Posts Tagged ‘Olympic Games’

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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During 2012 a number of news items highlighted the fact that wild swimming is good for you. Why not take another look using the links below:

Wild Swimming, one of fifty things children should do before they are twelve (National Trust)

Wild Swimming saves lives in Bangladesh

The feel good factor of wild swimming

Fresh Air and Swimming Lead to a Long Life

The Merpeople of Penberth

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Free swimming Bradford

The chart above shows the steep rise in swimming popularity as a result of the government’s free swimming program as reflected in swimming pool attendances in Bradford.

Similar statistics countrywide show a degree of success in getting firstly those over 60 and later those under 16 active and into the water.

Despite the steep increase in attendance figures peaking in 2009-10, the economic slump led to austerity measures and funding cuts. The goal of free swimming for all by the time of the Olympics in 2012 disappeared down the plughole as funding cuts saw an end to free swimming sessions and led to pool closures, timetable adjustments, reduced opening hours and efficiency savings. The statistics show swimming attendance figures have dropped well below those achieved prior to the government’s intervention, so why the steep drop in attendance figures?

Former Sports Minister and Bradford South MP Gerry Sutcliffe (Lab) is reported in the Telegraph and Argus as saying:  “A lot of this drop is down to the Government cancelling the free swimming programme and pools being closed in Bradford… I called on the Council not to close any pools until they built some. A review done last year on sports facilities highlighted the need for new swimming pools. These are disappointing figures and swimming is something families can do together.”

Further budget cuts paint a bleak picture for the future of British swimming. Although children are being encouraged to learn how to swim, swimming is becoming an extravagance many families cannot afford. Despite the concessions available it is difficult for parents to justify the expense of family swimming, and especially so when the activity was formally free.

Wild swimming is available for free throughout the country and continues to grow in popularity.

Boy of ten caught wild swimming

Christmas day sea swimming

Data released to the Telegraph & Argus under Freedom of Information rules shows a drop over the last five years – from 1,172,119 visitors in 2007-08 and a high of 1,268,092 in 2009-10 at the height of the programme offering free swimming for children and pensioners, to a low of 1,113,981 in 2011-12. More…

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Happy birthday: Gladys with brother Walter Fox


Gladys McInley, from Park Road, Teddington, was 107 on Wednesday, November 28.

The Richmond Twickenham Times reports her brother Walter Fox, 96 years young as saying: “I think her secret of long life is her outdoor lifestyle.

“She used to do swimming and outdoor camping and all that. She swam until she was about 80.

“I also swam every day until I was 86. That’s the only thing I can think is the secret to such a good age.

“She’s a real fresh air fiend.”

Outdoor swimming and fresh air are a real tonic, lifting the spirit and strengthening the body.

To read more about the benefits of swimming in sunshine click here…

To discover the benefits of swimming in cold water click here…

To discover the history of British swimming click here…

For advice on safe outdoor swimming click here…




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The £19m Olympic standard swimming pool in Corby is struggling to cope with demand after London 2012 because it can not get enough instructors. More…


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Open water swimming has been singled out as too dangerous a sport and so people are being warned not to be inspired by the Olympics and swim in open water during the summer.

Councilor Mark Winnington of Staffordshire County Council issued the warning fearing that some may be inspired by the open water swimming events at the Olympics. According to This is Stratfordshire he said: “The water could be inviting, but also deadly.” It is true as he says that during Olympic competitions “…crews follow them every step of the way.” (During training, much less supervision is necessary, especially as there is no need for the camera crews to document every stroke.) By contrast he states: “This is completely different from people just deciding to go for a swim on a warm sunny day. Open water can be very deep and very cold and even the most experienced of swimmers can find themselves struggling.”

This is not the opinion of a growing number of wild swimmers. The experience of swimming in rivers and lakes can in fact do much to build confidence, encourage participation in sport and may well fulfill in part the aim of the Olympics to ‘Inspire a generation’.

Of course there are risks; just as those inspired to run will need to cross busy roads, those inspired to cycle will need to display a little road sense, and just the same, those inspired to swim will need to display common sense. Do we want to keep athletes in doors? Runners on tread mills, cyclists at spin classes and swimmers in swimming pools? The fact that swimming has been singled out says a lot about British cultural attitudes towards open water swimming and reveals an underlining prejudice towards swimming in the wild or as it is now known: Wild Swimming.

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Rutland Water Bathing Beach

Symonds Yat Bathing Beach

Wild swimmers were disappointed to hear at the weekend that after deciding to put years of prejudice towards open water swimming aside, the opening of a bathing beach at Rutland Water was to be postponed.

The two year drought and water levels as low as the summer of 1976 meant that the opening would have to be delayed until at least 2013. The Outdoor swimming Society reported: “Anglian Water Services… are still committed to opening the bathing beach, and some clearance work for the beach has already been done, but they want to wait till next year before spending any more funds on infrastructure works (signage, buoys, delivery of sand, etc) ready for an opening in 2013.”

However water levels have now risen significantly. Kevin Appleton: Visitor Operations Manager contacted me today, explaining that “the project has been delayed at the moment and a decision was taken to postpone the opening due to low water levels currently being experienced in the drought conditions. The rainfall in April has allowed us to fill the reservoir to its current levels as you have mentioned. However, this does not alleviate the drought conditions in the region and unless we continue to get consistent rainfall over the coming months and winter we will expect the reservoir levels to start to fall again. At this time we are carefully considering our options before making any decisions on opening the beach this year.”

Let us hope that we will be able to celebrate the freedom to swim in Rutland Water in this special Jubilee Olympic year.

If you are puzzled by the attitude to open water or wild swimming here in England, you may enjoy reading the history of open water swimming: Hung Out to Dry available from just £9.99 including P&P.

For the latest news on Rutland Water Bathing Beach click here.

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