path through the woods to the headland of Roc de Chère where cliffs plunge into deep water. Here you can swim, snorkel and jump from the high ledges as the sun sets over the lake. 700m north of Talloires, just after the D42 turns sharp right on the hill, you’ll see a set of stone steps and footpath, direction ‘Roc de Chère, Liason Menthon’ (Lat Long: 45.8435, 6.1891). There are a number of more easily accessible beach areas too, and Angon (with life guards, café and facilities) has one of best locations, with views across to the Château d’Annecy.

Pont d’Arc  - (Orange 30km) 

On the lower reaches of the fast-flowing Ardèche stands the famous Pont d’Arc, an extraordinary natural rock arch, as high as a cathedral, formed over millions of years. Swimming beneath this massive vault at dawn, before the crowds descend, can be an almost mystical experience. On the upstream right bank you can climb up and into a cave tunnel and appear out of a hole high on the inside of the arch. Great for jumps. This site is incredibly busy so it’s best to arrive before 10am or after 5pm. If you stay the night try the more tranquil campsites downstream (Le Midi, La Rouvière or  Les Gorges). Or rent a canoe for two a day expedition to explore the beautiful downstream sections of the gorge. D290 from Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (Lat Long 44.3821, 4.4169)

Pont du Diable, Hérault (Montpellier)

The Hérault is one of the most important rivers of the Massif Central and Languedoc region. At Pont du Diable a huge pool forms beneath the impressive old bridge at the base of a canyon. This is a very popular place to swim, with beaches and a large car park, but for some real adventure, and the chance for jumps and high dives, swim upstream into the incredible rock formations of the gorge. St-Guilhem-le-Désert, one of the best-preserved medieval villages in France, is nearby and cave enthusiasts might be tempted by the stalactities of the Grotte de Clamouse, reached by subterranean river. Leave A750 from Montpelier at Gignac 4km from Aniane on D27 (Lat Long: 43.7065, 3.5568) 

Cascade du Sautadet, Cèze 

The river Cèze is just south of the much busier Ardèche and just north of the famous Pont du Gard. At the Cascade du Sautadet you’ll find one of France’s most impressive series of waterfalls. There are deep pots of bubbling water to luxuriate in, chutes to slide down and limestone cliffs, eroded into strange shapes, from which brave French boys perform spectacular high-dives. Just downstream a long beach is perfect for sunbathing and a large deep pool stretches out, ideal for more sedate swimming or snorkelling in the clear waters. It’s difficult to get bored here with so much going on but if the parents would prefer a bit of culture they can wonder through the medieval lanes of the La Roque-sur- Cèze above, one of the official ‘Plus Beaux’ villages in France, with a delightful church. If you have longer, explore further along valley, right up to Montclus, to find more gorges and riverside beaches. 30km west of Orange, D980 from Bagnols, then D166. (Lat Long 44.1890,  4.5271).

Cascades de Purcaraccia, Corsica

Known as the Granite Isle, rugged Corsica is the ancient core of a volcanic mass that rises steeply out of the Mediterranean providing some of the most dramatic mountain landscapes in Europe. Perhaps the most spectacular peaks are the aiguilles or ‘needles’ of Bavella, which thrust their pointy spires into the clouds like something from Tolkien. Smooth white marble bowls filled with emerald-coloured water make the Purcarracia the most stunning series of waterfalls in the area, with huge slides and an infinity pool that allows you to swim up and peer over a precipice. The deep marble tubs resemble giant dew drops that have been scooped out of the mountain. Continue on D268 and about 2.5km beyond Col de Larone (the plateau and viewpoint on the route to Col de Bavella) find clear path on the right, 100m before the bridge over the Purcaraccia (Lat Long 41.8375, 9.2645). The nearby Polischellu and lower Vacca canyon are also worth checking out.

