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floc39f-strandbad

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.

swimming-lake-leman-switzerland

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?

strandbad-hard

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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Hot sunshine, beautiful scenery and cool water the perfect recipe for a lifelong memory!

Wild Swimming – Windsor Castle Berkshire

Teach children how to SWIM SAFE in open water.

Discover the history of swimming in Windsor and Eton

More photos from the Daily Mail…

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This is the question I asked and I believe I have found the answer in Switzerland…

 

 

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Stamford Meadows Bathing Place

Up and down the country, bathing places like this proved very popular, but you may wonder: why were they built and why have they closed?

British culture is full of interesting eccentricity’s and there is no simple answer. In Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture I attempt to explain some of the major influences that led us to the heyday of river, lake and sea bathing and then on to the prejudice shown towards outdoor bathers today. I have included an exert below:

The Swimming of Witches

It was asserted by many ecclesiastics and scientists that witches and wizards, through their communion with the Devil, became like him, lighter than air and would therefore not sink if thrown into water.[1] In the light of this knowledge, we can well imagine the scene as a child falls into a river and disappears beneath the surface. Anguish and grief on the part of the parents might well turn into despair should the child struggle to remain afloat, for such would be evidence of her previously undetected association with witchcraft! King James I’s ruling in the early 17th century recommended that the ‘ordeal’ (the swimming of witches) should continue to be used in certain circumstances, on the grounds that water would reject witches, because such creatures had ‘shaken off the sacred water of baptism’ So we can see that even at this late date, swimming was still seen by many as an unwholesome exercise.[2]

The skill of swimming, or even remaining afloat in the rivers of England at some periods in history was certainly nothing to be proud of. If you bathed you were seen as a degenerate, with filthy morals, and if you swam you became like the Devil himself! For many years, paintings that depicted the baby Jesus enjoying his first bath were quite popular. In the mid 1500s however, a meeting of priests resulted in such pictures being banned. The reasoning being that Jesus was perceived as so pure that bathing would be quite unnecessary. These ideas lasted a long time. Prior to the First World War, very little accommodation was made in London’s hotels for bathing; in fact Park Lane was the first hotel to provide a bathroom for every bedchamber[3] In the USA, the White House had its first bathroom installed in 1851. It seems then that the adage: ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ was far from the minds of those directing the faith of Christians here in England and elsewhere throughout most of its history.[4]

As bathing came back into fashion bathing places and bath houses sprang up for all  to enjoy.

Stamford Baths

Also in Stamford built in 1823 opposite the meadows, the Bath House which probably had a plunge pool a changing room and accommodation for the baths attendant remained open until the 60’s I am told.

River and Lake bathing fell from popularity through a combination of three factors.

1) The mass construction of Lido’s.

2) The promotion of sunbathing for health.

3) Low priced continental travel. (See  Chapter 5: Lido’s Open Rivers Close)

It is Ironic that a nation once so obsessed with river, lake and sea bathing now struggles with the concept of allowing the general public the privilege of a refreshing dip in natural waters on a sunny day. What is going on at Rutland Water just a few miles outside Stamford perfectly illustrates the dilemma facing us in this 21st century.

Swim with care!

[1] Suffolk produced a high proportion of witches in comparison to the rest of the country. Locally grown rye grass became diseased, infected by the fungus ergot (Claviceps Purpurea). When made into bread and ingested in sufficient quantity it caused ergotism, resulting in hallucinations similar to those induced by LSD, along with many other physical effects including tremors and a sensation of prickling as though ants were crawling on the skin. It was assumed that sufferers had been bewitched and many innocent women were condemned as a result of ignorance regarding the true cause.

[2] Daemonologie 1597 (the last woman was burned to death as a witch in 1722).

[3] News of the World: July 17th 1938.

[4] During the 18th and 19th Centuries, the unhygienic conditions in Europe and the United States caused missionaries to begin preaching a ‘doctrine of cleanliness.’ Filth was equated with sin, whereas cleanliness brought one closer to God. The Salvation Army went onto preach: ‘Soap, Soup and Salvation.’

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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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Attitudes are improving but still leaning towards the negative…

Get Reading reports:

Summer is (hopefully) coming – and warm weather brings the dangerous temptation to cool off in rivers, warns the Environment Agency (EA).

With the school holidays approaching, the EA is reminding people not to take risks and make sure family and friends stay safe.

River water can contain hazards, particularly in and around structures such as bridges, locks and flood channels.

Unexpectedly cold water or strong currents can catch bathers off guard. The winter floods have also moved a lot of debris around the channels, which remain hidden beneath the surface.

Rivers are great places to have fun and get close to nature and spend time with friends and family, but vigilance can save lives and water-related accidents can be avoided by knowing how to stay safe.

Russell Robson, technical team leader for the Environment Agency, said: “The summer is a great time on our rivers, and we expect the River Thames to be a focal point for a lot of people’s leisure time.

“Not only do people boat, fish and walk by our rivers, they spend weekends camping and just lazing by the waters.

“We would like people to enjoy the water but to remember some basic safety points when out having fun.

“Over the last few years we have worked hard to get the safety message out to children and parents, stressing that people stay away from the edge, that children must be accompanied by an adult and swimming should be confined to recognised swimming areas, pools and lidos.

“We often see youngsters jumping off bridges, and swimming, along many of the rivers in the South East and, while this can be great fun, there are hidden dangers in the water that could cause them to get into difficulties. We are urging parents to supervise their children closely in and around water and make sure they do not enter the water alone.

“Come and enjoy the river and all that is going on around it, but please remember to bring your common sense with you as well.”

The Environment Agency has provided some information to consider when planning your days out and holidays, whilst still having fun and being safe:

Top tips from the EA include:

– Don’t jump or dive in as the depth may vary and there can be unseen hazards.

– Don’t go in near weirs, locks, pipes and sluices – these and some other water features are often linked with strong currents.

– Inland waters can be very cold no matter how warm the weather – leading to cramp and breathing difficulties.

Parents and guardians can help keep children safe by teaching them to swim, warning them not to go into water alone or unsupervised, ensuring they know where the children are and what they are doing and supervising them closely when near any open water.

Drowning can happen very quickly, even in shallow water, and the key to keeping safe is to take all necessary precautions to avoid getting into difficulty in the first place.

 

 

Swim Smart

Educating people about Wild Swimming water safety:

Adults and teenagers: http://hungouttodry.co.uk/page3.htm

Parents and Children: http://hungouttodry.co.uk/page9.htm

Drowning riak and Wild Swimming: http://hungouttodry.co.uk/page31.htm

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Wild Swimming La Caleta Tenerife

Its much too hot to just sit on the beach in Tenerife! The sea is always warm enough for swimming at any time of year and so everyone takes a dip to cool down and refresh themselves. La Caleta is on the very edge of the urbanised region centred arround Los Cristianos.

Wild Swimming La Caleta Tenerife

Rocky outcrops of volcanic pumice make an interesting area to explore and there are a number of steps making it easy to reach the water.

Wild Swimming La Caleta Tenerife

Only busy at the weekend or on national holidays, the area is a quiet retreat from the hubbub of the more touristy areas, yet there are still a number of excellent cafes and restaurants to choose from.

Wild Swimming La Caleta Tenerife

This picture shows the view from my cottage window.

La Caleta

In Spain people are left to decide for themselves if sea conditions are safe for swimming. They have to think for themselves and decide if the water is deep enough for diving or not.

Wild Swimming La Caleta Tenerife

As for me I loved my visit to Caleta!

Please click the link for Safe Swimming advice for Adults and Children

Tenerife

Discover more places to swim in Tenerife

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