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The National reports: Robert Hamilton’s dream of an open water regulator was torpedoed by near unanimous opposition from swimmers and swimming organisations, who said they were unwanted, unnecessary and overly commercial.

Unlike in England and Wales, where laws about open swimming are unclear, in Scotland, swimmers have a right to swim freely in open spaces.

Hamilton, along with commercial pilot Stewart Griffiths and swimmer Phia Steyn, had announced plans to establish the Scottish Open Water Swimming Association (SOWSA) to “promote and grow safe open water swimming within Scotland through co-operation between relevant stakeholders and partners in the country”.

Their proposal was to gather “open water swimmers, coaches, event organisers, boat pilots, health and safety professionals, landowners, local and national tourism bodies and relevant heritage and conservation bodies into one body with the aim of promoting and growing safe open water swimming in Scotland”.

But across the country, fans of outdoor aquatics were furious at what they saw as an attempt to limit access to lochs and water, potentially resulting in swimmers being forced to cough up cash for a dip.

There was opposition too from the British Long Distance Swimming Society (BLDSA) and the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS),

In response to a consultation set up by Hamilton’s group, OSS said: “The establishment of a self-appointed regulatory body with power over all swimming events, venues and pilots in Scotland would create a commercial monopoly that would stifle, restrict and standardise the market, and restrict rather than improve swimming in Scotland.”

A joint response to the consultation from 28 different prominent swimmers complained they had not been made aware of the consultation, and were uncomfortable with a charity representing open water swimmers being proposed by “three people who are known to be closely involved in one of the most heavily advertised commercial companies running open water events and providing services to open water swimmers in Scotland”.

Discover why wild swimmers have faced restriction in England?

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Having spent a fortnight touring France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland I am left with many questions about the disparity between European and British swimming culture. From my perspective as a swimmer, and as Brexit draws closer, I wonder if we were ever really part of Europe at all. Switzerland is bordered, and very much influenced by its neighbours. When it comes to swimming there is no need for an ‘Outdoor Swimming Society’ or a ‘Wild Swimming’ guide, because in every river and lake where swimming is possible, hot weather draws swimmers to the water in droves. Local authorities provide a huge number of bathing beaches, lakeside lidos, diving boards, changing rooms, BBQ facilities and even firewood with an axe to chop it up. But lifeguards are typically absent, with a swim, jump, or dive at ‘your own risk’ notice taking their place.

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In England, changing attitudes and perceived concerns have forced swimmers out of most rivers and lakes. The rules by which we live make us cautious in the extreme. Designated bathing areas at the seaside give us a sense of security. Lifeguards are seen as essential. We are constantly warned of the dangers of deep water and convinced that ‘cold water shock’ makes the risk of outdoor swimming seem to those unacquainted with its pleasures, foolhardy at best.

Basel River Swimming

Soon after landing at Basel airport my wife and I were drifting down the Rhine. The river police have earmarked specific bathing places to separate swimmers in the city from shipping. Even so, you have to navigate your way around cross-river ferries, bridge pillars and marker buoys. It’s a little like playing a slow motion game of ‘Space Invaders’, only in this version you have to avoid rather than intercept approaching targets. Swimmers and their dry bags line the riverbank; boys jump in and delight as they are swept along in the swift current. With thousands swimming every day in the cool deep fast flowing water there must be accidents surely? Surprisingly, Switzerland which encourages swimming at every opportunity, shares a similar safety record to that of the over cautious English, who feel duty bound to keep swimmers out of open water to reduce the risk of drowning and any chance of litigation. Yet if our drowning statistics are just the same as Switzerland’s, could it be that with a little education, open water swimming could be opened up in England, just as it is has always been in the rest of Europe?

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The same story unfolds wherever I travel. Take for example the Strandbad in Hard, Austria. Attracting 2,300 swimmers on a hot day, there are pontoons and springboards enticing huge numbers into the greenish waters of a huge lake. The entrance fee includes the use of lockers and changing rooms, and a beautiful chrome edged open air pool with flumes and excited children everywhere. But look for a lifeguard and you will be disappointed. In Austria the dolphin like children sport slender physiques and deep suntans in settings that echo Britain in the 1950’s. Can you imagine a paid attraction in the UK drawing such numbers with the focus on keeping the site clean and the café well staffed rather than on providing lifeguards? For Austrians the school holidays are spent by the river or lake, and swimming even for the very young is a happy and fulfilling way of life. Europe is in itself an outdoor swimming society; swimmers feel at one with the countryside, they enjoy being outdoors; cycling and swimming whenever possible. Could it be that after all these years as part of Europe we have simply not thought to look at the lessons that could be learned from those who swim, swim, swim?

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For how long will English outdoor swimmers be faced with the inevitable reaction to their activities; “They must need help, call 999”? 

Education is of cause the key, but it is not just potential swimmers that need educating, landowners and local authorities also have a lot to learn. Certainly much needs to be done if the swimming holes of the past are to be resurrected today. What I learned from my holiday is that swimming in deep cold water does not lead to certain death, but rather to a very happy life!

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image-20161208-31364-86rhncThe Conversation Reports: Our modern distaste for river swimming is a stark constrast with a history where urban rivers provided a venue for sport, recreation and entertainment – all within easy distance of shops, offices and public transport.

