Archive for the ‘canal swimming’ Category


The Guardian reports: Standing in his swimming trunks, Gilles looked up at the modern grey apartment buildings and trees that lined the Paris canal. He took a deep breath, then dived into the dark mass of water that had been officially banned to swimmers for decades.

“Bliss,” he said after doing 500m of front crawl, occasionally brushing past bits of green algae in the new temporary swimming zone at La Villette canal basin, where Parisians can take their first legal dip in a city waterway for a century.

“It’s symbolic,” said the 45-year-old film director, drying off. “It shows a future is possible where we can reverse pollution, where we can make things cleaner and reclaim nature. I hate the smell of bleach and chlorine in public pools. This open-air water is cloudy and you can’t see the bottom, but it makes me feel secure. I feel like I’m taking possession of nature again.”

After decades in which casual bathing in Paris’s river and canals has been banned for a variety of reasons, including fears of bacteria and sewage pollution, authorities are moving to give swimmers more access to the murky waters that were once off limits.

The temporary floating structure that has opened at La Villette as part of the summer festival, Paris Plages, allows swimmers to plunge into the water of the Canal de l’Ourcq free of charge, with lifeguards standing by. Parisians are so keen to try it that huge queues form each morning, and it has had to close by mid-afternoon on some days after reaching its daily quota of 1,000 swimmers. More…


Chris Ayriss comments: When you see what has been done to open up access to outdoor swimmers you have to ask; why can’t we do the same in the UK? Well of course we could, but our fundimental attitude towards open water swimming would have to change. As it is, open water swimmers in England have been hung out to dry!


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Attitudes towards river and lake swimming in the UK have changed considerably in past decades. In 1908 the book; Scouting for Boys” by Robert Baden-Powell included some straightforward advice – “A moderate swimmer can save the life of a drowning man if he knows how, and has practiced a few times with his friends.” The British were then proud of their swimmers, but as times changed and swimmers were moved indoors the Nation became more and more suspicious of outdoor swimming.

In 1973 the public safety film Lonely Water did in one and a half minutes what authorities had been trying to do for decades, scare people out of open water. Fears about water quality and hidden weeds had set the seeds of suspicion but this film drove the final nails into the coffin of old style wild swimming. Parents made certain that their youngsters were not going to fall pray to the grim reaper.

Now as only ‘fools, show offs and those who ignore no swimming signs’ were still splashing about, water safety advice changed from how to enjoy the water and help others into on no account go in to open water.

This Week our health and safety culture cost the life of a young man: Jack Susianta, who drowned in the canal as a hundred people looked on in horror. The Mirror reports: “Police officers refused to enter a canal to help a drowning boy and prevented bystanders from jumping in… he tried to escape from the police (who were perusing him out of concern for his safety) he ended up in a canal at Lea Bridge Road, Hackney. Eyewitnesses said Jack was struggling to swim but refused to grab on to rings which were thrown towards him.”

“As around a hundred people watched on, Fiona Okonkwo, 42, said she wanted to go in to try and help Jack but officers wouldn’t allow her. She told the Evening Standard: “The police officers refused to jump in after him and said they can’t do it. I was going to jump in after him but they stopped me. “The police told us there were weeds underneath the water, that it was too dangerous and they could get dragged down.” Another witness wrote online: “The police were trying to help him get out but he purposefully was moving away from help.” Witnesses claimed one police officer eventually entered the water around ten minutes after Jack failed to resurface.”

Their is no doubt that the police officers involved would not have taken their decision lightly. But just compare attitudes today with those a few decades ago. I feel certain that this boy would not have died if even one boy scout of the old school were somewhere nearby.

Education saved lives in the past, and it can do it again.

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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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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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Head Weir, Open Air Bathing Place Exeter

Outdoor Swimming was at one time encouraged as healthy and essential exercise. Well managed and incredibly popular bathing stations like this one in Exeter were built up and down the country.  It hardly seems possible that not long after this photograph was taken our nation of outdoor swimmers found themselves chased out of open water, rounded up and confined to indoor swimming pools. River and lake swimming, once seen as so good for us, continues to be popular across Europe and America whilst here in Great Britain outdoor swimmers were pourtrayed as irresponsible. It is only in Britain that we need the Outdoor Swimming Society and the River and Lake Swimming Association to represent our interests.

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Children swimming in the river at Thetford, August 28, 1964

Children swimming in the river at Thetford, August 28, 1964

The promise of summer is just arround the corner. Did you enjoy happy summer days like this?

If you did you probably still do when you get the chance, but in the UK we are facing resistance when it comes to river and lake swimming.

No one wants a happy day to end in tragedy, but with good education – outdoor swimming can be fun.

Lets all swim safe this summer!

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