Pont du Diable, upper Ardèche 

If you mention the Ardèche many will think of the huge Pont d’Arc - its famous natural arch - and the gorges below. But head upstream away from the crowds and the landscape changes dramatically. High hexagonal rock columns, like those which form the Giant’s Causeway, rise like towering organ pipes, formed from crystallised magma from volcanic eruptions. They now create deep pools and excellent jumping platforms with terrifying names. At Pont du Diable (Devil’s Bridge) near Thuyets a slender medieval bridge spans a narrow gorge above a large river pool with various ledges for jumps. The water below is jade green and beautifully clear. A via ferrata rope course above provides additional excitement. The Gouffre de l’Enfer (Hell’s Abyss) near Burzet is also a favourite, with a deep cauldron hidden in the woods.  Pont du Diable is signed 1km E of Thueyts on N102 (Lat Long 44.6710, 4.2216).

Lac d’Ilay, Jura (Swim 4)

Lakes and waterfalls abound in the remote Jura region north of Geneva. Set among rolling hills and alpine foothills it is easy to find a lake all to yourself. Perfect for a skinny dip then, though be discrete if you do and ensure there are no fishermen watching. Not far from the tiny village of Ilay - and only a few kilometres from the famous Cascades du Hérisson - are a series of idyllic tarns which receive very few visitors. Lac d’Ilay is the largest. The water is very warm, and there is a grassy area which leads down to a beach. The early mornings here are particularly atmospheric as great swathes of mist hang over the water. Night time, beneath a full galaxy of stars, is another wonderful moment to strip off and swim free. Turn off main D678 for D75 to Le Frasnois and find track to lake on right just before the hamlet (Lat Long 46.6319, 5.9001)

Lac de Serre-Ponçon, Gap 

Lac de Serre-Ponçon is France’s largest man-made body of water, formed by the Durance and Ubaye alpine rivers. Its construction in 1961 submerged a viaduct and several villages - which regularly reappear at low water – and left an ancient hilltop chapel marooned as an offshore island. During the summer, as the waters recede, over 50 miles of wild beach form around the lake shores, making this one of the longest beaches in Europe. It’s a perfect area for wild camping, swimming and exploring. The south-west tail of the lake, near the Cimetière d’Ubaye (D954), 6km west of Le Lauzet-Ubaye, is one the least populated with grassland, silver shale beaches, warm water and cliffs and gorges for snorkelling and jumping (44.4644, 6.3580). 

Wild Swimming France: discover the most beautiful rivers, lakes and waterfalls of France, by Daniel Start (May 2012) is available here for £14.95We're also offering a special 40% discount off the book's RRP for OSS readers, valid for a week (from 1st May.) 


Wild Swimming in France

It's time to start planning the summer holiday! We caught up with Daniel Start, the author of the OSS May Book of Month, Wild Swimming France, to hear a little more about the experience of mapping the most amazing wild swimming spots of France.

Check back tomorrow, when Daniel will be sharing his thoughts on some of the best Gallic dips, and we'll be offering a special OSS discount on the book...

France is a wild swimmer’s paradise. With some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes, as well as the cleanest waters in Europe, taking a dip is the highlight of any French holiday, and guaranteed to get even your non swimming friends and family into the wild swimming mood. Oh, and did I mention it’s hot there too? And the water could even be considered warm!

In rural France, people have always swum in rivers and there are over 1300 ‘official’ river beaches. Unlike the UK, most of France is just too far from the coast, and even if it wasn’t the options are limited. The Atlantic coast has a dangerous swell – great for surfing but not for swimming – and the Côte d’Azur is heavily developed along almost its whole length.

If you haven’t done much travelling in France or ventured off the beaten track, then you are in for a real treat. Its rivers are so numerous that French départments are named after them and three major sets of mountains ensure a plentiful supply of crystal-clear water to keep them flowing, even in the hot regions of the South. On their journey down from the mountains, the rivers often carve beautiful gorges, pools and waterfalls, which make perfect swimming holes and beaches. Countless tracks lead to exquisite stretches of riverside, and with four times as much land area per person compared to the UK, this is a place where everyone can find their little bit of wilderness. 

