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 Robert.Aspey@derby.gov.uk
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.
• 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.
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.)
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.
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, 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.
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)
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)
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).
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.
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).
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 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 £14.95. We're also offering a special 40% discount off the book's RRP for OSS readers, valid for a week (from 1st May.)
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...
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.
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.
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)
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 Openwaterpedia.com for more information.
Tristan Gooley, the author of The Natural Navigator, one of the world’s only books on natural navigation, has written the following article exclusively for the OSS. His new book, The Natural Explorer, is our Book Of The Month, and is published by Sceptre.
Kate Rew: "Adventure, challenge, joy: for many swimmers, the keys to a wild swim. For me, each swim is not a form of exercise, an athletic endeavour, but an exploration – a journey that makes me see the landscape, people and my mental state from a different point of view. Roger Deakin called it “the joy of the undiscovered nearby”. We caught up with Tristan Gooley, to see what we could learn:"
Tristan Gooley: "In my new book, The Natural Explorer, I go in search of the extraordinary journey – something, arguably, almost every wild swim becomes, if you are open to it. The first step in this direction is appreciating that water is never alone, it is in a relationship.
As an outdoors writer and teacher, my interest in wild water has developed into a passion and curiosity that can no longer be contained by the water itself, it spills out in all directions. As a swimmer I have learned that there is joy to be found in following it.
It is a wonderful moment when we appreciate that there is as much fascination in the way the water marks the land that surrounds it, as there is thrill in the water itself. From this realization, it is possible to let the cool water wash over our minds, long before we let it cover our faces. To sample this refreshment we need only question the relationship of each coastline, lake and pond we visit with the land and air it mixes with. For me, it will always form a fun step before taking the plunge.
Tristan Gooley, author of The Natural Explorer
One of the best questions to start with is, ‘What lies beneath?’ Water resting on the land will tell a story of the rocks below. There are few ponds in the Sussex chalk country I know best and there is nothing like absence to sharpen curiosity. I have come to savour the heritage of each pond I do encounter.
Farmers in chalk country used to cater for their cattle by digging generous holes and lining them with water-proof clay, forming ‘dew ponds’. The sheep would gather at the ponds, and no doubt gossip around these rural water-coolers. After their drinking and socializing, the animals would leave their dung. New plants thrive in this fertilized soil at the edge of water. Insects gather at the dung and the fish then feast on the insects. Water brings life to a landscape in ripples. Some dew ponds still hold water and others can be found as the mysteriously-circular impressions in the grass.
At the other end of the rock scale lies granite. In granite country, there is no shortage of water, this impervious rock holds the water up high and its acidic nature keeps it clear and pure. Granite offers hard walks and soul-purifying swims.
If learning to unlock the physical landscape forms one of the first steps of a Natural Explorer, then the next ones broaden our perspective significantly. An understanding of the sky, light and weather and the way these interact with the water can be brought into a swim and add to the richness of the experience.
The later steps require a little courage as they take us well away from comfortable geography, through the more daunting terrains of physiology to psychology.
There is no doubt that an understanding of rocks, rivers, weather and light can enrich our swim. But they are building blocks. Two swims in the same water will never feel the same, even as the water and land remain unchanged. Our levels of blood sugar, tiredness, hormones and wellbeing will form part of every swim. Once we have become aware of these tides, we can steel ourselves to take another step and appreciate that our moods and emotions will want to join us in the water. The person we are swimming with will likely have a greater impact on our experience of the water than its temperature.
If you doubt for one second the importance of the later steps, then imagine going for a swim on your own, on an empty stomach after a long relationship has broken up. Your next swim in these same waters may be taken after a long slow picnic with a new lover, who is now joining you in the water. It is the same place, but is most definitely not the same space.
Exploration has always been fascinating and never easy. Natural Explorers will find their minds have been worked harder than their body."
Tristan Gooley, March 2012
How has our society's cultural attitude to swimming been reflected in the way that we dress when we take to the water? Many thanks to OSS Member Chris Ayriss for this article.
On a sultry summer’s day, what could be more natural and liberating than to dip into a lake or river to complete the picture of scenic perfection? In calm waters, swimmers get twice the view as water mirrors the colour and adds texture to the panorama they swim into. We love to live and holiday close to water; in fact you only have to mention a ‘sea view’, for house and holiday prices jump up. Across Scotland, in parts of Wales and throughout Europe, swimming is as much a part of the summertime experience as it was in England not so many years ago; then the 1970s TV safety film: Dark and Lonely Water, lit the screen and cast gloom over the concept of outdoor swimming. The ‘Grim Reaper’ we were shown, stood ready to take the life of any fool that dared swim in open water and we could be sure that summertime fun would lead to tragedy. Swimmers were persuaded that they really did need to ‘KEEP OUT’, leaving the sport of outdoor swimming to those ruffians who would dip regardless, and, just because they had been told not to. You might think this an oversimplification of matters, and you would be right. A great many factors combined to achieve the outdoor swimming status quo in England, so many factors, that I thought it would make a good read for all those interested in returning to the outdoors, and so I published: Hung Out to Dry, Swimming and British Culture.
Yet swimming is so innocuous that it hardly seems possible for the activity to have had more than a fleeting influence on the culture and history of Britain. Thinking further though and it’s obvious that all swimming necessitates a degree of pantomime as even the most cosseted among us will need to change into our wet suit ready for our swim. Unlike other sports, the act of getting changed, what we wear when wet and the process of getting into the water has influenced the way society has perceived what came to be a very British outdoor sport.
Bathing was fundamental to our Roman invaders and was widely practiced along with swimming, for centuries. Later Church morality motivated abstinence among the faithful, a position reinforced when the plagues of the Middle Ages swept whole families away. The only protection against disease, people were told, was to remain unwashed, so that the skins pores would become blocked with dirt preventing deathly vapours from infiltration the body. At this time in history bathing was considered to be a very risky exercise and it took centuries before the traditions of the ‘great unwashed’ were questioned. When bathing became good for you again, cleanliness was deemed next to Godliness and the righteous were encouraged to bathe as often as once a week. But it was soon discovered that much more fun could be had, especially in cold water, by learning to swim.
As time passed, the bathing machine was invented allowing participants to bow to proprietary by getting changed in privacy whilst being transported into a screen of deep waters. Yet mixed bathing, when it was introduced, presented moral dilemmas unheard of whilst bathers were separated by gender. As a culture, the British have danced around the issues of morality ever since, with a variety of attitudes surfacing at different points in time. Yet as our bathing culture spread aboard so a similar evolution in social mores was sparked worldwide. The bathing machine, invented here in the UK, became an essential part of beach life overseas as British prudery was exported along with the seaside holiday experience. In the end a changed morality allowed bathing machines to be converted into beach huts, or burned in symbol of the liberality of the times. It was much the same with the emancipation of women but it made for a much bigger fire.
This aspect of British bathing history now seems but a bizarre part of our eccentric past. Yet this important milestone in the evolution of our culture popped the cork from the bottle. The Seaside holiday evolved from its humble and secretive beginnings into an obsession with sunbathing and physical exposure. Swimming costumes developed from coverall into none at all for hardy eccentrics, or at least ‘cover little’ for the rest of us. When listening to a series of paper round experiences just the other week onRadio 4, Melanie Walters (of Gavin and Stacey) recounted her adventures living in the Mumbles as a young girl of 11 in the 1970s. Not only did she often enjoy a solitary sea swim whilst on route, but sometimes in the summer she did the whole thing dressed ready for her swim in her “little white and red check bikini,” yet she observes; “that wouldn’t happen today.” And she’s right. Attitudes have changed greatly in the decades since, and this becomes obvious when sharing holiday photographs with our children, the differences in seaside fashions from when we were young are promptly observed.
The magnetic Lido era drew swimmers in from rivers, lakes and the seaside, with diving boards, slidesand cafes offering an altogether more civilised outdoor swimming experience. Yet at the same time these Lidos put bathers on show for spectators who gathered in great numbers to watch the spectacle of the scantily clad, cavorting in the water. Beauty contests spawned a trend to judge others by their appearance and this concept has now matured so that even young children diet in hope of attaining physical perfection. Bathing fashions have changed so much over time, that even in Australia (the birthplace of Speedo swimwear) as here in Britain, swimming trunks have dropped from favour with board shorts replacing them on the beach and in the pool. Trunks may survive for the sake of speed at competitions but they have been outlawed at Alton Towers for three years now on grounds of etiquette. Yet for hygiene’s sake brief swimming trunks are seen as essential at swimming pools in France to this day. In England, men and boys more fashion conscious than ever, wear baggy shorts to hide their shape on the beach despite the half mast trousers fashion on the street.
