Posts Tagged ‘Swimming and Diving’

Robert Aspey Aqua Park Rutland Water

Rutland Water Aqua Park

If you like outdoor swimming and have traveled in Europe you’ll have been delighted to discover that swimming in rivers and lakes is very much the done thing.  When on holiday in Switzerland a couple of years ago it was obvious that everyone wanted to swim when the sun shone. Lakes in Switzerland have multiple swimming places built all around them with diving boards; pontoons and changing facilities providing opportunities for fun in the water that are convenient for all. Because of our unique history both as an Empire and as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution we find that our swimming freedoms have all but vanished, well, that is until quite recently, but astonishing things can and do happen don’t they!

Robert Aspey Rutland Water Bathing Beach

Rutland Water Bathing Beach

Swan Pool Chris Ayriss

Swan Pool Swimming Lake

Just as I was enjoying the freedom to swim in the expansive swimming area at Swan Pool (Sandwell Valley Country Park) in Birmingham at the weekend, Robert Aspey was enjoying his freedom at Rutland Water (pictures above). What’s more astonishing still is that this year a new Aqua Park with slides and play equipment in the lake itself has opened for business. Rutland Water Bathing Beach has been a tremendous success; it now looks much more like a European lake than a British one.

This development is very significant. It shows a tremendous confidence that there is money to be made from outdoor recreational swimming. As there is no charge to use the bathing beach, lifeguard costs are covered by car parking charges and an array of seaside amenities that are springing up in the beach area. To use the aqua park for 55 min’s adults and children pay £15 plus £5 to hire a life jacket and another £5 for a wet-suit if desired.

This just goes to prove what has been said all along; open an outdoor swimming beach and people will come. So with these two excellent and successful examples under our belt, just as we exit Europe we may see more opportunities to get into the swim of things.

Swim Smart

Swim Safe


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Beccles River Bathing Place 1905

Highlights and Early History of River Bathing at Beccles

Test your knowledge at the end!

1862 WARNING: To Bathers. All persons who are found bathing in the RIVER WAVENEY between the Smelt House and 200 yards below Beccles Bridge after 9 o’clock in the morning, will be PROSECUTED according to law.

1867 COUNCIL: Public Bathing Place suggested.
1873 Saw the purchase of the Old Granary on the banks of the river Waveney in Puddingmoor for the sum of £300. The building was to be used as a dressing room for people bathing in the river. This was the beginning of the history of organised Outdoor Swimming in Beccles. The old bathing place still much used.
1874 Council: Bathing Place should be made deeper. 200 a day used it when very warm; 100 when cooler; 50 a day now (September).
1875 Ladies to have special time for using Bathing Place.
1881 BATHING PLACE: (LETTER): Some years ago a spot about 300 yards up the river was the only recognised place for bathing, but it was hampered by a halfpenny fine to reach it, for ferrying across the river. There was difficulty about getting a right of way to the Bathing place. The Corporation decided upon making a new bathing place. They purchased propertyalongside the river, but unfortunately a bungle was made of the scheme, and the outcome was an old granary fitted up in rough and ready style, and a limited quantity of enclosed water. This was all very well for youngsters learning to swim, but the grand mistake was in ignoring the large number of persons who can swim, and to whom it is no pleasure to be contained to a small breadth of filthy water. The old bathing place is still used by many who desire to enjoy a wholesome bathe. A better spot could not be found for miles around. Until within the last two or three years the ground shelved gradually down to the middle of the river, which is deep, free from weeds, and suitable in every respect for the swimmer. Now holes have been dredged in the shallow side, and it is positively dangerous. Only the other morning a lad, trying to swim, got into one of these holes and was nearly drowned.
1894 108 yards of the river frontage was cordoned off and enclosed with and post and plank fence. The planking was fixed to stout posts, driven firmly into the bed of the river, a gap below the fence allowed the flow to change the depth of water. Cubicles were built for changing rooms: one set for ladies and one for the gentlemen separated by a large communal changing room for youth and boys. For girls there were six or eight wooden huts.
1895 NEW BATHING PLACE used by 30,000 bathers this Summer. Never before has there been such a run on the place as a result of the long and hot summer.
River Bathing Place Beccles
 1922 The Town Council agree to allot separate hours to schools for children’s swimming lessons. The Council also agreed to the installation of 3 spring boards with the centre one to be made rigid (no longer in existence). 1930s The entry fee was 2d for Adults and 1d for children.

