It’s very easy when you live on, or near, the coast to take the notion of outdoor swimming for granted. We’re immensely lucky to be able to amble down to the beach and take a dip… or not if we prefer. Like so many things that are everyday, it’s easy to overlook some of the amazing things we have access to. Whilst we might be moaning about the cold breeze, or tutting at having to pick up a piece of plastic from the shore, or, heaven forbid, having to get up early to catch a high tide swim…. others aren’t able to swim locally to where they live even when they’re close to water.
With all that in mind, I’d like to share a thought provoking article published by The Outdoor Swimming Society discussing swimming access to inland water in the UK. Many of us might be surprised to hear that ”as swimmers, we cannot get uncontested access to 97% of our rivers, and access to lakes and reservoirs is patchy and minimal.” When I’ve talked to people, swimmers and non-swimmers, they are really surprised to hear that reservoirs in particular are often not allowed to be used by swimmers (although open access to reservoirs was established in Scotland in 2003). Now like many, you may start wondering if this is something to do with hygiene – all those dirty swimmers splashing around in water to be used by households to fill their kettle or brush their teeth – but just think for a moment about all the other animals and birds already splashing around in the large expanses of water ha ha! And… no kidding Sherlock, the water is always treated before being used in any way. For a really useful guide to reasons to allow swimming access in reservoirs have a read here.
Across the country there are huge expanses of open water, often within national parks, where swimming is simply not allowed. It feels like a wasted resource, potentially accessible for so many large, nearby city populations across the length and breadth of Britain. It could improve people’s physical and wellbeing health, and off new ways to interact with the environment.
The Sheffield Outdoor Plungers (or SOUP as they are known) have been leading the campaign to gain access to the glorious open waters in the Peak District, which used to be known as the ‘Sheffield Lakes’. As an example, in their namesakes across the Lake District, people can enjoy the wonder of swimming in extraordinary scenery, surrounded by hills and open countryside, but as yet this adventure is not permitted in the reservoirs of The Peaks. The issue is repeated across the country.
What groups are asking for is to be able to ”swim as people walk” – which seems to be a fairly simple thing to ask. Just as the Kinder Trespass events of 1932 eventually led to access to our countryside for walkers so could swimming access be permitted in our reservoirs and rivers? I do need to highlight though that countryside access only came about because of sustained, organised lobbying and campaigning. The article highlighted here gives details of how you might get involved if you’re interested, and places to find more information about the issues involved.
Here’s to more swimming access. In the meantime we will celebrate our access to the beach that little bit more.