In an effort to disguise and to hide swimmers from view, specific river bathing areas became necessary when Matthew Webb opened the floodgates to outdoor swimming by conquering the Channel in 1875. Boys in particular took the challenge to heart, unperturbed that a lack of swimwear was scandalising the ladies. Indoor and outdoor pools were to follow as a means of containing and controlling the increasingly popular swimming movement. Bathing machines and bathing costumes helped to disguise the swimmers, but warm water, and holidays abroad have now all but emptied British waters of the swimmers to whom they belong.
Let’s make 2012 a year to remember our swimming heritage and put the fun back into open water by swimming our way back to the great outdoors! Although interest in a return to nature and skinny dipping in particular is attracting interest in the wild swimming community, it is worth remembering that it was skinny dipping that got British swimmers into trouble in the first place. In the Uzbek capital, Tashkent last month, the Walrus Club (a group of eccentric bathers who would swim and dive into the canal adjacent to their club house) have had their premises and equipment destroyed by officials bringing an end to their 60 years existence. A spokesperson stated “local residents were offended by the sight of underdressed winter swimmers in the water and on the canal bank.” Times change, and even countries that have until now lagged behind the times are catching up with the notion of prudery. Will the history of British swimming provide a lesson to wild swimmers today? Or will history repeat itself and get the movement into trouble? Perhaps it would be best to contend ourselves with the freedom to swim as it gradually emerges and confine skinny dipping to the privacy of the bathtub.
Diane Hope, a sound recordist and radio producer, is currently looking to find someone who has discovered a joy in swimming or being in water a lot at some point in their lives, for a potential new BBC Radio 4 programme.
Interested in being featured? We caught up with Diane to ask for more information about the sort of person she was looking for...
I'm looking for people who have strong, distinctive character and a close connection or bond with water. The person don't have to be an extrovert... on the contrary they might be quite introverted & quiet normally - but able to speak confidiently about their thoughts and experiences.
Preferably they are involved in an aquatic activity and are in and out of the water a lot. They will have had a memorable moment where they discovered this connection and it really changed their life in some deep or fundamental way. We're also preferably looking for someone who's not been heavily featured on radio or tv already.
They should be prepared to be visited and interviewed for broadcast on BBC national radio - I'd want to visit them at home, but also possibly record material with them while they were engaged in or preparing for their watery activity. The bottom line is "do you feel in some way 'amphibious'" - and did the point at which you made that discovery in some way transform your life.
Does this sound like you? Are you interested in being featured on national radio? You can contact Diane via email before March 4th.
Dedicated Outdoor Swimming Society member, Gary Anderson, has set up, in his own words, "a group dedicated to combining two of the three real pleasures in life... biking and swimming!" We caught up with Gary to learn more about the new Easy Riders group, and to find out how OSS members can get involved.
Swimming and biking have much in common... a love of the outdoors, the sense of liberation and freedom, the energising factor and of course the camaraderie. Open roads and open water.
The Easy Riders group promotes fast rides and slow swims. Everyone, including non-bikers has been very positive about the formation of the group, and it would be great to make fellow OSS members aware of its existence, as there must be plenty more swimmers with bikes out there!
The latest in biker/swimmer chic...
If you have a motorbike capable of moderate touring or short 'run outs' to some open waters, feel free to add your name to the Facebook group and use it as a forum. You can post details of any events you'd like others to join in with, or see if you can hitch a ride to your local swims. Pillion passengers are of course welcome.
You ride and swim at your own risk so please make sure you have suitable clothing, preferably with 'armour' protection and please read the OSS guide to safe outdoor swimming.
Stay safe. See you on the road. Gary, Liz and Lloyd.
If you're looking to plan your next ride, why not check out our amazing new Wild Swim Map - perfect for scouting out tried and tested swimming spots in unfamiliar places.
This Valentine's Day, why not show a little love to your favourite swimming spot? The OSS recently spoke to Dan and Gabby of Gone Swimming, who offer guided swimming holidays around North Wales, to talk about completely rubbish swimming...
"Rubbish swimming" is an idea promoted by Dan & Gabby of Gone Swimming; to remove rubbish from swim spots the length and breadth of the country. Rubbish swimming takes the basic idea of the countryside code and moves a few steps further...
Gabby says “The first time I met Dan was in a lagoon in a slate quarry in North Wales. It was a beautiful location, and a lovely swim, only spoilt by old trainers, tents, disposable barbecues, lilos, and all sorts of rubbish.”
Rubbish swimming is about making a conscious effort to not only “leave no trace”, but to actively improve the environment that we are swimming in.
Dan explains “Every time I come down from a day in the mountains, the side pockets of my rucksack are bulging with crisp packets, chocolate wrappers, and sandwich boxes – not my own I hasten to add! I just hate to see litter being left anywhere”
Now, whenever Dan & Gabby go swimming, there is a small drybag that gets towed along with them – specifically for any litter they spot. Gabby explains “we take as much as we can, although sometimes there are big things that we cannot tow with us, we make a mental note to come back later. Unfortunately, anything that looks dangerous to us gets left too.”
There are plans to team up with a local freediving group to help clear not just the surface & banks, but also the underwater too!
So don’t just love your swim on Valentines Day, love it every day. Love your swim spot by setting out to be a rubbish swimmer!
In the last OSS Newsletter, we reported that the Friends Of Bude Sea Pool were excitedly awaiting the legal paperwork which will see them take over a long lease of the pool, and manage it from the this Easter. Since the threat of closure, this amazing group have raised over £25,000 to cover staffing costs for the season and have won grant funds for emergency repairs. There's still a long way to go, but we invited Rowena Hoseason to tell us a little about the campaign so far, and to appeal for help from any willing OSS Members!
When Cornwall Council withdrew the funding for life-guard cover at Bude Sea Pool at the end of 2010, it looked as though this closure could be permanent. Unlike many lidos, this tidal swimming pool is semi-natural and is built into the curve of the cliffs on the beach at Bude, a typical seaside town on Cornwall’s north Atlantic coast. It’s tricky to restrict access to the pool so effectively it is open for use all through the summer – which means it has to be life-guarded to meet modern health and safety requirements. In the face of the current cut-backs the county Council pulled the plug – literally. And when the sea pool is empty it’s considered to be an even more risky structure, so was in real danger of being demolished to ‘make it safe’. All that is pretty ironic, given the pool’s superlative safety record over the past 80 years, and the fact that it was originally built in the 1930s because it simply isn’t safe to bathe in Bude bay – too many rip tides and strong currents. These days, surfers and boats add to the congestion in the open sea, and the sea pool provides a safe haven for leisure swimmers, training triathletes and kids having fun.
A protest movement over winter 2010/2011 caused enough of a stir for the Council to come up with the funding for one final season of staffing – on the understanding that someone else would have to take on running the pool in 2012. So, the Friends of Bude Sea Pool formed as a volunteer social enterprise group, and a small committee took up the challenge of raising funds and then getting the pool open again for the 2012 summer season.
Just setting up a limited company and registering it as a charity is tricky enough: there’s acres of form-filling and red tape to trek through. Even the committee members who are experienced small business owners, we have found some of the constraints of running a charity to be time-consuming and frustrating. Perhaps the biggest challenge is that everyone – the public and possible business sponsors alike – are very used to dealing with professional, slick, well-established charities. There are plenty of people who come forward with great ideas for fund-raising, or excellent plans for developing the site to bring in long-term revenue, but there are very few volunteers with the right kind of experience who are prepared to step up and actually take on a committee role for a couple of years.
So the original team has had to climb a very steep learning curve; understand health and safety regs, negotiate with the Council to take on a long lease, make sure the terms of that lease will work for future grant funding, organising the tender process for crucial repair work – which has to take place between high tides, not an easy task in itself! – and so on. The next daunting task is staffing for summer: in the long term we hope to develop a life-guard apprentice programme for local young people, to help them get qualified and develop skills which could be used across the leisure industry. But we need fully qualified life-guards on duty for Easter weekend – which doesn’t feel that far away!
There have been some very notable successes in the FoBSP’s short working life, including securing £20k from the Seaside Towns development programme for the urgent repairs, and winning the local NatWest Community Force grant of £6250 really helped to take off the pressure for first-year funding. The group has also received huge support from local businesses. Over £6000 has been pledged in sponsorship for the first season, and the Bude businesses which can’t contribute directly have helped with general fund-raising to great effect. A local folk band held a benefit gig and donated proceeds from the sales of their album; you can buy Save Our Seapool ale in town, and everyone came together for a gala fashion show at the end of 2011. These efforts contributed another £10,000 to the kitty, on top of the various grants and of course the membership fees paid by the 800-plus members of the FoBSP.