Our new book - Wild Swimming France - focuses on the really spectacular parts of the country, with the majority of swims located in the southern half, where most people go on holiday. We begin our journey in the hills of the Jura and then head south, exploring waterfall country and the great lakes of the Alps. Moving into the wild hills around Nice we enter into the land of  ‘clues’ – white limestone canyons with giant jade-green plunge pools and tumbling waterfalls, and while some require canyoning equipment many of the best can be reached on foot. From here, rugged Corsica is just a short hop on the boat, and with plunge pools and soaring mountain spires every bit as beautiful as its legendary beaches, this must count as one of the most beautiful wild-swimming locations in France, if not on earth. 

Heading into Provence proper, the Verdon is the largest canyon in Europe and its lakes are perhaps the deepest shade of blue in the whole of France, while the waterfalls of Sillans-la-Cascade bring to mind the kind of tropical oases you might expect to find in Costa Rica rather than Europe. Towards Avignon, the land becomes more arid, but magical blue pools still remain, fed by underground springs, if you know where to look.

Both the gorges of the Ardèche, which boasts the Pont d’Arc, and the river Gard, with its Roman aqueduct, are justly famous for canoeing and swimming. Yet few venture into their upper reaches and tributaries, where volcanic activity has produced a landscape of extraordinary arches and basalt columns.

The Cévennes, where Robert Louis Stevenson travelled with his donkey and wolves still roam, is one of the wildest regions. Further south, the Languedoc and Corbières are hot, dry, wine-making regions that are well watered by the  Hérault and Vis. These rivers gush out of great cave openings into enchanted fern-hung grottoes that conjure up scenes from legend and folklore. The Pyrenees are famous for their hot springs – of which only a few remain undeveloped – and for tranquil mountain tarns with rocky ledges for diving and islets to swim out to. Turning northwards,  the valleys of the Aveyron, Lot and Dordogne, and their many beautiful tributaries, offer stunning cliff-side villages to swim beneath and  plenty of delicious places for long lunches. Finally, the great Loire, with its fairytale castles and woodland lakes, is a surprisingly wild river – wide, empty, undeveloped and magnificent.

It has been an amazing experience researching the book and seeing so many beautiful places. I’ve been totally blown away by France. My only fear is that the warm temperatures might have made me a bit soft.  However, I am now married with a baby daughter, living at the confluence of two rivers in rural Somerset, so I don’t think there’ll be too many wild camping trips to France this coming summer. Plenty of dips in the river Avon should bring back my hardiness!

Wild Swimming France  by Daniel Start is published 1st May 2012 by Wild Things Publishing (RRP £14.95). OSS members are offered a 40% discount (£8.99 plus £2.50 first class P&P) until 7th May - we'll be sharing the link tomorrow, so be sure to check back... 


Swimming Feels Great. Swimming For Mind Feels Even Better.
Swimming Feels Great. Swimming For Mind Feels Even Better.

We've all experienced that wonderful post-swim buzz - the glow that can last for hours after you've dried off. We spoke to the charity Mind to discover how swimming can be great not only for your own mental health, but also for that of others, via The Great Swim series...

“When so many people get together, jump in the water and experience that exhilaration all at once – it’s electric!” Maureen started open water swimming 18 months ago, but at the time she admits she was at an all time low in her life.

“I had lost faith in ever reaching a solution to my ‘black gene’. I had tried all the pills and talking therapies in an effort to take control of the hairy monster inside my head which periodically dragged me to a place I didn't want to be. The first time it was given a name they called it Depression.”

Like many of us who experience mental health problems, her confidence was at rock bottom.

However Maureen found courage: “I set out to ‘manage’ my whole self - including the part I liked the least. I chose to get physically fitter - just in the swimming pool to start with” – but from there she sought a bigger challenge and took on the open water. “I mustered up the strength to dip in a toe, having talked to lots of ‘Wild Swimmers’ and I took the plunge. Clad in neoprene from head to toe I ventured into the murky depths of my local estuary.”


Maureen enjoy that post-swim glow!

