Lon­don­ers dream­ing about swimming in River Thames


Work to build an open-air pool on the River Thames in cen­tral Lon­don could start this year as more Bri­tons dip their toes into the wa­ters of out­door swimming.

“Thou­sands of peo­ple would love to swim in cen­tral Lon­don,” said Caitlin Davies, au­thor of “Down­stream”, a book on the history of swimming in the Thames.

“What’s in­ter­est­ing to­day is that we’ve come back to the Thames — we’re ac­tu­ally do­ing the same things the Vic­to­ri­ans used to do.”

An online cam­paign to raise 125,000 pounds ( US$ 200,000) to build a pool in the Thames fed by fil­tered river wa­ter, down­river from the Houses of Par­lia­ment and the Lon­don Eye, has al­ready ex­ceeded its tar­get on fund­ing plat­form Kick­starter.

Chris Romer-Lee, one of the brains be­hind the cam­paign, hopes this will be enough to sub­mit the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion on the heated pool, which will cost an es­ti­mated 11 mil­lion pounds over­all, by the end of the year.

“Our gen­er­a­tion was brought up think­ing it was a poi­sonous wa­ter­way,” he told AFP, re­fer­ring to the river. “Our pro­ject is try­ing to change this per­cep­tion.”

Romer- Lee added that the scheme, which has drawn sup­port from over 1,200 peo­ple, “comes at the right time be­cause there’s been a resur­gence in out­door swimming.”

Out­door swimming has long been a niche hobby for some in the cap­i­tal, who fre­quent cold, spar­tan pools on Hamp­stead Heath in north Lon­don or the Ser­pen­tine in Hyde Park.

But now the pas­time is tak­ing off more widely across Bri­tain.

‘Re­ac­tion to city life’

Artist Amy Shar­rocks, who has spent a decade study­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween peo­ple and wa­ter, wants to or­ga­nize an an­nual swim in the Thames for around 100 peo­ple.

She is try­ing to se­cure an hour a year when the com­mer­cial and tourist ves­sels which nor­mally chug up and down the river make way for hu­mans.

“Peo­ple need to have a re­la­tion­ship with the river. Other cities around the world have solved this ques­tion of peo­ple’s de­sire to jump in,” she told AFP.

Shar­rocks added that she be­lieved this de­sire was a “re­ac­tion to the drier city life.”

Boosted by hun­dreds of emails of sup­port, Shar­rocks now hopes to raise the funds needed to draw up an eval­u­a­tion of her pro­posal which she will then present to the Port of Lon­don Au­thor­ity. It is not only in Lon­don where wild swimming has taken off.

The Out­door Swimming So­ci­ety is a na­tion­wide or­ga­ni­za­tion which has in­creased its mem­ber­ship from 300 in 2006 to 25,000 to­day. It claims to be the big­gest such group in the world.

“When I founded the Out­door Swimming So­ci­ety in 2006, most peo­ple thought of swimming out­doors as cold, dirty and dan­ger­ous,” said its founder Kate Rew.

Now “the public im­age of wild swimming is that it’s a fan­tas­tic thing to do”, she told AFP.

No More ‘Great Stink’

The im­prov­ing qual­ity of wa­ter in the Thames is one rea­son why Lon­don­ers can now dream of notch­ing up lengths in one of the world’s iconic rivers.

Any dan­ger these days comes more from heavy mar­itime traf­fic and high tides than from the qual­ity of the wa­ter — although that was not al­ways the case.

1. In a file pic­ture taken on July 18, 2013, a man jumps into a lake in Lon­don’s Hamp­stead Heath. 2. In a file pic­ture taken on Dec. 13, 2014 par­tic­i­pants take part in the Out­door Swimming So­ci­ety’s an­nual “De­cem­ber Dip” at Par­lia­ment Hill lido in north Lon­don. 3. In a file pic­ture taken on Dec. 13, 2014 a par­tic­i­pant’s breath mists as he takes part in the Out­door Swimming So­ci­ety’s an­nual “De­cem­ber Dip” at Par­lia­ment Hill lido in north Lon­don.


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