Posts Tagged ‘British Waterways’

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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Bathing in River Lea, pre swimming pool. Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

Public demand for facilities for swimming and bathing

On Friday 31 October 1930 in the British Legion Headquarters a public enquiry was held into the building of a swimming pool in Welwyn Garden City. Read the account by Susan Hall here…


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The Old Bathing Place Witney

The Oxford Mail Reports on the restoration of the site: “…as we stood there looking out over the river from the site of the original changing cubicles, the views were almost indistinguishable from photographs taken in the early years of the 20th century.”

During the restoration a number of original features were discovered, including steps leading into the river, a handrail for swimmers along the river wall, fixings for the spring board and a taller diving platform.

The concrete bases of the former changing cubicles were also discovered and a new paved area has been created to highlight their location.

Local historian Stanley Jenkins said: “It started in the 1920s and was very popular in its day. You used to have to pay thrupence to get in.

“It remained in use until the 1970s when the council built the indoor swimming pool.”

District council cabinet member for communities Richard Langridge said: “Not only is this area a great place to relax and enjoy some tranquil space in the middle of the busy town, but it also gives people the opportunity to learn about Witney’s rich history and how the town has evolved since the early 1900s.”


Why is it that in the UK outdoor swimming opportunities like this have closed whereas they remain open and alive to this day across Europe and America? It took me 10 years to find the answer…

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Wild Swimming –  Claverton Weir, near Bath

Siân Anna Lewis, writes in her blog: The Girl Outdoors – This is where I love to spend lazy summer weekends. On the outskirts of Bath, this lovely weir forms a long, meandering waterfall across the River Avon, in a big meadow full of friendly cows. It’s a long walk or a short cycle from Bath along the towpath, past brightly coloured canal boats – very Famous Five-y. Children can splish-splash merrily in the shallows, adults can take a long swim above the weir in the company of swans. Walk further up the river and there’s a secret rope swing to play on (but don’t tell anyone I told you).For more suggestions visit: The Girl Outdoors

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The Opening of Tooting Beck Lido 1906
The Opening of Tooting Beck Lido 1906

For the poor, the swimming pool became the cheapest place to bathe. At the opening of Tooting Bec Lido in London, Wandsworth Borough News reported – regarding hundreds of small boys: ‘heedless of the presence of members of the fair sex, [they] unblushingly undressed and were sampling the quality of the water long before the “big guns” had departed.’ Many bathers walked barefoot across the common prompting complaints to the Council that the facility was being ‘stormed by the riff-raff from slum land.’ Without doubt the waters lost much of their sparkle as 1,500 were bathing each day. Regarding indoor pools, many included a second class or boy’s bath, in which boys could bathe for a fraction of the cost of a private tub. Even so their behavior needed regulation so that hijinks did not end in complete mayhem. Although initially built to complement river, lake and canal swimming, concerns over indecency prompted change. No working class man or boy owned a bathing costume, in fact if you look carefully at the front cover picture of my book: Hung Out to Dry, Swimming and British Culture you will notice one youngster carrying the only clothes he has, screwed up in one hand.


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How to orientate during swimming

Concerns for wildlife could scupper plans to stage open water swimming in a lake at a nature reserve, reports the Leicester Mercury.

Dishley Pool, near Loughborough, has been earmarked as a suitable location for outdoor swimming by sporting events firm Racetime Events, it is hoped that the facility would enable training for the triathlon in preparation for the Olympics later this year but this is now doubtful as Charnwood Borough Council, which owns the site off Derby Road, have recommended an application to change the use of the pool be refused by councillors.
Outdoor swimming resurfaced after centuries of neglect right here in Britain during the industrial revolution. Yet since the 1970s outdoor swimming has been rigorously opposed in England despite very different attitudes throughout the rest of Europe. It is true that wildlife has taken over at neglected swimming holes in the mean time, but outdoor swimmers are very sensitive to their environment. Unhappy with swimming in unnatural chlorinated waters when they enter open water they treat it with due respect. Simply by designating a small stretch of the bank for the use of swimmers, habitats are preserved and disturbance to wildlife is negligible.

The whole issue of the right to swim in inland open waters is a hot topic at the moment. A campaign to get British Waterways to allow swimming to continue at Sparth, Huddersfield has been met with understanding by officials. Determined to bring an end to unreasoning prejudice towards open water swimmers, NO SWIMMING signs are soon to be removed and replaced with information boards instead. This represents a turn in the tide of opposition so prevalent until now. In fact this momentous change in the swimmers fortune has attracted the attention of the BBC who intends to run a feature on the current affairs program Inside Out.
It is proposed to allow swimming at Rutland Water this year should water levels be suitable, the very idea of which would have been unthinkable two or three years ago. In view of this perhaps now is the time to reconsider the fate of swimmers today.
Read the fascinating story of open water swimming.

Read the fascinating story of open water swimming.

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