Archive for the ‘British Waterways’ Category

Gizmodo India reports: It’s almost time for another steamy, sweaty summer in the city-and nothing looks like it might cool you off more than that sparkling waterway winding through the center of your downtown. But can you really swim in it? In more and more cities, the answer is a refreshing yes.

Your grandparents might remember taking a dip in the local stream back in the day, but thanks to decades of environmental ignorance, gallons of industrial sludge and sewage runoff have been collectively diverted into our rivers. Now cities are getting their acts together and restoring their vital waterways for recreation.

Here are seven urban rivers that once were known as polluted, dangerous places, but are now (or soon will be) places where you can jump right in-the water’s fine.

Charles River, Boston

Charles River opened for its first public swim in 50 years

Last summer, the Charles River opened for its first public swim in 50 years, as a section cordoned off by buoys and manned by lifeguards was opened for two hours. Once given a D rating by the Environmental Protection Agency, environmentalists halted the flow of sewage into the Charles, and its rating has improved to a solid B, thanks to groups like the Charles River Conservancy and the Charles River Swimming Club, which is hosting a one-mile swim in the river this weekend. Even though the river has come a long way, advocates still have some work to do: “The bottom of the river remains a toxic mess, but if a swimmer can get in and out of the water without touching the squishy bottom, no tetanus shot is necessary.”

Los Angeles River, Los Angeles

South Platte River, Denver

Spree River, Berlin

Elizabeth River, Virginia

Thames River, London

East River, New York City

In Leicester the River Soar has been clean enough for swimming for very many years. Leicesters citizens were at one time encouraged to enjoy its waters. Aylestone Boathouse Lido, the swimming area created for workers at the gas works, The Bede House Bathing Station, Castle Gardens swimming area. Soar Lane Coal Wharf, North Bridge, Abbey Park and the Abbey Meadows bathing Stations are now all closed. Discover why…

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Swimming in the River Cam

In an article about Jack Overhill his summertime childhood experiences are an inspiration:

“Jack was a dedicated swimmer, becoming the most celebrated river-swimmer in Cambridge. Having entered the water aged one he first swam when he was three and by the age of four was a clever diver. Paramount Sound News could not persuade the shy young Jack to talk when they filmed his prowess. He was later one of the self-styled New Town Water Rats who almost lived at the swimming place on Sheep’s Green in the summer.”

“He swam all year, rarely missing a day and won the first of many trophies when 19, by then a lean six-footer . In winter, Jack would often break through the ice to take a dip, such was his enthusiasm. Jack founded the successful Granta Swimming Club in 1934. In his unpublished book, “Swimming for Fun”, written at the suggestion of his friend Neil Bell, he embodied all his experiences with swimming.”

Discover more about swimming in Cambridge…

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Malcolm Tozer Reviews: Hung Out to Dry: Swimming and British Culture, in the Spring Edition of Physical Education Matters.


It was by chance that your reviewer came across this privately published social history of swimming and the evident enthusiasm of its author – devotee of outdoor bathing and self-taught historian – prompted the request for a copy. Chris Ayriss’s idiosyncratic approach is as refreshing as the waters he loves and the ebb and flow of his story matches that of meandering stream; you never know what is round the next bend.

The Blue Lagoon Bristol 1937

The book spans ancient and modern, from the Roman occupation of Britain right up to the health-and-safety madness of present times. On the journey we meet bathing to satisfy superstitious, ritualistic, religious, medical, sensual, sexual, naturist, hygienic and escapist needs – amongst others – sometimes with the active approval of society, sometimes not. It would seem that skinny-dipping just for fun was never as simple as that.

Henleaze Lake Bristol 1932

Bathing’s real boom began in the mid-Victorian period when Thomas Cook introduced cheap rail excursions to seaside resorts; week-long factory closures saw whole towns decamp to Skeggie or Clacton; Billy Butlin’s promise of a week’s holiday for a week’s wage led to the popularity of holiday camps; major resorts competed for the biggest lidos and the highest diving boards; and inland cities provided their own riverside beaches and swimming lakes. Some marvellous photographs show packed crowds on Blackpool beach in 1949, with no room to swing a spade; sand-castle building in the shadow of London’s Tower Bridge in 1939; a sardine-jammed lido in Bristol in 1937; and fantastic multiple diving platforms at Henleaze and Weston-super-Mare.

London-on-Sea 1939

The demise from the 1960s was sudden: it came with the introduction of cheap flights to Mediterranean beaches; the delights of sun and sangria; the building of corporation indoor swimming complexes; riverside landowners denying right of access; health concerns about polluted rivers, canals and lakes; and safety worries over unsupervised bathing. Recent evidence from my outlook in Cornwall suggests that a partial recovery is underway – helped by the economic recession, the popularity of ‘staycations’, and the ready availability of wetsuits. Is the bucket-and-spade holiday back in fashion?