Without a doubt, the FoBSP couldn’t have made so much progress in such a short space of time without support from a huge community of swimmers, and our Facebook page has been vital in reaching them and keeping them informed. Bude sea pool is a really special place to swim, and thousands of people agree: we have over 4750 FB followers. The only shame is that relatively few of these people have taken the plunge and paid the small annual membership fee of £10 to join the FoBSP. If all our Facebook followers signed up and paid £10 then we could stop fund-raising immediately, and concentrate on improving the facilities at the pool. Showers would be nice – but before then we have to make sure that all the trip and slip hazards have been fixed, and we’d like to find a more efficient way of cleaning the pool out – that’s a job for a JCB, and it needs to be done after high seas to stop the swimming pool silting up and turning into a paddling pool!
So if anyone could volunteer to help with the admin involved in saving Bude sea pool, then extra hands would be warmly welcomed by the committee. Sea pool supporters who don’t have any spare time or live further away can help out by joining the FoBSP (child and family membership are available), or by making a donation.
To get involved, please visit the Friends of Bude Sea Pool website.
Robert Aspey, The OSS Inland Access Officer, gives an update on the progress being made with the Rutland Water campaign. Read on for more information about the proposed public bathing beach.
The Outdoor Swimming Society, Anglian Water, The Royal Life Saving Society, and other groups, have been working together over the last 2 years to set up a public bathing beach in a specific buoyed off area on the shores of Rutland Water. This will keep it away from over activities such as fishing and sailing.
There is no guarantee as yet for its opening, but we are aiming for an official opening at weekends in July and August 2012. The opening will be subject to normal water levels being achieved (very low at present but slowly rising), voluntary life guard arrangements and risk assessments.
Inland bathing beaches are very common on the continent even in places with a similar climate to England, and prove very popular in the summer. A bathing beach creates a social space where people are able to interact, have a picnic, and spend time relaxing, as well as bathing. It is much more that just a swimming pool. This fits well with the present governments “big society” agenda, in helping to create social interaction and by using volunteer life guards.
If opened, it will provide a local bathing beach for the people of the East Midlands, so they don’t have to travel 70 plus miles to the coast where it is often colder and less safe. It coincides with the increasing popularity of outdoor swimming, and if opened will help encourage healthy swimming exercise in an attractive environment. Below is a photo of a bathing beach in Brittany, which gives an idea of what we are aiming for.
We are at present advertising for people interested in volunteering to train as beach life guards, who will form a dedicated life guard unit for the bathing beach. This has been publicised through the OSS, RALSA, Voluntary Action Rutland, Voluntary Action Leicestershire.
If you need any further info. please contact me.
This June, OSS member Sarah Lewis is heading up a team of intrepid swimmers who are setting out to swim the length of the Trent. In this article, she shares some of the history of the river, and the thinking behind The River Trent Challenge 2014
From Lord Byron to Captain Webb, from David Walliams to Kerri-Anne Payne, Britain has a long and remarkable tradition of open water swimming. In recent years, and for a host of different reasons, there has been an explosion in the numbers of people taking to the water to swim out of doors, whatever the season and whatever the weather. And with the London Olympics just around the corner, members of the Outdoor Swimming Society have been inspired to join together and to take on the challenge of swimming the 185-mile length of the River Trent, from it source on Biddulph Moor in Staffordshire to the point where it meet the Humber Estuary.
To those who live along its course, the Trent sometimes seems like England’s forgotten river. And yet it is the third longest in England and Wales, after the Severn and Thames, its ‘smug and silver’ waters cutting their way through the heart of England. For centuries the Trent was a battleground, a cultural divide between north and south and a trade route to rival even the Thames, opening the way between the industrial Black Country and the sea. Armies fought to cross it, the Romans garrisoned it, Cavaliers and Roundheads fought each other along it in some of the bitterest engagements of the Civil War. In short, the Trent is one of our great and significant rivers. Yet these days it hardly registers on the shared consciousness, except for those from the counties along its course; Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. It goes its quiet way through the heart of England almost unnoticed.
The Trent rises near the Staffordshire village of Biddulph Moor and for the first few miles is but a brook. Well before it reaches Stoke, however, it has been transformed and flows on its way southeast towards Burton, before turning a little to the north again and skirting below Derby, where it meets the Derwent. Thence to Nottingham, where, in August 1642 Charles I raised his standard and hoped that citizens would rally to his cause. They did not and what happened at Naseby is, well, history. As well as Trent Bridge, once a key strategic crossing point, the city of Nottingham has marked its relationship with the river through a long and proud history of watersports, especially rowing. Beyond Nottingham the river takes another mighty turn, north past Newark, another Civil War site. After Newark, the Trent becomes tidal, gravel barges churn up and down and below Gainsborough there are even cargo vessels.
In June 2012, a group of swimmers from the Outdoor Swimming Society will be swimming sections of the Trent that are negotiable and safe to swim in. Any parts of the river that are not swimmable due to shallow water or for safety reasons will be walked or cycled along.
There are so many beautiful places of interest, landscapes and features along the Trent that we thought this an ideal challenge. So many resources are put into dealing with communities that have become disconnected from the Trent’s natural features, we feel our event can only bring positive publicity to communities and businesses along its path, as we are very much in touch with the River Trent’s beauty, which in turn enhances our swimming experience.
As well as raising awareness among the public of the possibilities and benefits of open water swimming, the group are also promoting and fundraising for Joseph Foote Trust - Fight against Brain Tumours, Macmillan Cancer Support, Sarcoma Research Association, and CancerResearch.
Anyone wishing for more information, or to support the River Trent Challenge in 2014, can head to their official Facebook page (which is also where the photographs used in this article are taken from.) or contact Sarah at email@example.com
Hell hath no fury like a swimmer scorned. When British Waterways put "No Swimming" signs up around the popular Sparth swimming spot, the local community rallied round to try to reverse the decision.
"Save Sparth Swimming" Campaign Leader, Fiona Weir, kindly shares the story with the Outdoor Swimming Society...
The industrial heartland of northern England may not seem like the most appealing place to go wild swimming. Say ‘Huddersfield’ to most people, and they imagine dark satanic mills. Say ‘Oldham’ and they think of race riots. Say ‘the M62’ and they’re likely to break into an irritable, twitchy sweat. Yet Sparth reservoir is a beautiful outdoor swimming spot, only a few miles from each.
Sparth is a paradoxical place. Much of the time, it is a little oasis of calm, nestled under the Pennines and near to the river Colne. Trees overhang the water on one side, some of them twisted as exquisitely as a Japanese painting. A heron often sits in the shallows, and it is quite likely to be watching if you go for a dawn dip.
But Sparth also has a practical function: it is a feeder reservoir that stores water to keep the Huddersfield Narrow Canal always topped up and navigable. Its southern side is a dam with a valve and overflow outlet. And it is owned and managed by British Waterways.
Swimmers co-existed happily with nature and British Waterways, until last summer. Then, at the end of August, BW put up ‘No Swimming’ signs there for the first time. When people complained, they talked tough, referring to ‘byelaw 41’, ‘dangerous waters’, ‘hazards’ and the ‘industrial landscape’. They called swimmers ‘foolish’ and ‘irresponsible’.
Local people reacted strongly. Many had been swimming in Sparth all their lives, and remembered their parents swimming there too. A Facebook group started up, and quickly gained over 200 members. People began to share memories, photographs and newspaper cuttings – and the long history of Sparth swimming emerged.
Rumour suggested that navvies labouring on the railways and the canal bathed there in the 1870s. Its name derived from the word ‘spa’, said some. Firm evidence showed that open water tests and races had started there during the Second World War and continued through the fifties, sixties and seventies. Olympic and Commonwealth Gold medal winner Anita Lonsbrough trained there, as did Channel swimmer Suzanne Lodge.
But even more importantly, as people shared photographs and anecdotes, their personal passion for Sparth soon became clear. “Happy, happy memories! We loved it when my dad came home and said ‘come on let's go t'Sparth’" said one woman, vividly.
Many talked about it being a bustling inland beach in the seventies and eighties, packed-out at weekends and in the summer: “It was own inland resort. A man in the houses down by the canal used to sell sweets, drinks and ice pops from his kitchen. It was like this all summer long, weekends and after school”. The water was full of inflatable dinghies and rubber rings, and the banks were crowded with picnickers. Some families actually camped there, people said, in the days before package holidays.
The campaign to ‘Save Sparth Swimming’ grew stronger. The group held ‘Splashmobs’, and dozens of people defied the swimming ban. The third of these was held on that absurdly glorious Saturday in early October, and over a hundred people turned out to enjoy the sunshine and show their support. The fourth was a Hallowe’en ‘dip in the dark’.
Meanwhile, campaign leader Fiona Weir (that’s me, by the way) contacted the local MP, and with his support, arranged a meeting with British Waterways. We met for the first time in mid-October, on the edge of Sparth itself. Three swimmers and two Waterway’s managers approached each other from opposite ends of the reservoir, warily, like gun-fighters in a show-down.