1959 Construction of a new Bathing Place adjacent to the old one began and was completed in the same year. The result is what remains today; Beccles Outdoor Swimming Pool.

Diving Boards at Beccles Bathing Place

1975 Saw the installation of Heating for the Pool.

The Swimming Pool at Beccles

1976 “Beccles Swimming Pool is one of the town’s most popular summer sporting attractions providing not only a pleasant riverside leisure spot for local people and holiday visitors alike but also valuable service as a place where people can learn to swim..” For more information click here…


Questions to consider…

When the Romans occupied Britain they built bathing places countrywide. Why did these close, and why was bathing and swimming then discouraged for centuries? (see Hung Out to Dry p 11, 14-16, 41-43)

In 1862 why was it OK to bathe in the river before 9.00 am, but why did you face prosecuted for bathing after 9.00? (see Hung Out to Dry p 7, 96)

Why fence off the river for bathers? (see Hung Out to Dry p 23-24, 119)

Why build a Lido when river bathing was so popular? (see Hung Out to Dry p 129)

Why since then have Lidos closed one after another, and why do those that remain struggle to keep their heads above water? (see Hung Out to Dry p 33-34)

Enjoy find the answers here…

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Certainly not the idea, the Health and safety ethos protects us from many unnecessary risks; it has saved lives and prevented countless accidents.

But is it working in the swimming environment?

In many ways yes, thinking about potential risks and finding ways to negate them makes organised swims safer and builds confidence in those who allow swimmers to take to their waterways.

It’s doesn’t work when risks are perceived incorrectly.

No Swimming Castle Gardens Leicester

The Royal Life Saving Society is commendably committed to reducing open water drownings. Yet despite outdoor swimmers being ranked as a low risk group, its public message to date has been crystal clear. “Don’t get in, you might not get out.” So convincing has been the message theirs no wonder that local authorities and water companies are reluctant to open up inland beaches and bathing places for swimming, despite encouragement and guidance from members of the Outdoor Swimming Society, because to do so would seem to fly in the face of reason.

Swim indoors

The UK swim indoors policy does not sit well with the wild swimming movement and so we find ourselves at loggerheads when trying to balance safety with leisure outdoor swimming. Triathlon events are encouraged and their is of cause some overlap with leisure swimmers taking to lakes in which more serious swimmers are training, but what about children, families and casual swimmers?

Because we have held the door closed on outdoor swimming for so long, perhaps we need to look beyond our shores for inspiration.

Stamford Meadows Bathing Place

The Cootamundra Herald published an article this week that makes interesting reading:

“LOCAL swim instructors have been taking primary school students through their paces, building their confidence, swimming ability and learning water safety strategies at the Cootamundra Heated Pool.

… the 10 day intensive water safety course is aimed to equip children with essential skills. Each day instructors deliver a new safety message, and then they teach survival sequences in the pool. 

… School principal Bill Godman says that being able to swim is an essential life skill. “The Australian outdoor lifestyle demands that we have those skill-sets to enable us to go swimming in the beach, swimming in the river and swimming in the backyard pool,”

it’s imperative the children learn to swim without goggles so they have confidence to stay afloat in a dangerous situation.

…some parents are concerned that we are asking the children to swim with their goggles off but if you associate being able to swim with wearing goggles, you won’t be able to swim without them,” Mrs Baldry said. …if they fall into a small body of water they wouldn’t have goggles on.”

“In this course we ask them keep their head out of the water anyway; students are treading water, floating on their back, and practicing survival backstroke.” 

Now can we learn anything from down under?

