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Cambridge Independent reports: Wild swimming is a very popular sport – and one that has a long history in Cambridge.

Places for this year’s Swim the Cam sold out within days of being advertised on social media. That’s 50 people who will swim the 3.8km from Bryon’s Pool to Sheep’s Green at 11am on Saturday, July 15.

Cambridge Swim Through 1959

The event revives a competition which once attracted about 200 swimmers to the city’s river and could, like swims of the past, become an annual fixture.

“The response has been amazing,” says Jo Black, one of four volunteers organising Swim the Cam ‘17. “We’re hoping it will become a regular fixture in the open water swimming calendar.” More…

Did you know? Learning to swim in the river was once the norm for children in Cambridge. Discover more…

 

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1938 Summer Swimming Relays in River Cherwell

1938 Summer Swimming Relays in River Cherwell

Oxford, the centre of learning, has a Wild Swimming history stretching back hundreds of years.

The History of swimming in Oxford

As Britain led the world into a new association with water wild swimming came back into vogue and people countrywide began using natural ponds, lakes and rivers for their wild swimming adventures. In Oxford, Parson’s Pleasure[1] had been in use since the 16th century. The site still holds echoes of its past as does its companion: Dames’ Delight. Parson’s Pleasure officially came to its end in the mid 1990s, but cultural change started its slow death long before that. The fencing has now all gone, along with the diving board. A concrete base is all that is left of the fun, like a memorial stone on the now deserted lawns, the remains lie on the opposite bank to University Parks, Holywell. A bench in the grounds bears a plaque memorializing ‘…Mr H N Spalding[2] a lover of Parson’s Pleasure who gave to the university the fields opposite the bathing place in order to preserve the view.’ It was traditional for men and boys to bathe here in the nude. Naturally, it was screened from view on all sides and as you might expect, ladies were to either avert their eyes as they passed by in punts, or better still, to get out of the punt and walk around the fencing. C S Lewis apparently loved the place, as did many dons and undergraduates. In later times, speculation developed as to the interests of those using Parson’s Pleasure and indeed, as its popularity declined, it became a magnet for suspicions. According to Cities Of The Imagination:[3] ‘By the end, the only men who went there were those who wanted to expose themselves to passing punts and those who delighted in the company of naked young men.’

Swimmers at Tumbling Bay in 1959

The history of swimming in Oxford well illustrates changes seen across Britain. The British Isles are surrounded and saturated with waterways which should be a delight for swimmers, yet the history of swimming reveals that the British have gone to great lengths to separate swimmers from the natural world. Today swimmers are mostly confined to indoor pools and the swimmers experience is a far cry from the freedom, fun and adventure associated with swimming in the recent past.  Read Hung Out to Dry and discover why the experience of swimmers has changed so much and what this says about us as a nation and about our culture.

Cold water swimming

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The History of Swimming Costumes

100 years of swimming history 1912 – 2012

“A persuasive book… intriguing from the outset, a fascinating chronology of British swimming which goes much deeper than one might expect. Well researched and interestingly written… the historical ebb and flow of swimming popularity is quite remarkable.” The Swimming Times November 2012

Wild Swimming

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Cambridge News reports that following discussions on Thursday the one mile ‘Swim Through’ race may soon be re-instituted in Cambridge.

“The swim through was an annual event across the city for more than 40 years before the river quality was deemed not good enough, but organisers say the water has improved since the 80s.”

“The early morning open-swim used to run along the College Backs, from the Mill Pond to Jesus Lock, before it was disbanded and organisers hope, if the event is renewed, they can waive the entry fee and transform it into a charity event.”

Read more about the ‘Swim Through’ race.

Discover the history of British swimming…

“A persuasive book… intriguing from the outset, a fascinating chronology of British swimming which goes much deeper than one might expect. The author’s passion for open water swimming is evident throughout and undeniably admirable. Well researched and interestingly written… the historical ebb and flow of swimming popularity is quite remarkable.” November 2012 Swimming Times Buy Now

 

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Cambridge Swim Through 1959Cambridge News reports that “the River Cam is a must attraction for people in the summer… Swimming was once the most popular summer pursuit. Competitive events were held at Jesus Green swimming pool, built in 1923, and one of the longest outdoor pools in Europe. In the Sixties there was the annual summer swim in the river, called the Swim Through, with separate events for men and women.”

Times change and attitudes toward river swimming have polarised but the fact remains that the River Cam is a delightful place to swim.

Children were taught to swim at the Sheep’s Green bathing complex. A large rectangular paddling pool is still popular with local children. Adjacent to it, a foot-bridge crosses a tributary of the Cam and the boys’ and girls’ bathing places lie to the left and right respectively. Walking across the field, another bridge separates the men’s and ladies’ quarters. For the men a five-stage diving board reaching up some fifteen feet, a water chute and a springboard with a tremendous run up ensured the success of the attraction (pictured below). Sadly, river bathing officially came to an end here in the 1960s and interest was transferred to the open-air pool on Jesus Green.

Wild Swimmers river swimming club Cambridge. Wild Swimming history: river - lake - lido - sea - history

Even so the upsurge in Open water swimming and the new life breathed into it by David Walliams and his two million pound charity swim for Sports Relief in the Thames means that more and more people are returning to the river.

Read the history of British Swimming.

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