We were extremely well prepared with facts and figures, information about the law and appeal court cases, health and safety guidance and such-like. We had anticipated their concerns and arguments – accurately – and we tackled every point. The two Waterway’s men were very senior: the regional manager and the head of health and safety for the whole country. But by the end of the meeting, we had convinced them we were sensible, capable people; and they invited us to come up with some formal proposals for how swimming could be made ‘less risk and more organised’.
We gathered people’s ideas and views through the Facebook group, and drew up our plans. We proposed a community risk assessment, where swimmers and local people – not British Waterways alone – would identify hazards. We said we would do some ‘safer swimming’ sessions in the community, particularly in schools. We asked for the ‘No Swimming’ signs to be replaced with more useful information boards, and agreed to set up a website. Our focus was on reducing risks, but not removing them.
There were some things we were clear we could not agree. No formal membership scheme or swimming club, we said. No lifeguarded sessions. No requirement that swimmers should have insurance. Many Sparth swimmers are children and young people, so such things would be unenforceable or impractical, we argued.
To our surprise, British Waterways agreed. We held a second meeting in mid-January and there were no serious points of disagreement. Now we are starting work, and hope to have the ‘No Swimming’ signs removed by May.
So far, this has been a feel-good story of ‘swimmer-power’, with the unusual promise of a happy ending. But it may be far more significant than that. British Waterways is morphing into the new waterways charity in April, and will take over control of all the rivers currently managed by the Environment Agency. So what they say, goes, in inland waters.
And they are signalling very positive intentions. They have said, publically, that they are no longer opposed to outdoor swimming, so long as people stay out of canals. Perhaps it’s best to quote British Waterways’ own words, to us and to the Outdoor Swimming Society: "We are looking at increasing access and hopeful that our work with the Sparth swimmers will be a model of how we can allow greater access".
All pictures courtesy of Friends Of Sparth Swimming Facebook Group.
Chris Ayriss, OSS member and author of "Hung Out To Dry - Swimming and British Culture," recently contacted us to share the story of his chilly Chirstmas swims at St Ives - and the memories of his host's 1950s childhood, growing up in the golden age of swimming, amongst the coves of Cornwall.
I spent the Christmas season with friends in Cornwall, and having sampled the delights of swimming in the wintery seas of St Ives, I enjoyed a visit to a family farm in the wildest part of West Cornwall. With no gas, electricity, mains water or telephone line, you might think that life on this windswept hillside would be unbearable, yet the house was warm and comfortable and my hosts Pearl and Walter, delightful. As Cornish as the day is long, this couple view a visit to Truro as a trip up country, and rarely venture beyond the horizon as seen from their wild and imposing landscape.
As we were taken on a tour of the farm, Walter explained that drinking water for the house was pumped up from a well that the Phoenicians divined and built some 2,500 years ago, to supply fresh drinking water straight from the ground, rather than using river or lake water as did the locals. They brought slaves to work the mine’s three shafts, burrowing deep beneath the farm. Its treasure was exported along what was known as Solomon’s Route to the ships, then on to distant shores. Walter is not a swimmer himself, but the pool he had built on his land delighted Pearl, a keen swimmer from childhood.
Back in the farmhouse we sat in candlelight as Pearl told me the story of her mermaid-like childhood. She grew up in Penberth Cove, some 3 miles from Land’s End, which supported a thriving fishing community. Pearl relates: ‘Grandfather lived in the house next to the sea, and I grew up in a flat above the fisherman’s cellars.’ Born in 1942, Pearls childhood coincided with the golden age of swimming. She swam for 20 minutes each morning before breakfast, and after a day of schooling in St Just, she returned to the sea for another 20 minutes before tea. Winter swells made the rocky cove too dangerous for bathing, but calm weather at any time of year put swimming on the daily agenda for this fishing and swimming community. Even when she started work, Pearl would swim every day late into the evening, ‘It was wonderful’, she remembers.
As the tide goes out at the cove, three sand bars can be reached, and a small rock pool is exposed which became the playground of the young. Pearl learned to swim at the age five, her mother Eva swam out to the sandbars carrying Pearl on her back. The doggy paddle brought her safely home, but a fear of deep water developed when she could not touch the bottom along the way. ‘I was eleven or twelve before I learnt to swim properly,’ Pearl remembers. ‘I spent the whole summer in my swimming costume.’ The children were in and out of the water all summer long and when Eva took a plunge the children would shout ‘tidal wave’ referring to her corpulent stature. The water was home throughout the day to adults and children alike. ‘Mother knitted my first costume, but it became so heavy when it was wet, that it would hang down to my feet. I ended up swimming in shorts and a t-shirt, it was more decent,’ she said.
With a dozen boats in the cove there were always adults around, but the children were not supervised as such. Eight children lived in the cove itself and another 13 came down from surrounding villages to bathe. The older boys built a 12 foot raft with oil drums beneath for buoyancy, and anchored it in the middle of the cove to swim out to. ‘Once it broke free during a storm and it went out into the English Channel, they had to put out a warning to shipping.’ Teenagers would move the raft over to the rocks so that young children could use it to climb out of the sea and then jump in off the rocks. Pearls little brother was taken out by the older boys and swam back on his own aged only three. ‘He swam with the doggy paddle and has swum like a fish ever since.’
You might think that this easy going attitude towards swimming could end only in tragedy, you would be wrong, no child drowned in the cove. Teaching children to swim in open water was always seen as a good thing as it put swimming abilities into perspective and taught respect for life and the sea. What a contrast these golden days of swimming make with the restrictions of childhood today.
I love listening to stories like this and visiting historic swimming holes, but unless an effort is made to capture our history it will soon slip beneath the tides of time.
This year I hope to celebrate 100 years of swimming and with your help make 2012 a year for swimmers to remember. Please visit www.hungouttodry.co.uk for more details.
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...
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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, Dartrmoor - 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.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The petiton states that,
"People in England and Wales do NOT currently have a clear legal right to access inland waters. People love our waterways – the growing popularity of outdoor swimming, ‘wild’ swimming and canoeing show this. But people often find themselves confused, being ‘moved on’, breaking the law or (perhaps worst of all) staying away from inland waters altogether, because it is not clear where they are allowed to paddle, wade, kayak, canoe & swim.
The time is right for change. The ‘New Era’ will fail if many people cannot access inland waters in the ways they choose. But the government is currently drawing up legislation and forming a New Waterways Charity and there are obvious opportunities to amend the law.
We therefore call for the government to put public access to inland waters at the heart of the proposed ‘New Era for the Waterways’."
The OSS campaign in 2012 is continued expansion of the fantastic new Wild Swim Map, which we hope will support greater inland access campaigning in 2013 and beyond. Add your voice to the petition and help us get one step closer to better public access for all across our waterways.
Last Saturday saw a record breaking number of December Dippers take the plunge at Parliment Hill Lido. Over 300 tickets were sold, 600 mince pies were eaten and the water was a bracing 8 degrees.
Radio 1 DJ extrodinaire and outdoor swimming fan, the lovely Edith Bowman, entertained the crowds with tales of her Boxing Day swims in Scotland, and the brilliant brass band played the first wave of swimmers into the water, with the theme tune from The Great Escape!
Special mention has to go to the guys rocking red tinsel speedos and Victorian style stripey bathers, and to everyone working behind the scenes to make it such a great event. We hope everyone's fully defrosted now, and look forward to seeing you back again in 2012!
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 2012.
With this in mind, master coach Dan Bullock and OSS founder Kate Rew have put together a comprehensive guide to improving your front crawl stroke and your fitness.
Download the free guide to "Winter Training: An Insider's Guide to a Smoother, Easier, Happier Swim" - we hope you find it useful!
In her new book, "The Story of Swimming," passionate outdoor swimmer Susie Parr sets out to trace the social history of British swimming, from the earliest references in Roman and Anglo Saxon literature to the decline of British seaside resorts and traditional bathing clubs in the late 20th century.
Here, she shares the reasons behind her love of wild swimming, and the motivations behind writing the book...
Sometimes, on a windswept beach, as in time-honoured British fashion I am wriggling into my costume under a flapping towel, I wonder what compels me to swim. I always keep my togs in the car and, if I come across a suitable place, will immerse myself in river, lake or sea no matter how cold. The bemused glances of passers-by, together with the fact that I am usually the only one in the water, make me wonder if I really am behaving as eccentrically as people seem to think. But swimming outdoors, in open water, feels fundamental to who I am. I learned to swim in the peaty pools of the River Esk, on family holidays in the Lake District. My mother, myopic and profoundly un-sporty, nevertheless loved to swim in the River Tay at Broughty Ferry near Dundee. My Swedish grandmother bathed in Lake Siljan, in Dalarna, during the long, light summer days of her youth.
