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Archive for the ‘sunbathing’ Category

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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Improbable you may think – but actually it’s true!

The Grand Hotel Lysin Switzerland

On our recent visit to Switzerland, my wife and I just managed to squeeze in a visit to Leysin.

Leysin clinic Switzerland

The Tom-Tom left us in no doubt that we had found the right place, there we were on Avenue Rollier, the site of a sanatorium erected to treat the most severe cases of surgical tuberculosis.

The Grand Hotel Leysin Switzerland

Treatment at the Grand Hotel, (now Leysin American School) rescued  patients from almost certain death by exposing adults and children to lifesaving sunlight and a healthy diet.

The sun Cure Rollier's Heliotherapy

Doctor Rollier opened his Swiss clinic in 1903 and through measured exposure to the early morning sun he progressively improved the terrible condition of his patients and in many cases affected a complete cure.

Working Outdoors at Leysin Heliotherapy Clinic

The patients he admitted were in a terrible condition, had open sores, were emaciated and lethargic.

Dr Rollier Heliotherapy

The treatment was slow but extremely effective in fact the general health of his patients achieved proved quite remarkable.

Exposure to sunshine saved the health of these children

Visitors often commented on the lack of coughs and colds among children who were so exposed.

The top 10 Health Benefits of Sunshine

The idea that sunlight could improve a persons health soon spread abroad and children in particular were encouraged to play outside as much as possible.

Live Out of Doors as much as you can

The picture above from a health center in Finsbury promoted outdoor living for better health, and the British soon came to realise that a good suntan was the hallmark of good health.

Heliotherapy

The industrial city’s of Briton were sun starved and even the little light that slanted between closely built factors and slums was blotted out by thick smoke and smog.

The Bathing Lake Victoria Park London

The early morning swim (pictured above at Victoria Park London) well suited an industrial nation keen to see the unwashed bathing at last whilst ensuring they were not detained from a full day of slave labor working the machine of change.

First World War Recruitment

The deplorable state of the nations health became obvious when fit and healthy men were required for trench warfare during the first world war. So many men were in such poor health that something had to be done!

Leysin Switzerland

Major reforms saw public health celebrated in Britain which led to a healthcare system that became the envy of the world.

Leysin sun cure

Lidos were built country wide as opportunity’s firstly to swim but also to develop better health through sunbathing. Physical perfection was promoted and beauty pageants and diving displays made the Lido a social magnet.

The Blue Lagoon Bristol 1937

The popularity of the lido evolved from a determination to improve the nations health, but the switch to a sunbathing era saw swimmers flushed out of rivers and lakes into these purpose built solarium’s.

Sky Tours Holidays

When holidays abroad became an option for the working class, lidos were abandoned on all but the hottest of days as people who had experienced the good life abroad would now only bathe back home when it was simply to hot to do anything else.

No River Swimming Leicester

Now this is a very brief overview of the social changes that have impacted on river and lake swimming in the UK, and their is a great deal more to the story. I have tried to convey the impact of social change on the British swimmer as simply as possible in; Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture.

If you have not seen it already you might be quite surprised to see that the clinic in Leysin did not have the same effect on river and lake swimming in Switzerland as it did here in Britain…

 

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