Swim Free Webinar 2023

19th April, 2023

On 18th April 2023 The Outdoor Swimming Society partnered with Right to Roam to hold an inland access webinar with alpkit. Watch it now 



Kate Rew opened the webinar with a statement from The OSS and when she was done talking Al Humphries said ‘you should just print that out and put it online and we could all just go swimming now….’. Here it is, why this is important to the OSS, and swimmers:

As some of you will know, The Outdoor Swimming Society was founded in 2006 to normalise the idea of swimming in rivers and lakes and anywhere and everywhere as long as it was outside.

We’re founded on a firm belief that people have a natural right to swim in a lake or river, free of charges, restrictions and rules, and for years many of us have exercised that right as we please, swimming surreptitiously, harmlessly, wherever we wanted. To us, swimming freely in nature is as normal as taking a walk in the countryside.

The OSS has always understood that with the right to swim freely comes the responsibility to do it safely so remain focused on giving people both the inspiration and information to swim. You don’t need a lifeguard if you can look after yourself, and neither do landowners need to put up NO SWIMMING signs as they are not liable for any mistakes that we might make.

Millions of people have joined us over the years. The popularity of swimming has exploded, which is great, but it also makes this a dangerous time for outdoor swimming. Media and commercial narratives have emerged, attempting to commodify our passion, turning it into something to be controlled, tamed, sold and standardised. Even positive narratives, such as potential benefits for mental health, have their dangers, as they can be used to frame swimming as a transaction and the places we swim as places of business.

And that really isn’t the point for most swimmers: swimming is many things to so many people, but at its core for most it’s an immersion in nature, and an amateur pursuit, something done just for the love and experience of it. We are not separate from nature when we swim, we are part of it. We should not have to pay for it, any more than we should pay for a walk in the woods.

We believe a clear right to roam is important for everybody. There’s a widespread collective recognition at the moment that we all need more nature in our lives as a physical and spiritual space. And also that nature needs us to fix things with the planet. Which brings us to a strange point for for free wild spirits: to do what we want to do, we need to engage with legalese and small print.

There aren’t many big water bodies where I live in Somerset so people assume that when I’m training for something I swim in an open water lake down the road. I don’t, that often: the water is lovely, it’s so clean I want to drink it, but to swim there I need to join a queue of cars to get in, pay £7, wait till 9am, take your own lifeguard, sign a disclaimer…. For me, it’s like death from a thousand paper cuts, the admin takes longer than the swim and I just can’t fit it into family life.

I prefer a reservoir down the road: it’s free, I can turn up at 7am or 9pm, and I can cycle there. If I lived in Scotland, that would be fine, I’d have probably made a whole new bunch of friends there by now. Here: officially, not allowed.
It should be. Nature belongs to us just as much as it does anyone else.

So tell us where you trespass in the comments and why, get behind this movement as The OSS and Right to Roam strive to make a difference, thank you so much for alpkit for hosting this tonight and making it happen, and please settle in for a great night ahead.