I wanted to find out what lies beneath these family traditions. I had assumed that bathing in Britain started when the Victorians discovered the seaside, but as I began to read and research I found a long and fascinating history stretching back through the centuries. Swimming and bathing featured in British art, literature, music and military education from the earliest days, and played a part in the scientific and medical advances of the 18th century. Initially, medicinal sea-bathing was only practised by the wealthy and genteel, discerning people who could simultaneously enhance their health and appreciate the picturesque. But the advent of rail travel enabled the masses to take to the water, with the result that class conflicts – with bathing at their heart – were played out on British beaches. A flurry of regulation was the result. Swimming even took on a political aspect: as women progressed towards suffrage, there was growing demand for mixed bathing, swimming lessons, more functional swimwear, and the right to compete.
Swimming in rivers, lakes and seas started to decline in the mid 20th century, for a variety of reasons. The appeal of our cold, heavily polluted seas diminished once we encountered the warm, clear waters of the Med and tepid safety of the indoor pool. The recent Wild Swimming phenomenon has effected a welcome revival of interest and made bathing out of doors in Britain cool and glamorous once more. But this movement has its own historical roots in Romanticism and in a tradition of heroic swimming that extends back, not just to Byron, but to Beowulf. The new wild swimming guides have comprehensively re-mapped Britain; they are atlases not of road networks but of bathing places. I hope that my book – The Story of Swimming – will enable swimmers like myself to benefit from history as well as geography. Gazing down into the depths, we might start to understand a bit more about why we swim as we do.
The Story Of Swimming is available for order now.
Will 2011 be seen as the year that outdoor swimmers turned the corner on inland water access?
The news that British Waterways sought to ban swimming in Sparth reservoir, Yorkshire this summer will have sounded depressingly familiar to many swimmers, as will the spectres of 'underwater structures' and dangerous currents which were raised once again (see below for the 'truth about reservoir swimming').
However, Sparth reservoir swimmers refused to accept this decision, holding a protest swim, enlisting the support of the local MP, and submitting a Freedom of Information Request to British Waterways.
As a result, British Waterways have now entered into a conversation with the swimmers and have asked them to submit a plan for risk management.
More enlightened views
Other organisations have also recently shown a willingness to engage with outdoor swimmers. The Environment Agency, who manage the river Thames, have drawn up provisional guidelines for swimmers to follow, to enable them to share the river with other water users such as boaters and rowers.
RoSPA, sometimes seen by outdoor swimmers as an enemy, also appear to want to change perceptions. The organisation's CEO recently held out an apparent olive branch to outdoor swimmers, revealing on his blog that he is a wild swimming fan.
Jonathan Knott, November 2011
Amazon swimmer Martin Strel has started a new swimming holiday company with his son. Jonathan Knott joined them on a trip in Slovenia.
"You are going to meet Martin Strel?" a woman says to me in Ljubljana.
"You know who he is?" I ask.
"Yes, of course. He is famous in Slovenia ... But a lot of people here think he is a bit weird."
That doesn't surprise me. I know about Martin's epic river swims, which have included passing dead bodies in the Yangtze, and I've seen the film Big River Man, which charts the bouts of drinking and madness that punctuated his 66-day progress along the Amazon in 2007.
"But weird in a funny way, right?"
"No," she says. "Just weird. We are not sure why anyone would want to swim in all those dirty rivers. We think he does it just to be famous."
I will soon have the chance to judge for myself. Martin's son, Borut, who masterminded the Amazon swim, runs a new company organising swimming expeditions, and I'm joining a trip in the Strels' native Slovenia. Six of us arrive one evening at Hotel Jezero, on the peaceful shore of Lake Bohinj in the Julian Alps: Tom from London; Giovanna and Kelly from Kent; Isabel from Wiltshire, who has just done her A-levels; and her mum, Emma. We're all confident swimmers, but as people discuss their experiences of 10k events and triathlons, I realise the scale of the challenge. My longest continuous swim so far is one mile, considerably less than the distance we will be covering each day.
Martin arrives after dinner. Stubbled and attired in shorts and T-shirt, he emits an aura of ease, at odds with his legendary toughness. He greets us warmly, apologises for his lateness - he's been having a catch-up chat with the Slovenian president - and gives a presentation about his past swims in heavily accented, scatter-gun English.
But it's not until next morning, as Martin gives me and Kelly a lift to our first swim at Lake Bled, that we get a real glimpse into his character. He attaches an innocuous-looking plastic clip to the steering wheel of his car. "If you use this, you save a lot of gas," he says. Intrigued, Kelly asks him how it works. "Energy," replies Martin.
As we digest this, we pass the former residence of President Tito, and then the lake itself comes into view: wide, clean and still. On an island at its centre sits a chocolate-box church, which will be our first destination.
Handing out neon-coloured swimming caps, Borut explains that he and three other guides will accompany us in kayaks, while Martin will be in the water. With his huge build, bushy eyebrows, and a large piranha bite scar on his back (apparently, it feels "like fire" when they attack), Martin should be an intimidating presence, but I feel reassured. The water feels cold, though, and I find it difficult to establish a rhythm.
"A lot of people are anxious on the first swim," says Borut when I eventually clamber ashore. "But as soon as they finish it, they relax."
We refuel with dried fruit, nuts, wafer biscuits and hot chocolate. Then, as a party of bemused Australian wedding guests arrive in gondolas, we leave. We swim around the island, back to where we started, and then, after lunch, tackle the full 2km length of the lake. As we reach the far shore, we realise that we've attracted a small crowd of spectators.
"Are you guys in some kind of competition?" asks a man.
"No. We're on holiday," we reply.
He seems confused. "You guys live around Lake Bled?"
"No, we're from England."
We swim on: a short burst to Lake Bled's lido, with sunbeds and showers. Here, we can rest, as the sun begins to set over the green hills.
The next morning, we drive up into the mountains, where we will cross the Italian border to swim in Lake Predil.
On the way we pass Mount Triglav (2,864m). "There is a saying that you are not Slovenian until you have climbed it," says Sasha, one of our guides, who first scaled the country's highest peak when he was five.
Martin expands upon his quasi-mystical worldview: my blue T-shirt has good energy, my black jumper not so much. Lake Bled's energy is strong, though Bohinj's is more powerful still, and our current location is exceptional. "This is a very special place," he says "People here live for 90, 100 years."
After Lake Predil, we return for a short dip at Kozjak waterfall. The icy water and tumbling stream encourage an atmosphere of elemental fun. Mido, the photographer accompanying us, says he overheard an Italian family discussing us, but the only words he could make out were "primitive tribe".
Back in the van, as we descend the Soca valley, I bask in the clear-headed exhaustion that follows cold water immersion. Limestone in the river turns it a cloudy, luminous cyan. Its rapids make it popular for watersports, but at a peaceful stretch we swim for 2km through the Caribbean blue.
This swim seems unexpectedly easy. Either the current's helping me, I think, or I'm getting better. But the next morning sees our final and hardest challenge: 4km across Lake Bohinj. We take a cable car up a mountain and look down on the glassy, dark blue expanse. If the boats seem small, we think, how much punier still would a fluorescent-capped swimmer look, inching across the vast lake?
My shoulders ache, and I'm tempted simply to lie down on the shore in the morning sun - but it's too late to pull out. I start, and soon find myself seemingly alone in the middle of the lake. I begin watching my own thoughts, remembering how Martin said he could hypnotise himself in the water. The guides tell me to move over and I laboriously correct myself, reaching the warmer water on the lake's edge to join the others.
And, suddenly, that's it. We say hasty goodbyes and, in a Mazda emblazoned with a picture of himself, Martin drives me back to Ljubljana, where he insists that I meet his nutritionist. Like Martin, he carries a small pendulum which can apparently assess energy levels, and, based on its information, he concocts a tiredness remedy for me.
Like much about Martin, I find the mixture a little hard to swallow. But Martin's faith in the power of nature is well-founded. Over three days in Slovenia, I swam further than I had ever done before, repeated that distance several times, and then doubled it. Had I been in a chlorine-ridden indoor pool, I'm not sure I would have found the energy.
Jonathan Knott, August 2011
This article was first published in the Guardian.
"When the sea is as smooth as this, it seems a crime to use anything other than the breast stroke"
Swimming historian and author of Hung Out to Dry Chris Ayriss joins the veteran outdoor swimmers at Penzance
As the first signs of a new day shone through the bedroom window, I reached for my wife's watch. Gently stirring, she asked about the weather: "calm and sunny" was not the report that she was hoping for, the warm comfortable bed seeming infinitely preferable to a dawn swim in a September sea - but as conditions were favourable there was simply no excuse for a lie in.