Just this week, Prince Charles has voiced his concern that people’s connection with the countryside is dying. Yet wild swimmers are connecting with the countryside, using village pubs and restaurants whilst promoting countryside tourism. The problem is that many of the British population are ill equipped for outdoor living. Anglers, walkers, cyclists and boaters are all attracted to our beautiful landscape but have little understanding when it comes to open water swimming and survival. Children and teenagers are especially at risk because of their affinity with and fascination for water.

With 1,300 primary schools not bothering to offer swimming lessons despite its compulsory listing in the National Curriculum, and with a less than a 50/50 chance of learning to swim in primary schools that do bother, you can see that much of the blame rests in a lack of education.

Some parents take matters into their own hands and pay for private swimming lessons but even then think, what happens at the end of the course? Either the pupil does well and takes up competitive swimming as part of a club, or if he has no interest in competition swimming as happens in most cases he stops swimming altogether.

Diving facilities are few and far between, leisure pools are designed for non swimmers, their are too few outdoor swimming opportunities inland and so our newly qualified swimmer has little opportunity or desire to practice his swimming ability.


Leisure swimming is not classified as sport and so it attracts little interest or funding. Despite this it is the only way to practice and polish a life saving skill once learned, which in my view makes it even more important than competition swimming, especially when we remember that swimming is primarily a life saving skill. We need outdoor swimming opportunities to flourish if we are going to reduce open water drowning.

Drowning statistics reveal that many of those that drown in open water were thought to be competent swimmers, at least they could swim well at the indoor pool. But when you investigate a little further you discover that such drownings are not surprising. Those whose only experience of swimming is restricted to warm water swimming pools, wearing goggles and then only in appropriate dress, find themselves in difficulty when they end up in cold water unexpectedly. Many find the shock of the cold inhibits rational thought and they flounder. Others find that they simply cannot stay afloat, let alone swim, when fully clothed. A lack of knowledge results in many a desperate struggle against river flows or rip currents in the sea which could safely be navigated if experience and knowledge had been gained beforehand. Our expectations for schoolchildren are so low that the swimming skills they master prove far from life saving.

The Way Forward

The ASA list of outdoor bathing places may have become a thing of the past, but it is hoped that this may soon change as they reconsider their role in promoting leisure swimming outdoors.


The idea that outdoor swimming is inherently dangerous and very risky may have been accepted up to this point. But with the growth of the wild swimming movement, the example of our European neighbors, the rise in competitive outdoor swimming and the voices of outdoor swimmers and regular features in The Guardian; the Health and Safety machine is having its dials reset, and we can look to the future with hope.


It will take a long time to turn the tide on prejudice, but I have lived in the multicultural city of Leicester all my life. The indigenous people have come to accept and love the newcomers from abroad that now make up the majority of its inhabitants. It has taken time, but with communication comes understanding and eventually tolerance and acceptance.

Head Weir, Open Air Bathing Place Exeter

Rather than trying to tame the wild swimmer, the tide is now turning towards respect and tolerance. The idea that all outdoor swimming is dangerous is standing in the way of clear lifesaving education. Schools need to focus their attention not on abstinence but on life saving skill. We teach cycling proficiency on the road for good reason; why then don’t we teach life saving skills in open water?

Because the Health and Safety ethos at this present time rules it out.


The Health and Safety message needs to change because it moves us to ignore the real problem. If we tell people never to go into the water we can hardly give advice as to how to survive if they do. We don’t really need to teach children how to swim if their never going to go in! But despite all the advice and good intentions some children will go in. To escape the heat and cool off, because of a persuasive friend, for a dare or to show off, whatever it is they will go in, but because of a lack of education they might not get out! We need to engage teenagers with a challenging and fulfilling swimming experience. We need to bring back diving boards, inland beaches and river bathing places.


Changes are afoot. The Royal Life Saving Society are reconsidering their message and refocusing on education.

The current Health and Safety advice could well be contributing to needless drownings.

Knowledge empowers.

Education saves lives!