Wild Swimming

All this is told in a jaunty style. A bevy of blurred boys’ bare bottoms may see the book banned from school libraries, but there is much here to inform and entertain all who have ever delighted in a midnight skinny-dip – outdoors, of course.

Hung Out to Dry: Swimming and British Culture, by Chris Ayriss, Lulu.com, 2012, £14.50, ISBN 978-0-557-12428-2

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A retired police frogman is warning of the dangers of swimming in open water after a haunting experience over 50 years ago.

See article…

“I just want to warn people of the dangers of the Wharfe, not just at Collingham but all along, especially now the warm weather is here,” added Mr Waugh.

“I remember we attended a tragic incident at the river Wharfe at Collingham where I recovered the bodies of two local schoolchildren.”

“The thing that struck me on this occasion and many other similar occurrences is that these tragedies can occur in shallow water, children simply lose balance, panic and drown.”

Mr Waugh issued his warning in response to the story recently run in the Wetherby News which highlighted posts made by members of the public on the Outdoor Swimming Society’s wildswim website recommending swimming in the Wharfe at Collingham.

“I just want to warn people of the dangers of the Wharfe, not just at Collingham but all along, especially now the warm weather is here,” added Mr Waugh.

“The river Wharfe is beautiful but extremely dangerous.

Mr Waugh said the police team was the first of its kind in the country and was formed to avoid the use of grappling hooks, and to persuade all mill owners to have their mill dams drained.

“My team used to visit schools and continually warn children of these dangers.

“I would like to think that in doing so we saved many lives.

“And I just want to get the message across to children and parents not to swim in the rivers.

“There are many hidden dangers and it is very easy to slip and then people panic and then the cold gets to you.”

But Lynne Roper, acting press officer for the Outdoor Swimming Society said they needed factual data to suggest that the stretch of water posed a danger to swimmers.

“We can’t just make a blanket ban. All rivers and open water pose dangers but what we need is actual evidence that we can see.”

She added: “We are not in the business of encouraging inappropriate behaviour around water.

“On the contrary we aim to allow the safe enjoyment of water in the outdoors; we spread awareness about issues such as cold acclimatisation and the specific dangers associated with open water (such as river currents, floods, and rip currents in the sea) so that people are informed enough to make their own risk assessments and judgements about where is safe to swim.”

And Ms Roper added: “Several of our members have swum safely in the river Wharfe at Collingham when conditions are right.

“Some of the comments left on the OSS wild swim map at the location in Collingham only serve to perpetuate misinformation.

“There is no such thing as a “hidden whirlpool” and all dangerous river features are visible if you know what to look for and what to expect.

Encouraging the safe appreciation of rivers, lakes and the sea through the promotion of understanding, knowledge and expertise should be a shared goal.

“Dire warnings to stay away from water have never worked and clearly continue not to work.” More…

Swim Smart – advice for adults who wish to swim in open water

Swim Safe – advice for adults and children



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Bathing in River Lea, pre swimming pool. Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

Public demand for facilities for swimming and bathing

On Friday 31 October 1930 in the British Legion Headquarters a public enquiry was held into the building of a swimming pool in Welwyn Garden City. Read the account by Susan Hall here…


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The Old Bathing Place Witney

The Oxford Mail Reports on the restoration of the site: “…as we stood there looking out over the river from the site of the original changing cubicles, the views were almost indistinguishable from photographs taken in the early years of the 20th century.”

During the restoration a number of original features were discovered, including steps leading into the river, a handrail for swimmers along the river wall, fixings for the spring board and a taller diving platform.

The concrete bases of the former changing cubicles were also discovered and a new paved area has been created to highlight their location.

Local historian Stanley Jenkins said: “It started in the 1920s and was very popular in its day. You used to have to pay thrupence to get in.

“It remained in use until the 1970s when the council built the indoor swimming pool.”

District council cabinet member for communities Richard Langridge said: “Not only is this area a great place to relax and enjoy some tranquil space in the middle of the busy town, but it also gives people the opportunity to learn about Witney’s rich history and how the town has evolved since the early 1900s.”


Why is it that in the UK outdoor swimming opportunities like this have closed whereas they remain open and alive to this day across Europe and America? It took me 10 years to find the answer…

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Tiverton River Swimming Race 1949

New display in the Exe Valley Leisure Centre

A new summer display in the entrance of the Exe Valley Leisure Centre includes some lovely vintage swimming costumes and this fantastic photo of a race in 1949.

Discover the rich history of British Swimming…

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