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13 November 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > In Pictures > Photo Galleries > Event Galleries > Come on in the water is lovely

Wild Swimming

Wild swimming...

Come on in the water is lovely

Getting wet and wild in Wilts - we take the plunge with Rob Fryer to get the skinny on wild swimming

It's hot, it's sweaty and in land-locked Wiltshire the sea is miles away…. So where exactly can you go to take the plunge and cool off?

Rivers right? Wiltshire is riddled with them… there are fords, lakes, weirs, pools and everything else in between…

What better way to cool off than a dip in a sun-warmed, fresh water river.  To float under the sun, under the sky, under the branches of trees far away from the in-door, chlorine choked, crowded municipal concrete pools.

Diving into the River Frome

Diving into the River Frome

So what's stopping us?  Well for a start a cursory Google search on 'River swimming' will unleash a hellish Pandora's box of reasons of why jumping into your nearest river is close to suicide.

It's too cold, you'll drown in the fast flowing current, you don't know how deep it is, you'll be mowed down by a motor boat and if all that doesn't stop you mid-plunge there's Weils Disease….

Transmitted by rat's urine, can it get any worse?, Weils is the waterborne river disease that's guaranteed to have the most foolhardy of people heading straight back in-doors

So is it really that dangerous?  Is diving into a local swimming hole as dodgy as being a costume clad extra in Jaws?

At the Farleigh and District River Swimming Club, just a short flip-flop drive from the outskirts of Trowbridge, swimmers have been taking the plunge into the River Frome for the last 70 years.

It was here, waist deep in river water, that I caught up with wild swimmer Rob Fryer.

Rob has taken to the waters all over the country and in his swimming guide, Rob's Directory of Cool Places, has charted hundreds of wild ponds and rivers where it's safe to swim.

So who better to get the skinny on wild swimming (and just in case you were wondering it's not done in the skinny) and find out exactly what it is:

Rob Fryer

Rob Fryer

"Well for a start wild swimming is definitely not tame swimming," says Rob. "All that chlorine and concrete stuff.  It's swimming in rivers and lakes and anywhere natural.

"I wild swim because I like the countryside, I like the beauty of it and people are coming back to that now."

But with water quality issues and the possibility of Weils Disease, wild swimming is risky, isn't it?

"There's always risks in life generally and obviously there's more risk if you're in a river or a lake.

"But the actual dangers from the water, those sort of risks, are actually less than the physical danger of say getting cold.  There's a lot of talk about Weils Disease but the swimming risk of Weils is really only a very minor part, it is a risk, but it's a minor part of the risk."

So for a wannabe wild swimmer what's the best advice?

"The best advice is a lot of caution.  Always wear footwear, go with somebody who's done it before and go to a place where a lot of people swim."

Farleigh and District Swimming Club

Ready to take the plunge

And where would that be in Witshire?

"Well, there's Keynes Country Park.  Enough people go there so it can't be stopped.  A lot of people in Lechlade, just north of Swindon, go to the riverside car park and walk upstream to the footbridge.  Lots of people swim there.

"Figheldean is very, very good.  It has nice fast-ish, deep water.  And just outside Houghton at Stockbridge there's an old ford, 2-3 feet deep with lovely clear water, that's great for slightly older kids.

"Even right in the middle of Salisbury there's a place by the Old Mill at Harnham.  And at the Langfords, between Steeple Langford and Hanging Langford there's a small place with a picnic area."

So why do you enjoy Wild Swimming so much?

"Well, the strange thing is that it's actually quite a spiritual experience.  If you do it, I think, you'll find yourself communing with nature."

For more information on Rob's Directory of Cool Places, The Farleigh Hungerford River Swimming Club or wild swimming safety click on the links in the right hand column.

last updated: 04/12/2008 at 11:52
created: 04/08/2005

Have Your Say

And if you've taken the plunge and got wet and wild in Wiltshire, we want to hear from you…

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Richard
I was swimming in the river at Lechlade in the 60's, when I was around 8, and enjoyed every minute of it. It was a popular fishing spot then, but less crowded than now, it seems. I live in the States now and still swim in lakes here.

Jana
What is so wild about swimming in nature? People swim in seas and lakes everywhere that are filled with everything from too may people, pollution, currents and boats around the world and it doesnt make news. You could get sick and hurt from anything. Maybe people shouldnt get so hung up on rules, and just live a little. It is after all only water.

tanya o
also would like to know how to get hold of directory of cool places

Woodnymph
Do cows ever swim in these rivers and lakes?

Cathy & Julian
We have just discovered and joined Farleigh Club - been there twice in the first week!! Brilliant! How can we get a copy of the Directory Of Cool Places??

Niall Bell
We travelled from Northern Ireland to a motocross event staged on the track across the river from Farleigh Hungerford Swimming Club. We sampled the delights of the Frome River over the weekend. It was absolutely glorious; swimming as it was meant to be in the beautiful countryside.

IRIS WILLS
NEVER LEARNEDTO SWIM,BUT LOVELY TO SEE MY WILTSHIRE AGAIN, ONLY POND WE HAD WAS FOR THE COWS.

Pete Roberts
Ahh - the dreaded Weil's Disease. The multi-megaton nuke in the Health and Safety Gestapo's armoury deployed when all other attempts to keep us out of the water fail. The organism responsible (leptospires) is destroyed by ultravilolet light. The strong sunlight that tempts us into the water in the first ensures that Weil's disease is not a risk to summer swimmers. In fact anglers are at far more risk of contracting Weils. Rivers and lakes have other mechanisms for the disposal of disease organisms (pathogens). Many disease organisms die in oxygenated water. Viruses are consumed by benign bacteria. Other pathogens are eaten by minute single-celled animals. In fact the light green colouration of healthy outdoor water is caused by a veritable army of micro-organisms diligently cleaning the water and subsequently providing food for fish. I have never contracted any illness during 30 years' open water swimming - including in the Mersey estuary long before the "great clean-up" that has resulted in salmon being caught in Warrington.

Rob Fryer
There's also Heytesbury. 4 miles south of Warminster. Heytesbury mill Pool. Down Park Lane in Heytesbury, then walk upstream for 50 yards from the bridge. There's a good pool below a low weir, mostly shallow, some deep, but wear shoes & take chairs if you want to picnic.

Stephen Sian
I am somewhat amused at this article having grown up in Canada: (a) that you have created a term "wild swimming" and (b) that it's an out-of-the-ordinary experience. In British Columbia, I have grown up swimming in rivers, low land lakes, alpine lakes, streams, sloughs, and of course the big wide ocean. Never a question of disease or uncleanliness. Further when I was a child, you could drink most of the water you found. Sadly, with global pollution that has changed.

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