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Alcala Tenerife is a fantastic place for swimming, it has a small beach, a lido area and three natural pools! But the icing on the cake has to be the sea turtles that visit the port area. Enjoy…


Where to swim in Tenerife…

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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.


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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River Swimming in Berlin

fastcoexist.com reports: “Germans could soon recapture an idyllic part of old city life: Being able to jump in the river for a swim whenever you want.
One hundred years ago, anyone who wanted to go swimming in Berlin could jump in the local river at one of 30 bathhouses. That all changed when the city built a new sewer system that overflows into the river every time there’s heavy rain. A new project hopes to make a section of the river clean and swimmable again–creating the largest pool in the world, at almost 2,500 feet.

Wild Swimming in Berlin

The project would transform a side canal that has been closed to boat traffic for the last decade. At one end, a natural filter, made of layers of gravel and pollution-eating plants, would purify the river water flowing into the pool. A bypass would send sewer water in another direction, and the top of the structure would turn into a pedestrian and bicycle bridge. The beginning of the canal would be “re-naturalized” into a refuge for urban wildlife and a new park.

The steps necessary to convert the river arm into a swimming pool are surprisingly simple and very cost-efficient,” write architects from Realities United, the firm leading the project, who first had the idea in the 1990s. Now, as the city has changed two decades after reunification, they think the time is finally right to build it. The team will finish a feasibility study next year and is working on getting approvals from the city.

“The idea is not just about swimming, or ecology,” says Grammaire. “It’s also about how we treat public space.” ”

Similar ideas are in progress for New York, and London.

Urban Swimming is great fun as I discovered on a recent trip to Switzerland:

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From a modern perspective swimming was a very British sport. After years or religious and superstitious suppression it was in Britain that swimming reemerged as an acceptable, desirable pastime.

With the birth of the industrial revolution social changes forced swimmers away from their birthright, out of rivers and lakes and into man-made enclosures.

No Swimming at Sparth

No Swimming at Sparth

Even so swimmers were allowed a great deal of freedom indoors, but even these freedoms have now been eroded. Over time the fun of the indoor pool has been quashed by officialdom, our diving boards have been sacrificed to the god of health and safety and many of the social attractions have disappeared.

Kenwood Lido Leicester

Kenwood Lido

The once playful outdoor activity mostly enjoyed by working class boys, has now evolved into a predominantly female sport.

A lack of splashing, jumping and diving means the the rough and tumble years are over. Warm water, private changing rooms and a much calmer atmosphere have meant a decline in male bathers and an upsurge in female swimmers now comprising 64% of the swimming population.

If walking is excluded, swimming remains the number one participation sport in Britain. Sport England’s Active People Survey shows that participation in football continues to decrease from 4.97% to 4.33% of the population with 94% of participants are male. Yet swimming being the number one participation sport is no reason for complacency, swimming still has a very low participation rate.

Only 8.04% of the adult (16+) population swim once a week.

With tighter budgets and a challenging economy what can be done to promote British swimming?

First take a look at how Sport England fund each sport by participant: £38 each for football, £16 for cycling, £11 for athletics but only £8 for swimming, so funding is certainly one issue.

Swimming pools cost a considerable amount of money to build, staff and maintain, yet much could be done to bolster their income. Swimming has always been a social activity, so capitalizing on this much neglected area is one way forward.

Stamford Meadows Bathing Place

Operating a cafe on site that provides a welcoming, quality, value for money meeting place, makes swimming pools much more popular. 

Diving and other sports could be taught and encouraged even if only from the poolside. An ASK ME! tee-shirt could be worn by lifeguards so that swimmers young and old feel encouraged to improve their skills.

Pictures of outdoor swimming in rivers lakes and at the seaside would inspire youngsters to learn to swim well.

The swimming pool should be seen as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Like schools they are their to inspire their pupils to reach their full potential. A swimmer can never reach his or her full potential in captivity.

The ASA and Sport England are in the driving seat for British swimming. Either they promote swimming or allow it to decline, the future is in their hands!

Discover the rich history of British swimming.

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