Rivers are a special type of swim, a journey more than an entry. They have their own movement, their own story within our landscape. As swimmers we meander down them, experiencing our banks at eye level – the waving fronds, the aquatic plants that shift as we pass. The land swells above us, trees rising like giants, the cool clarity of the water reconnecting us with the shifting of nature. Rivers are an expedition, an exploration and a celebration of the ceaseless quiet change of the natural world.
As swimmers, enraptured by the joy of clean water, we celebrate the importance of our rivers. The OSS, in collaboration with a well-known environmental agency, is running a test project to see how we can increase the number of waterways that are of bathing water quality as classified by DEFRA. We are seeking to identify popular river swim spots and cross reference these with data on pollution. From this, we aim to identify rivers that would benefit from improved water quality and then apply for designation as Bathing Waters.
We will be recruiting a number of active swimmers to monitor and test these local rivers over the course of the summer, from May to September. To express your interest and share your special place, please submit the short online questionnaire. The relationship between swimmers and the water is born of respect, even reverence, and we hope, like us, you feel passionately about conserving our rivers.
Many members of the Outdoor Swimming Society team are river lovers. Here, they share what makes them so special:
If I could only swim in one type of water for the rest of my life, it’d be rivers. Rivers are my first love and my most enduring. I love everything about them: the way they change and age as they travel, being picked up and carried along with the flow, the way being sunk to water level changes your perspective. A lot of manmade structures disappear from view in high sided rivers, leaving only trees and uninterrupted sky, making your own doorstep seem wilder and more beautiful. I even love swimming in them at night: floating downstream like a starfish listening to the sounds of drowned twigs in my ears, birds crashing into trees.
I love rivers so much I even got married by one, at Farleigh Riverbank Club, with a first swim rather than a first dance. Friends sang: “I went down to the river to pray”. If I could live close enough, I would too, every day.
I have swum in rivers on days when I am in a foul mood, or a great hurry. Unlacing my shoes and preparing to swim I have cursed myself as an idiot: the water will be cold, I’ll get mud between my toes, I don’t have a towel, I don’t have time. And without fail I have emerged from the water a new man, bouncing and invigorated by the cold, my mind recharged and refreshed and caring not a hoot that my hair is wet and I am five minutes behind schedule.
Find Alistair on Instagram @al_humphreys
There’s nothing better than a dip in a river pool, no matter the weather. On a warm summer’s day, it relaxes me, letting my thoughts drift away. On a brutal winter’s day, it shocks me into life. I’ve shared river swims with birds, fish, eels, friends. My particular favourites are rivers with clear, bright water, where I can dive under and watch the shapes light makes as it dances on submerged rocks.
Rivers are a journey embraced by landscape, swimming invisible through towns, through water warmed by sun heated mudflats and thermoclines. Passing birds at eye level, through dancing insects, tiny ghosts on a sunny day. Dark, dark shadows, scary as you pass; how cold it is when you venture in, how warm when you venture out.
Stepping into a river is like stepping into another world – you get to follow a highway with very few other people on it. Rivers have been a part of my entire life. When I moved to Scotland I was studying geography and I got to know how they worked, how important they were, and my love of them grew. Now I like exploring them at water level, being immersed, watching the leaves swirl under the water.