Pollution has changed the face of river swimming across the world. Not that pollution in itself has put people off outdoor swimming. In the UK for instance, summertime tradition sees holidaymakers keen to paddle and swim in the sea despite pollution on many beaches. Rather, the public perception that rivers and lakes are unsafe or unclean is so intrenched that it is rarely questioned. Rather like the beguiled Emperor in Hans Christian Anderson’s: The Emperor’s New Clothes, todays would be swimmers are so convinced by what they think they know that they cannot see what is obvious to little boys.

Discover just how different attitudes are in Switzerland

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The Telegraph reports:  A”nanny state” council are trying to stop Christmas bathers from having a festive dip due to health and safety concerns by taping off parts of a beach. Every year hundreds of swimmers jump in the sea on Christmas morning, but the local council want to put an end to the tradition. Brighton and Hove City Council in East Sussex announced it will take measures to try and prevent one of the city’s most famous Christmas traditions over fears swimmers will get hypothermia.

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Chris Ingall, seafront operations manager for Brighton City Council, said: “The continuing mild weather has meant that, as with last year, the seafront has been much busier than in previous winters.

“It’s been great to see so many people enjoying a stroll on the promenade and its good news for seafront businesses, but we would ask people to stay on the path or high up on the beach, especially when the sea conditions are rough.

“Sea swimming takes skill, stamina and knowledge of the physical dangers and should only be for the very experienced, using suitable wetsuits, in very calm conditions and with a friend.

“Even on a calm day sea currents, undertow or a sudden change in weather can create life threatening hazards without warning. Even experienced swimmers can get caught out.”

Compair attitudes here with those in Switzerland

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Hindustan Times reports: Swimming, racquet sports and aerobics are associated with the best odds of staving off death, and in particular of reducing the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke, scientists said…

… research, published in the British Journal and Sports Medicine …analysed data from 11 annual health surveys for England and Scotland carried out between 1994 and 2008, covering 80,306 adults with an average age of 52. Participants were asked about what type and how much exercise they had done in the preceding four weeks, and whether it had been enough to make them breathless and sweaty.

Exercise included heavy domestic chores and gardening; walking; cycling; swimming; aerobics, gymnastics or dance; running; football or rugby; and badminton, tennis or squash. The survival of each participant was tracked for an average of nine years, during which time 8,790 of them died from all causes and 1,909 from heart disease or stroke.

In death from heart disease and stroke, the study found racquet sports players had a 56% lower risk, with 41% for swimming and 36% for aerobics, compared with those who did not participate in these sports.

Chico said …“I will continue to tell my patients that regular physical activity… is more effective in reducing their risk of heart disease than any drug I can prescribe.”

Despite the benefits of swimming the number of participants in the UK continues to drop.

Discover the full story: Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture

 

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The Daily Echo reports: FREE outdoor swimming and water safety sessions for up to 2,700 children will be held in Sandbanks Beach from the end of this month.

The Swim Safe programme, which is delivered in partnership between the ASA (Amateur Swimming Association) and the RNLI, is running events from July 30 to August 18 for the public to attend. It features a land-based safety lesson with a lifeguard, followed by in-water tuition with a swimming teacher.

Ashley Jones, Site Coordinator for Swim Safe at Sandbanks said: “We’re really looking forward to running Swim Safe for the first time on Sandbanks Beach this year.

Wetsuits, swimming hats and a free goody bag with t-shirt are all provided.

Swim Safe

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Robert Aspey Aqua Park Rutland Water

Rutland Water Aqua Park

If you like outdoor swimming and have traveled in Europe you’ll have been delighted to discover that swimming in rivers and lakes is very much the done thing.  When on holiday in Switzerland a couple of years ago it was obvious that everyone wanted to swim when the sun shone. Lakes in Switzerland have multiple swimming places built all around them with diving boards; pontoons and changing facilities providing opportunities for fun in the water that are convenient for all. Because of our unique history both as an Empire and as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution we find that our swimming freedoms have all but vanished, well, that is until quite recently, but astonishing things can and do happen don’t they!

Robert Aspey Rutland Water Bathing Beach

Rutland Water Bathing Beach

Swan Pool Chris Ayriss

Swan Pool Swimming Lake

Just as I was enjoying the freedom to swim in the expansive swimming area at Swan Pool (Sandwell Valley Country Park) in Birmingham at the weekend, Robert Aspey was enjoying his freedom at Rutland Water (pictures above). What’s more astonishing still is that this year a new Aqua Park with slides and play equipment in the lake itself has opened for business. Rutland Water Bathing Beach has been a tremendous success; it now looks much more like a European lake than a British one.

This development is very significant. It shows a tremendous confidence that there is money to be made from outdoor recreational swimming. As there is no charge to use the bathing beach, lifeguard costs are covered by car parking charges and an array of seaside amenities that are springing up in the beach area. To use the aqua park for 55 min’s adults and children pay £15 plus £5 to hire a life jacket and another £5 for a wet-suit if desired.

This just goes to prove what has been said all along; open an outdoor swimming beach and people will come. So with these two excellent and successful examples under our belt, just as we exit Europe we may see more opportunities to get into the swim of things.

Swim Smart

Swim Safe

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