Maureen hasn’t looked back: “I just can’t describe how thrilling it can be, swimming in the beautiful lochs in the area. I discovered a whole new, private, secret world where I could be with new friends or alone with my thoughts. However, my thoughts became less overwhelming as I had to concentrate on my safety in the water. When I went home in the evening I slept well because I had been out in the fresh air.

“I would never have believed that reconnecting with nature would have such a profound effect on my mental health, but I can honestly say that I have found a new lease of life by making that first horribly frightening step of going outdoors.

“I wholeheartedly hope that my story inspires at least one other person to get into the water and take a little more control of their own mental health”

The Great Swim series will take place across the UK this spring and summer, starting with The Great London swim on 26 May, Register to join Mind, the mental health charity for your one mile swim, and experience the buzz that Maureen describes whilst raising much needed funds, because no-one should have to face a mental health problem alone.

Why We Love The Water...
Why We Love The Water...

Lynn Sherr, the author of our April Book of Month,  Swim: Why We Love The Water, spoke to the OSS to share her thoughts on "the lore and lure" that water holds to all of us, through historical and personal reflections. 

Why, my friends asked, are you writing a book about swimming?  Why, they might better have wondered, do I swim?  To say that it pleases me, that it calms me and energizes me all at once - clearly contradictory effects - is only part of the answer. The truth is, there is a mystical aspect to swimming and to the water that makes it possible, a realm of possibilities that you just don't find on land.

Cover Image

At one level, it's purely sensual:  the silky feeling of liquid on skin;  the chance to float free, as close to flying as I'll ever get;  the opportunity to reach, if not for the stars, at least the starfish. Swimming stretches my body beyond its earthly limits. But it's also an inward journey, a time of quiet contemplation. I find myself at peace, able to flex my mind and imagine new possibilities without the startling interruptions of human voice or modern life. The silence is stunning.

Have I mentioned that I'm a Pisces?

Swimming is, in short, an obsession, benign but obstinate. But unlike most addictions, it's good for us. Water heals every ache, soothes every muscle, the best full-body massage available. It's also the world's cheapest antidepressant, the second-best way I know to fall asleep. And I'm not alone. Swimmer after swimmer tells me it restores their sanity - from the world, from their kids, from themselves. The lane lines keep us centered;  the rhythm of our strokes brings order to our senses.  

I like swimming pools because they are irresistible, shimmering boxes of blue in the most unlikely places. But pounding out laps can be a round trip to nowhere, over and over again. Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman, who is credited with inventing the one-piece bathing costume that liberated women in the early 1900s,  put it this way:  "Swimming under a roof to me is like big game hunting in a zoo. All legitimate fascination goes."

Which is one of reasons I signed up to swim the Hellespont last summer - a jaunty race across the iconic waterway that divides Europe from Asia in southern Turkey and still evokes the breathtaking history of everyone from Achilles at Troy to Alexander the Great to Lord Byron. I trained for the better part of a year;  I pushed my body to its limits. And I did it!  Added my name to the pantheon that starts with the mythical Leander and now makes me feel like a hero myself.

That's also what my book is about- my adventure by water across the continents;  my exploration of the lore and the lure of swimming;  my encounters with everyone from Julius Caesar to Michael Phelps and the most glamorous swimmer of them all, Hollywood's Esther Williams. The path from bloomers to bikinis parallels the relaxation of public prudery;  the popular history of this ancient sport reflects a world that moved from fear and ignorance of the natural world to accepting its grand importance. And then there's the science and technology that have helped propel this sport into the Olympic magnet in London this summer. Learning the secrets has been exhilarating.

Breaking the surface of anything is both thrilling and frightening - a body of water all the more so, as the ripples set off by our fingertips merely hint at the mystery of what lies below. And then it's as if you were never there. Water mends itself, sealing over the slightest intrusion so someone else - or you - can try again. There's an image that intrigues me:  a young man painted on a tomb in ancient Paestum, in Italy, soaring headfirst into a pool of water. Or wherever his final destination may be. You can't see his target, but his ease and elation are enviable. He trusts what he'll find, even though he can't be sure what it is. That's where I'm headed too, every time I go into the water, and on every page of my book. If you're a swimmer, you know the feeling. Swimming is magical. It can also save your life.