We were staying with friends in their beautiful cottage overlooking St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. We had arranged to join the Penzance swimmers for their daily morning plunge in the early hours. A cup of tea and a short car ride later found us outside the Jubilee Pool on the seafront. This iconic lido looked cold, sad and lonely as we peered through the tightly locked gates, but thankfully this was not our ultimate destination. Walking along the footpath to the left of this celebrated pool, we joined a group of sea swimmers who truly appreciate the benefits of swimming in the wild.
We arrived at 7:15am and were greeted by a warm and friendly group of very active veteran swimmers. Some quite elderly members were already gliding across the water, setting the pace for those of us have yet to reach the twilight years. Then, yet more swimmers arrived, who quickly changed and stepped into the water with the enthusiasm of a group of commuters anxious to find a place on the tube. I found it refreshing and uplifting to encounter this group of smiling enthusiasts, who so obviously enjoy their exercise. Their fervour and glee springs from a daily bath in the swirling waters of the Atlantic. Like me, you might remember the spring in the step of those who discovered the fountain of youth in the film Cocoon. Here in Penzance, the passion for swimming is not a Hollywood mirage; rather, it is a tangible exuberance for life and friendship born of a shared passion for open water swimming.
In rough conditions, most swim from the slipway in the harbour, even if they occasionally get chased away by an unsympathetic and 'jobsworth' boatman. But a few insist on swimming from the Battery Rocks, even if only for a few strokes, knowing that they will emerge from the sea reborn for the day ahead. As I swam with my friends, the conditions were perfect. The water's surface shone like a mirror, giving a depth and richness to the magnificent view of the sun rising over St Michael's Mount. When the sea is as smooth as this, it seems a crime to use anything other than the breast stroke for swimming. My hands cut into the water rather like spoons slicing into a perfectly clear jelly. By swimming with care it was possible to maintain a crystal, bubble free view of the waters deep beneath me.
Much has been written about the Jubilee Pool, which in its heyday was packed with Penzance swimmers. But now that 'Mr Elf' and 'Mrs Safety' have seen to it that the slide and diving boards have been plucked from the poolside, most of the swimmers have jumped back into the sea. Majestic as the aging pool looks, its memory lives on through the swimmers who take to the waters daily, beyond its walls, in the freedom of the Atlantic. I returned to swim each morning until the end of my holiday and encountered the sea through a range of moods. From calm, placid and glass-like, to stormy and cross as the wind speeds approached a near gale. Clear skies on one day were replaced by blankets of cloud, mist and fog (or heat mist according to the Cornish). Even on the roughest of days I thoroughly enjoyed swimming in these hypnotic waters.
As the Wild Swimming movement attracts more and more followers, there has been no shortage of advice to comfort those who need their hand held as they step into the unfamiliar environment of the outdoor swimmer. What a contrast to the Penzance Swimmers, who with the minimum of equipment, without fuss, pomp or ceremony, take time each day to indulge a passion that keeps them out of the doctors, and very much connected with living one day at a time.
It is a delight to be acquainted with the 'belles of Penzance'; the beautiful ladies who have their youth renewed each morning by an invigorating encounter with Neptune. Those gentlemen, who are privileged to swim with them in the rejuvenating seaside waters, discover that there is wisdom in the ritual of a cold water bath. And as for me; I learned that it's not how old you grow that matters. It's how you grow old that really counts.
Chris Ayriss, September 2011
"It takes more than the weather to stop the kiwis"
Lara Hayward's red OSS hat draws attention as she explores wild swimming in New Zealand
As I touched the end of the lane after completing a pool set at Freyberg Pool in Oriental Bay, Wellington, the second person that session asks me about my bright red swimming cap. Thankfully, the second person doesn't think it necessary to comment on the fact that although my hat says "Outdoor Swimming Society" I am swimming inside.
The hat has attracted a lot of interest since I arrived in Wellington in February (from the UK) and this is indicative of the number of outdoor swimmers that reside in Wellington and its suburbs.
My first foray into Wellington waters was at the Splash and Dash series held over the summer months (in NZ this means December to February). This aquathlon series sees participants arrive straight from work for a swim circuit of Oriental Bay followed by a 3-5k run on the promenade. Surrounded by the affluent houses that extend high up on Mount Victoria and over into Roseneath, to me, the bay evokes a scene similar to that of the Amalfi Coast or Sausalito in California. On that day, the glorious sunshine and the number of people out enjoying the outdoors, meant that I could easily see why people say "you can't beat Wellington on a good day."
In Oriental Bay, the unofficial distance markers are the fountain - which marks the half-way point for a 700m swim, and the lighthouse - a 2.8km round trip. The swim to the lighthouse also serves as the course for the upcoming Capital Classic swim, held in January, and part of the NZ State Ocean Series.
Generally, the water in the bay is clear and sublime, but a Wellington swim is not without its obstacles. In March of this year, a regular outdoor swimmer and triathlete found herself with unwanted company in the form of a baby orca that was merrily tracing her strokes as she swam. Apparently, it is not uncommon for orcas to swim into the bay. I will quickly have to learn how to deal with this prospect, given my previous penchant for jumping a mile out of the River Cam following unwanted entanglement in reeds.
Aside from giant sea mammals, the other main barrier to a stress-free outdoor swim is the notorious Wellington weather. When a cold southerly wind blows, your face feels like it is being slapped with a frosty kipper when walking around town, let alone when in the water. Needless to say, my outdoor swims have been limited throughout winter. Cue lots of 'whinging pom' jokes.
It takes more than the weather to stop the kiwis, however. Several hardy Wellingtonians brave the bay every Sunday at 8.00am, continuing throughout the off-season. A number of these outdoor swimming veterans are part of Barb's Tri and Swim Fit Club. Having swum at a couple of Barb's training sessions and had the most fun I've had in a pool since visiting Center Parcs as a child (I didn't get out much), I am looking forward to venturing into the bay with Barb's team once the weather gets a bit warmer.
Personally, my favourite thing about swimming in Wellington is the sense of community amongst swimmers - something that is akin to the camaraderie I experienced amongst fellow OSS members back home. When out swimming in the bay, or even in the pool, I frequently bump into swimmers I have met before, be it in the pool or outdoors, and have even been for an impromptu splash around the bay with one of them who I had only just met.
Whilst Oriental Bay is probably the most frequented swim spot in New Zealand's capital, there are also many others that deserve a mention:
Scorching Bay has it all - beautiful sandy beaches, small rocky outcrops, the opportunity to spot local sealife and, best of all, a slight sheltering from the wind. The Scorching Tri series is held here throughout the summer. Indeed, any of the Bays around Wellington's peninsula are fabulous for a quick dip.
For lido fans, Wellington doesn't disappoint. From October to March, Thorndon pool opens its gates and becomes a hive of activity at lunchtime for city workers who don't have enough time to get to Oriental Bay.
For river swimmers (and film fanatics) there are several options, but my particular favourite is the Pakuratahi River. This magical spot offers a couple of deep and shallow pools that are close to the location used for filming the Rivendell scenes in Lord of the Rings. As filming for the Hobbit is currently underway, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Orlando Bloom will be the next person to comment on my swimming hat.
Lara Hayward, September 2011
Outdoor swimming writer Chris Ayriss, author of the book Hung out to Dry, looks at our changing attitudes to the sun.
What could be more attractive than plunging into cool clear water on a hot summer's day? The thought must have appealed to all ages, but it was following the First World War that it arguably came to epitomise the British ideal - when the combination of clean water, fresh air and sunshine seemed a perfect antidote for a society that had been reshaped by the the Industrial Revolution.
Our cities became centres of manufacturing, with trade extending worldwide. But as production increased year on year, the skies filled with smoke - and in winter, deadly smog. Living conditions for the working class were cramped and unhealthy. Virtual slave labour in the factories and mills took its toll on the workforce, affecting their physical and mental health.
Things came to a head when the world was plunged into the War. The lack of healthy conscripts available sent shock waves through the country, galvanising the desire of philanthropists and politicians to effect sweeping changes in the post war years. Healthy outdoor living was seen as a remedy for the sickly condition of the working class.
Young swimmers seemed to epitomise the ideal: male youths, strong and confident, carried the hopes of the nation for its future security should the ugly face of war ever show itself again. Outdoor living and lido life infused British culture, as evidenced by the increasing number of swimmers heading off to the river, pool or beach on a hot summer's day.
Sunbathing and swimming were soon intertwined in the psyche of British society, and the link sparked an exodus of swimmers from the hundreds of river and lake swimming clubs into newly opened lidos. At the time, the trend was seen as both progressive and essential. But this link has arguably also proved detrimental to outdoor swimming in the UK.
After all, the sun shone brighter, longer, and more dependably just a short flight away in Spain or France. And as travel became cheaper and holidaymakers ventured abroad, lidos fell into disuse and many were laid to rest underneath new housing and modern developments. Cold water bathing lost its attraction for most people, and the British seaside suffered from a prolonged period of depression.
