To Swim or Not to Swim - that is the Question

Two stories in today’s news highlight a burning question on the minds of adults and children who enjoy outdoor swimming. Do we have a right to swim outdoors?

From America we have the heart warming account of Heidi Curry, reported in NEWS MESSENGER. Her son Michael nearly drowned in a swimming pool last year, which made Heidi realise that learning to swim was a must for her two sons. But the cost of lessons was just out of reach for the family. A new scheme that aims to teach children to swim without costing them a cent has made all the difference: “The free swimming lessons have been awesome,” Mrs Curry said. “It’s given the boys a lot of confidence and it has also improved their fitness.”

To Swim or Not to Swim - that is the Question

Without a doubt, learning to swim is a lifesaving essential in any child’s education. Yet it has to be said that skills learnt in the swimming pool often do not translate into real life situations. Many competent pool swimmers struggle to swim in open water, with one of the main problems results from panic in an unfamiliar situation. Cold water, strong currents and difficulties finding an exit point can often spell tragedy for those who are uneducated when it comes to open water or wild swimming.

In the UK a dispute has arisen over the continued use of a reservoir by wild swimmers. British Waterways has put up a “no swimming” sign at Sparth Reservoir in Marsden, Huddersfield. They say that this replaces a former sign that has gone missing, reasoning that it would be “reckless” to allow swimming at the site. “But swimmers said they have used the reservoir for decades and it is possible to enjoy the sport safely. They believe the reservoir has been used for recreational swimming since the 1940s and possibly earlier. In the future they hope signs could be changed to allow them to swim at their own risk.” As reported by the BBC.

Attitudes in Britain differ greatly to those of our European partners. Swimming is encouraged in rivers and lakes abroad but not so in England. The way in which our waterways are governed is soon to change. British Waterways and the Environment Agency are to merge into one waterways charity. This could be good or bad for wild swimmers. British Waterways official policy seems to be prejudiced towards wild swimming as illustrated above, whereas the Environment Agency allows responsible swimming. The wild swimmers future thus rests in the hands of those who must decide what is best for us.

Discover the fascinating history of outdoor swimming in Britain – read: Hung Out to Dry; Swimming and British Culture. The reasons for our prejudice towards outdoor swimming are deep-rooted, complex and pervasive. Yet surely reason will ultimately win out, especially as wild swimming continues to grow in popularity.

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