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Posts Tagged ‘river swimming’

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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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Northamptonshire Telegraph reports: Swimmers hit by the closure of Kettering’s pool have started training in the River Nene because of a lack of water space.
It’s been closed since June 20, when a piece of paneling fell from the ceiling. With Wellingborough’s pool also closed for planned repairs and pool space elsewhere already booked, swimmers from Kettering took a novel approach to training last night (Wednesday) – by diving into the River Nene at Wadenhoe.

Kettering Swimming Club committee member Mike Annable said: “While open water swimming is popular among some of our members, the driver for this session is because we cannot find time in another pool to replace our Wednesday evening training sessions for three of our squads.”

The potential for a new pool in Kettering has been a talking point since it was first brought up at a council meeting in December.

Kettering Swimming Club does not recommend that people swim in rivers or lakes unless part of an organised event. More…

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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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Cambridge News reports: Swimmers are being forced out of the River Cam after being “attacked” by parasitic mites that have spread rapidly in the water due to the warm weather.

The parasitic duck mite appears in the River Cam at this time of year and can cause a condition known as ‘swimmer’s itch’ (or cercarial dermatitis).

Ted Hunt is the treasurer of the Newnham Riverbank Club. He said the mites always appeared at this time of year. This year is worse than normal, he said, because of the heat.

“It is quite a well-documented thing,” said Mr Hunt. “It is also called swimmer’s itch. It happens every year. It is a little flat worm that has to find a duck to continue its life cycle. Unfortunately, if people are in the water, it goes to them as well.

“I have been swimming here for 40 years. This year, the river got warm quite quickly, and that has brought them on.”

Mr Hunt said there were practical things people could do to avoid being bitten, including getting a sun tan.

“If you give yourself a good rub down with a towel when you get out instead of drip drying, that seems to get rid of them,” he said. “There are two or three heads in the water right now. People are enjoying themselves. It tends to be people who are very pale they are attracted to, so getting a tan might help.

“In terms of aftercare, people could rub themselves over with aloe-vera. Hopefully, it will die down a bit in the next week.”

Discover the history of swimming in Cambridge

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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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Eastern Daily Press reports: Fire crews stood down after man swimming in River Wensum in Norwich sparks alert.

A man swimming sparked drama in Norwich city centre when fire crews went to the scene believing he had got into difficulty.

A member of the public called Norfolk police because they were concerned at what they thought was a person in trouble in the River Wensum near the Ribs of Beef pub on Wensum Street.

Police contacted Norfolk Fire and Rescue and the service sent a fire engine from Earlham and its rescue boat from Carrow.

However, on arrival, at just after 7.45pm last night, it became clear there was no need for a river rescue.

A spokesman said: “On investigation it was found to be a swimmer who was happy to be in the water. We just offered some words of advice that a May night might not be the best time to go swimming.”

Do you know the safety 8?

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KGW reports: In Mayor Ted Wheeler’s proposed city budget released this week, there’s an interesting $158,000 line item in the park bureau budget: Build a swimming beach under the west side of the Marquam Bridge. The idea is to get more people access to the water on warm days.

The city says the river is safe, just don’t drink the water. To get people to love the Willamette again, and not just view it as industrial, Mayor Ted Wheeler has talked about turning Poetry Beach, into an actual beach for months.

The site is along the river trail and already has a walking path down to the water for a small boat ramp. Under this winter’s high water level, there is a sandy beach down there. The mayor is proposing adding a lane line out in the water to mark off safe swimming, bathrooms, maybe a lifeguard, park ranger safety patrols, picnic tables and possibly even inviting a food cart to set up nearby.

Ella Jackson agreed saying, “This would be a good way to get out and not travel three hours to get to a beach, it’s smart.”

“Getting people to challenge the notion that the river is just a thing to drive over and inviting people to get back into it and reconnect with the Willamette is the goal,” said Wheeler’s senior policy advisor Nathan Howard. “I would say a $158,000 is not ‘nothing’ but it is a small portion of the city budget and really it is a very worthwhile investment to tell the story of the renaissance of the Willamette and all of our public investment has created something we can all experience and is much healthier than it was a couple decades ago.”

If it’s approved in the final city budget at the end of May, Poetry Beach would be fixed up and ready to open as a swimming beach in July through September this year. If this pilot beach goes well, there are plans to invest in the Eastbank Crescent Park on the east side of the river near the Hawthorne Bridge. A floating dock is already very popular with sunbathers and kayakers, but it would be torn out and replaced with multiple docks for swimming and boating, and a sandy beach with picnic tables and restrooms would be built.

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