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Archive for the ‘Lake Swimming’ Category

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Rutland Water Bathing Beach was full to overflowing yesterday, as bank holiday crowds flocked to enjoy the summer sunshine. Cars queued  on the main road for up to thirty minutes just to enter the park! Toilet and cafe facilities were stretched beyond capacity yet the holiday atmosphere made for a relaxed and very enjoyable day.

Most remarkable is the harmonious mix of nationality’s enjoying the beach. People from around the world  came together to share the joy of outdoor swimming and sandcastle making in an atmosphere of bank holiday companionship.

Is it time Rutland Water opened a second beach? It’s certainly time for more beaches across the country. When it comes to outdoor swimming beaches the message is clear: Build It and they will come!

 

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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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An item in the news from Switzerland warning swimmers that on Monday a boy of eight was bitten by a beaver whilst swimming in the Rhine at Lindli caught my eye. Later that day a woman was also bitten on the leg so badly she needed to go to hospital to have stitches.

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What advice have the authorities given? ” Beavers are only likely to become aggressive if they feel threatened or are defending their nest. Bathers are advised to avoid swimming close to the shore, and to not allow dogs to enter the water.”

What a contrast to the news this week and the tragic drownings resulting from river and lake swimming by those with little knowledge of how to stay safe.

Discover how differently the Swiss approach water safety.

 

 

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Wild Swimming in France last summer.

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How I wish England had a more tolerant attitude towards outdoor swimming.

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After enjoying the wonderful facilities open to outdoor swimmers around the world, swimmers here in the UK can’t help but feel disgruntled that their liberty to swim in rivers and lakes has for many years been denied, and especially so with the scorching weather we have just been enjoying this week.

We want to go dipping but the sign says NO SWIMMING!

The good news is that things are changing. The impossible is being achieved, albeit very slowly.

The problem lies in the fact that  authorities, keen to restrict swimming in open water (for reasons  long forgotten) have truly convinced themselves that wild swimming is just too risky. Its rather like Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, in that it takes a child to point out the obvious: “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” The fact is plain to see, if swimming is OK throughout  Europe, how can it be more dangerous here?

This is not to say that its an easy thing for authorities to release their strangle hold on the swimmers freedom. If something goes wrong public opinion will want to point the finger of blame.

The good news comes from the Outdoor Swimming Society in the form of the: Inland Access Guide.

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Download a copy and its message of hope will prove better reading than the Sunday papers!

 

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Belfast Live reports: A programme which aims to teach kids how to stay safe in open water is hosting free swimming lessons in Northern Ireland this summer.

Swim Safe, is coming to NI for the first time this summer to host free hour-long sessions for 7–14 year olds run by qualified swimming teachers and RNLI beach lifeguards, supported by a team of trained volunteers.

The sessions are designed to be practical, interactive, educational and fun for children who can swim at least 25 metres.

Every child that participates will receive 60 minutes of tuition, with the time split between land-based safety with a lifeguard and in-water tuition with a swimming teacher.

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

RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor Jenny Thompson said: “Many children love swimming outdoors – but swimming in the sea, rivers and lakes is different to swimming in a pool and can often be much more challenging.

“The Swim Safe programme gives children the opportunity to learn about keeping safe when swimming outdoors and knowing what to do if they get into trouble.”

Visit the SwimSafe website to book your place and for more information.

Chris Ayriss comments: What a contrast this piratical program is to the warnings broadcast in 2014 “Don’t go in!”

 

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17522835_10155205434551289_8539666495836669484_nA five-and-a-half year negotiation with British Waterways (as was) to remove their new No Swimming sign at Sparth Reservoir has at last met with success.

A change in thinking has been a long time coming but it is a sign of the times as our Island mentality is slowly being replaced by broader minds.

The dispute arose over the continued use of the reservoir by wild swimmers. British Waterways put up a “no swimming” sign at Sparth Reservoir in Marsden, Huddersfield. They said that it replaced a former sign that had gone missing, reasoning that it would be “reckless” to allow swimming at the site. “But swimmers said they have used the reservoir for decades and it is possible to enjoy the sport safely. They believe the reservoir has been used for recreational swimming since the 1940s and possibly earlier. In the future they hoped signs could be changed to allow them to swim at their own risk.” As reported by the BBC.

Attitudes in Britain differ greatly to those of our European partners. Swimming is encouraged in rivers and lakes abroad but rarley so in England.

Discover the fascinating history of outdoor swimming in Britain – read: Hung Out to Dry; Swimming and British Culture. The reasons for our prejudice towards outdoor swimming are deep-rooted, complex and pervasive. Yet surely reason will ultimately win out, especially as wild swimming continues to grow in popularity.

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