Dipping at Dame’s Delight – a celebration of women

08th March, 2018

Dip a Day swimmer and artist Helen Edwards hosted a Dame’s Delight swim in honour of International Women’s Day today (8 March), OSS Ambassador Ella Foote joined in the celebration on the banks of the River Cherwell in Oxford.


It was a joy to swim with Helen and other women today on International Women’s Day, it was wonderful to celebrate female swimmers – a tribe within a tribe. Strong, courageous and spirited women make up a large part of the swimming community and I am proud to be one of them. Helen picked the perfect spot on the River Cherwell, brilliantly named Dame’s Delight!

Dame’s Delight was a place for women to bathe in the nude on the bank of the River Cherwell in the meadows near the Oxford University Parks. It existed from 1934 to 1970, when it closed because of maintenance difficulties caused by flooding. You can still dip and swim here – Helen hopes to bring swimming back to the spot. Dame’s Delight sat adjacent to Parson’s Pleasure, which was a secluded area for male-only nude bathing and was traditionally frequented by dons of the University.

Six of us enjoyed the area today, taking joy in sharing swimming stories and experience. One swimmer, Sally Brooking, (pictured above) joined us for her first outdoor swim ever. Helen brought a small wooden ladder, splatted with paint, and markers made out of twigs and 50s fabric. The ladder was sunk at the water’s edge so we could safely get in and out, it was pure pleasure sinking into the stirred up Cherwell. After snow melt and rain, the river was high and rushing, but a comfortable five degrees and we used the shelter of a low-growing tree to ease our way up stream.

Once dry, tea and cake in our hands, Helen read out newspaper extracts of women’s experiences of swimming at Dame’s Delight. I loved Helen’s gleeful account by Barbara Bunyan.

“A gang of us would walk down Banbury Road, South Parks Road and along the long sandy track, which seemed endless, until we reached the Parks and rollers – hot and sticky. With eyes forward passing Parson’s Pleasure (the men’s nude bathing place), we hurried over the rickety wooden gang plank construction to the grassy bank and huts lining the river’s edge and got our swimming gear on as quickly as possible. Bliss! A quick dive into the water to cool off – not even the green, murky appearance put us off, nor were we concerned when our toes mingled with the muddy bottom and weeds of the river, with the occasional dead fish floating by! The refreshing coolness of the water was wonderful. After an hour or so and exhausted, we trekked back to the city centre for tea and buns at Lyons’ Corner House at Carfax, by which time we were tired and hot and sticky all over again!”

We were pleased not to have seen any dead fish and I particularly liked the description of toes mingling. Even in the 1950s, swimming was followed by tea and cake.

To all the women across the world, happy International Women’s Day. As a swimmer, I have a lot to be thankful for from the women who have swam before me and fought for equal rights and opportunities in my sport and hobby. I hope we continue to unite and make progress for all humankind.