SWIM:  Why We Love the Water (Public Affairs/Perseus, April 19)

Find Lynn Sherr on Twitter, and Facebook.

Bled Winter Swimming Cup
Bled Winter Swimming Cup

Jonathan Knott reports on the Bled Winter Swimming Cup 2012 in Slovenia

Talking about swimming in cold water and actually doing it are two different things. When I arrive in Bled in Slovenia, where the air temperature is minus eleven, and hear the news that the lake froze over last night, I know the water will be cold.   But it's only the next day, seeing the 30m x 12.5m pool cut into the ice beneath the grey stone castle on the clifftop opposite, with orange buoys marking out four lanes, that I really understand what that means.

Having hosted the World Winter Swimming Championships in 2010, the lakeside town in Slovenia's alpine region decided to hold its own event - which is why two years later, I, 43 other swimmers, and 200 spectators have come here for its inaugural Winter Swimming Cup. Swimmers representing ten different countries will race over distances of 25m and 50m in breaststroke and freestyle, within a total of 6 categories - alongside a non-competitive ‘penguins' option for those who just want to take an icy dip.

Before the main event, Czech-based British swimmer Jack Bright swims 450m back and forth across the pool. Interviewed by the announcer afterwards, Bright offers some words of reassurance, pointing out that due to its thermal springs, even when the lake's surface is frozen the water beneath is a few degrees above zero (the organisers confirm that the water is three degrees).

Frankly, that distinction seems academic to the assembled swimmers, wearing dressing gowns and woolly hats. I have entered the 25 m breaststroke category: it's only across the pool and back but I still find my hands completely numb when I finish. I wrap up, drink some hot tea and then swim a few lengths in the geothermally warmed indoor pool of the nearby Grand Hotel Toplice, before sitting in a trance-like state in the hotel's sauna.

Swimmers return to the lakeside for the presentation of awards: everyone is cold but instilled with the quiet elation that only cold water can provide. Each category has a separate winner, but every participant is given a medal. I meet a group of swimmers from London's Serpentine club, who say they love Slovenia: ‘It was a really fun event, and amazing to come here and meet other cold water swimmers.'

Some people were swimming in cold water for the first time, including a local from Bled, Alez, who tried winter swimming to celebrate his birthday and describes the feeling as ‘the best of the best'.

After the swim, many take the opportunity to enjoy the surreal experience of walking across the frozen lake to Bled's island (with the spire of its miniature church visible all around, it's something of an icon of the area). Ominously, the ice occasionally creaks beneath me, but I'm informed that this is actually a good sign. Many of the locals are skating across the surface, and I trust they know what they're doing.

Entry to the cup itself was just 10 Euros - but some of the international visitors have opted to book a ‘package', which includes accommodation and a chance to sample some of the area's other attractions. The next day I join them at the winter sports centre of Pokljuka, in the Julian Alps above Bled. It's a world-class centre for biathlon (a sport that combines rifle shooting with cross-country skiing) but we choose snowshoeing, and have the chance to explore some ‘off-piste' terrain when we take a short cut through the woods.

Many people said they would return to swim at the event next year - and there are rumours that this could also include a longer 200m race. With its beautiful surroundings and World Championship experience, together with the flawless operation of the 2012 event (and this despite the last-minute solidification of the lake) Bled looks set to become an increasingly unmissable spot on the map of the international outdoor swimming community - whatever the time of year.

More photographs of the event on Facebook.

Jonathan Knott, March 2012

Slovenian national carrier Adria Airways will fly from London Luton to Ljubljana 4 times a week from 25th March 2012. For more information see Bled Tourist Board, Slovenian Tourist Board and Strel Swimming Adventures.


A new online reference resource for swimmers, Openwaterpedia, described as 'Wikipedia for Open Water Swimmers', was launched in September and now has 11,517 open water swimming-related entries - on swimmers, definitions, records, events, and anything else you could wish to know.  

See for more information.

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