At the same time, the sun has been transformed from a faithful friend, the source of healthful healing rays, into a foe, likely to savage the skin of children and send the rest of us on a collision course with skin cancer. The surfing era has brought down the price of wetsuits, so that now all can afford to cosset their children in a warm neoprene: children can play in Britain's cooler summer seas whilst enjoying complete protection from the sun. Yet something seems a little askew.
In the Sunday Times of May 29th Health Editor: Sarah-Kate Templeton, reported that our indoor lifestyle deprives us of the sunlight we need to stay healthy. Family doctors are routinely prescribing vitamin D injections to "combat conditions ranging from aches and tiredness to diabetes, arthritis and multiple sclerosis."
"Vitamin D requires sunlight to convert it from an inactive to an active form." Parents today are protecting their children from the sun so effectively that their children are reaping the same penalty as their ancestors - brought up under the polluted skies and spending much of their time indoors as child labours of our shady past.
Surely in our enlightened times, we realise that sunlight helps prevent rickets and strengthen bones. According to a well publicised recent study, women who spend just three hours a day in the sunshine can halve their risk of breast cancer.
An awareness of the potential risks of exposing skin to the sun has perhaps made us overlook its positive side. As with all things in life, reason and balance are preferable to extremism. In Britain we have now swung from sun worship to sun dread, but outdoor swimming offers, as it did to our predecessors, a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the health benefits of a little sunshine. I enjoy outdoor swimming whatever the weather, but the water always has more sparkle when the sun comes out to play!
To grasp the full impact the seaside holiday has had on swimmers read: Hung Out to Dry, Chapter 3; 'Sex, Sea and swimming trunks'. To discover how swimmers have been disadvantaged by the sunbathing era read chapter 4, 'Sunny Days, Dark Shadows' and 5 'Lidos Open, Rivers Close'.
Chris Ayriss, August 2011
After a century of using the word, we're still none the wiser about how to pronounce 'lido', finds Jonathan Knott
If you've never been quite sure how to pronounce the word ‘lido', or even exactly what it means, rest assured that you are not the first to have this problem. In fact, these are - even now, almost 100 years after the name was first used on British soil - contentious issues that are still debated.
Lido historian Janet Smith notes that a BBC Radio 4 documentary referred to Brockwell ‘lie-do', while using ‘lee-do' for the original Venetian island. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists the pronunciation as ‘lee-do' (like the Italian), but there's still no consensus.
On an online forum for recollections about Ruislip Lido in north London, one person wrote recently: "I can still remember the discussions we had on the pronunciation of the Lido [in the 1950s].
Many wanted to follow the style of other open-air swimming pools and call it ‘Lie-do', but Dad insisted on ‘Lee-do'. I don't know why, but I believe he had read about Venice Lido somewhere and thought that was right."
For Ruislip Lido in particular, it wasn't just the pronunciation of the name, but the name itself that caused problems. The lido became a flashpoint for a debate on the very nature of lidos when it opened in 1936. Some felt that the construction of an art deco pavilion and a designated bathing area did not justify using the name for what was essentially a reservoir. A leading article in The Times, entitled ‘Bathing Snobs', thundered: "A vulgar age can hardly make any but vulgar additions to its vocabulary...[but] there is no excuse for calling a suburban reservoir by the name of an Italian seaside resort."
But was it really so inappropriate? The Serpentine in London became the first pool to adopt the name officially in 1930, which may have been in part because it enabled the alliterative nickname ‘Lansbury's lido' (after George Lansbury, its founder) - but the use quickly spread across the country. When London County Council sanctioned its use for other pools in 1937, writes Janet Smith in Liquid Assets, a committee member excitedly scribbled a note saying "You can call them lidos now!"
The word's use surely evoked such strong reactions because it symbolised a different way of life: sunnier, more relaxed - and foreign. Waterlog author Roger Deakin believed that borrowing the word, as with café or champagne, illustrated our "Anglo-Saxon awkwardness about the pleasures of the flesh" - something that has been commented on by others, too. Tracy Emin has said of visiting the lido in her youth that "it made Margate seem like the Mediterranean".
If Ruislip's lido inspired a similar feeling in locals, who were the editorial staff of The Times to deprive it of the name? In fact, as the article concluded, what mattered was not the etymology of the name, but that the lido was a "deserving effort to provide recreation for the people".
Whether we Anglicise the pronunciation (underlining, perhaps, how lidos have become a part of our own culture) or preserve the Italian (stressing their exoticism), swimmers will surely be united in gratitude for the touch of continental glamour that the pools bring to our chilly shores - and in expressing that gratitude with a heartfelt grazie mille - 'a thousand thank yous'.
Two websites have recently been launched which allow outdoor swimmers to share their experiences online.
Speedo's 'Unforgettable Swims' website features stories from Great Swims founder Colin Hill, among many other lido and outdoor swimmers - and people are encouraged to submit their own swimming stories and photos.
A new website has also been launched by the 'Our Rivers' campaign, which is run by WWF-UK, the RSPB, the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association, to encourage the government to take action to ensure Britain's rivers are properly restored and maintained.
Our rivers is running a national survey to assess people's attitudes towards Britain's rivers.
Jonathan Knott, July 2011
Jonathan Knott visits some of Cornwall's beautiful outdoor swimmming spots
As I walk through a persistent drizzle past the masts of the tall ships moored in the harbour of Charlestown, near St Austell, I pass a group of triathletes making their way up the hill. The wind has stirred up quite a swell, forcing them to abandon their sea swimming plans.
With disappointment - and perhaps a touch of relief - I begin to think that my plans to swim with Pauline Barker and Richard Truman, two members of a wild swimming group who meet here each month, may have to be postponed.
'It looks quite rough,' I venture as I reach them. But they are having none of it.
'Go on, be brave. You know you want to!' says Pauline.
So suitably attired in wetsuits and swimming hats, we make our way down to the beach. Once we've stumbled our way through the breaking waves, they assure me, it will be easier to swim. It is - but it remains a battle. Charlestown is host to the National Shipwreck Centre, and as the water rocks me to the side, pushes me back or suddenly falls from beneath me, I can't think of a more appropriate location. My front crawl technique has gone out of the window. 'This is what it's all about', shouts Richard amid the rolling waves.
Usually the group has six or more swimmers. They also regularly meet at Cawsand, and swim at other locations across Cornwall. In today's conditions, we decide to swim a short distance across the harbour before heading in and clambering up the steps to dry land.
'That was a blast,' says Richard, who prefers the weather to when the sea is merely choppy. Pauline says she can't decide whether the swim was more like being in a washing machine or a roller coaster. I know exactly what she means - but what's best about outdoor swimming is that it can be as challenging or as gentle as you make it.
The atmosphere could hardly feel more different to Charlestown, for example, when I arrive at the tiny village of Helford Passage on a sunny spring afternoon: the still, turquoise waters of the tidal Helford River and the lush vegetation on the banks could plausibly be mistaken for the Mediterranean. A holiday mood prevails among the people lying on the beach or sitting at the tables of the riverside pub. I hear some light splashing and see a swimmer coming in to the shore.
'Is it cold?' I ask him after he gets out.
'Yes,' he laughs.
But Chris Carter, it emerges, is no stranger to cold water. He's swum the Channel in the past, visits the area several times a year and says that this clean, sheltered river is an ideal swimming spot.
I'm mindful of his verdict on the temperature, but the water looks too inviting to miss out on. I swim a few strokes out into the estuary and back. It is cold, but amazingly clear and I feel infused with wellbeing afterwards.
I walk down the estuary as its shingle shores are lapped by the clear waters of the outgoing evening tide, and try to capture the scene on camera, but an elderly man I pass has some friendly advice: 'It's never as good in a photograph,' he warns. 'You just have to remember it.'
He's right - and without intending to, I realise he may have put his finger on the growing appeal of outdoor swimming. In our digitally enhanced, virtual world, we relish taking the plunge because it provides a chance for spontaneity and release, focusing our minds back on nature and the present moment.
There is perhaps no better place than Cornwall to find this out - it is a county riddled with exquisite swimming spots. Celebrities like Rick Stein and Eastenders' Steve McFadden have recently helped to raise outdoor swimming's profile by participating in organised swims from Padstow to Rock and across the Fal Estuary. Events like these offer camaraderie and a focus for improving fitness - but with the right planning, it's just as possible to swim independently. Groups like the Charlestown swimmers, or the Cornwall branch of the Outdoor Swimming Society, arrange to meet for regular social swims.
Cornwall's stunning coastline is well known, but inland swims in rivers, estuaries and lakes should not be overlooked. And a fiercely guarded collection of lidos and tidal pools mean that there are countless ways to experience water's inspirational capacity.
On my way back I walk past the man again, who has paused to take in the view.
'Magical, isn't it,' he says. It is - and it's even better if you jump into it!
Jonathan Knott, June 2011
First published in Cornwall Life magazine.
The Canary Islands have a great deal to offer the wild swimmer, finds Chris Ayriss
With historic swims, majestic cliffs and vistas, the Canary Islands take Wild Swimming to new heights. Tenerife is the most popular and urbanised of the Islands: its mountainous nature generates a number of climate zones, with the best of the weather to be experienced on the south coast. The beach resorts of Los Cristianos and Las Americas offer all that is available at the British seaside, with the added appeal of warm sunshine all year round. The fact that two substantial Water Parks attract visitors all year round tells you something about the sub-tropical climate. Siam Park is the most recent and up to date, with water slides built to enable friends and families to share the experience riding together in giant rubber rafts.
The Las Vistas beach of Los Cristianos looks commercialised, yet swimmers cross the bay at its widest point, and once away from the hubbub, views from the water stretch right to the top of Mount Teide. The cone of an extinct volcano forms the hillside to the back of the beach which is lined with shops and restaurants. Countless other volcanoes catch clouds, which ripen to plump purple, adding greatly to the drama of the landscape.
Swimming in clear blue water with your back bathed in sunshine, it feels like you are in paradise. Looking up to the peaks swaddled in blue-black threatening clouds and with the snow capped Teide summit rising above them makes swimming at Las Vistas a particularly memorable experience. You feel as if you are far away from it all, and yet after your swim you are within easy reach of all the amenities you could wish for at a family resort.
Walking along the shoreline from Las Vistas beach towards Las Americas, silver sand beaches give way to a more rugged coast. And here you will find a tidal pool open from 10.00 am until 6.00 pm (but sadly, not every day).
Heading North along the coast you come to Alacala'- a swimmer's joy. Diving from the key into the swirling waters is a delightful experience. As the resort has no beach to speak of, a sunbathing terrace has been constructed with several sets of steps to tempt swimmers into the water. The brilliance of the chrome handrails gives the place the feel of a true lido. Just around the corner a café revives travellers and refreshes swimmers with sea views across a tiny black sand beach to the rock formations beyond.
Playa de Alacala
Masca - Tenerife
For the adventurous, a 'bucket list' round trip between Masca and Los Gigantes is a must. Park your car at Los Gigantes and get a taxi/boat-taxi deal (available from all drivers) and you'll be taken up to Masca through stunning scenery. Arrive early, so that you have plenty of time to descend through the breathtaking sub-tropical ravine to the beach. The boat-taxi picks up three times a day with the last sailing at 4.30 pm.
The descent is difficult in parts; the path criss-crosses a stream with many waterfalls and plunge pools along the way. With the view of cliffs towering above you scraping the clouds, time spent taking photographs and plunging into the pools (each one modest but with an irresistible setting) an early start is essential! Allow a good four hours for the descent alone (some say it can be done in two, but that's for teenagers and mountain goats) and add on time for sightseeing, swimming and picnicking. At the end of your trip you can jump or dive into the sea from the quayside and swim beneath the imposing vertical cliffs whilst you wait for the boat-taxi to take you back to civilisation. This wild swimming experience is unsuitable for small children and the less able.
Garachico on the north coast was partly destroyed by the last volcanic eruption on the island in 1706. As lava slowly descended onto this hapless fishing village the harbour and much of the village was destroyed, though thankfully no lives were lost. Every cloud has a silver lining though, as you will see in Garachico. The fingers of lava that brought devastation to the village have been utilised and converted into swimming pools for holidaymakers. Adults and children jump and dive into the waters overlooked by a museum that memorialises the disaster. The sub-tropical climate and the warm encouragement for swimmers mean you can always be sure of a warm welcome in Tenerife.
Playa de Puerto Mogán
Playa de Puerto Mogán - Gran Canaria
This is a wonderful location, combining a handsome port nicknamed 'Little Venice' with a small and attractive beach resort. You can swim from the beach to the hotel opposite, where you can dive from the steps or swim to the neighbouring resort of Taurito beneath the cliffs.
Sea races are held between these resorts, and no one will find it strange when you set off swimming. Along the way you will discover caves to explore, both large and small, with one of particular interest. Swim along until you find a donut shaped rock about six feet underwater. (If you come to the caves first you will have missed it, so head back and try again.)
We had great fun diving down and swimming back up through the rock circle, that is, until a Spanish swimmer pointed out that if you climb out onto the rocks and walk to the cliff there is a circular plunge pool with two underwater exits. The easier of the two heads away from the beach through a long underwater tunnel. Once you plunge into the pool there is no way out other than by swimming underwater through the cave. (Please note that these activities are for experienced swimmers only.)
The view from the dark tunnel out to the bright blue sea is addictive, and you will want to do it over and over again! Swimming activities here vary with the tide; jumping from the bridge (which joins the port to the beach); diving from a detached part of the sea wall; snorkelling (I saw a ray), and even a ship wreck. For the less adventurous members of the family, a trip on the yellow submarine will provide a voyage to be remembered. Enjoy!
Chris Ayriss, June 2011
Chris Ayriss is author of Hung Out to Dry, a book on the history of wild swimming in the UK.
The latest data on the cleanliness of European bathing waters reveals some worrying trends. But maintaining clean lakes and rivers is essential in more ways than one, writes Rob St John.
Wild swimming in rivers, lakes and streams is increasing in popularity across Europe, as people discover (or, perhaps, rediscover) the pleasure of swimming in freshwaters: unaffected by chlorinated water, stark lights and tightly regimented lanes.
Last week, the findings of the most recent European Union Bathing Water Directive (data here) were published by the European Environment Agency, showing the cleanliness of over 22,000 freshwater and saltwater swimming spots across Europe, from inner city ponds to rural rivers, shown in the Guardian data-blog here.
This data can also be explored through these interactive sites:
However the news for freshwater wild swimmers isn't positive, according to the report:
"In 2010, 90.2 % of inland bathing waters in the European Union were compliant with the mandatory values during the bathing season, a figure 0.8 percentage points higher than in the previous year. The number of inland bathing waters complying with the more stringent guide values decreased by 10.2 percentage points compared to 2009, reaching 60.5 %"
(n.b. guide values describe the standard for "excellent" bathing water quality set by the EU)
This means that c.10% of European freshwater swimming sites does not reach the minimum safety standards set by the EU, potentially posing a health hazard, and serving as a worrying indicator for the health of the wider ecosystem, whilst c.40% do not reach the 'excellent' guide values of water quality.
What is the EU Bathing Water Directive?
The original Bathing Water Directive was adopted by the EU in 1975, and came into force in 1976. It aims to safeguard public health by monitoring the water quality of aquatic environments (both freshwater and saltwater) in which people bathe. Member states of the European Union submit data on measures of water quality, such as chemical pollutants for over 20,000 sites across Europe every 3-4 years. The most recent report describes the water quality for bathing waters in 2010. The terms of the directive are due to get stricter in 2012, when levels of bacteria including E.coli will be added to the assessment criteria.
Why freshwater biodiversity matters to wild swimmers
The drop in inland water quality isn't only a problem for wild swimmers, it is an indication of the wider health of European freshwater ecosystems, and so has wide ranging implications. Healthy, functioning freshwater ecosystems provide a range of ecosystem services, including clean water provision and wildlife habitat alongside recreational services such as wild swimming and fishing. In other words: clean, healthy freshwater ecosystems are crucially important in maintaining human and wildlife populations. The presence of high freshwater biodiversity levels (i.e. the range of plant and animal life in our rivers and lakes) is not only an indicator of a healthy ecosystem, but intrinsically important in maintaining this state - for the benefit of everyone.
This is the underlying message of our work through the BioFresh project, that despite their ecological, economic and recreational importance, freshwater ecosystems are often overlooked by policy makers, the media and the public. This is - in part - due to a lack of reliable data to effectively show the changes taking place in freshwater biodiversity - a shortfall the project aims to address through the creation of enhanced biodiversity databases, modelling visualisation tools.
With the growing popularity of wild swimming across Europe, we hope that more people will become interested in (and maybe help conserve!) the freshwater ecosystems in which they swim. There are plenty of links and resources on freshwater ecosystems to follow through the BioFresh website.
Rob St John, June 2011
First published on the BioFresh blog.
A relay team of six swimmers has completed a record 12-way crossing of Lake Windermere, swimming an incredible total of 126 miles over 75.5 hours, in temperatures of 9-11 degrees C.
Congratulations to Thomas Noblett, Liane Llewellyn, Keith Bartolo, Michelle Lefton, Michelle Sharples and Dee Llewellyn.