The City of Leicester has a rich swimming history

All 8 lidos and 5 paddling pools have been closed

Swimmers have been confined to indoor pools

Wild swimming is opposed

Wild Swimmers at Rutland Water Bathing Beach

This is no longer the case at Rutland Water. On July 5th 2014 Rutland Water opened for swimmers (see above). Thank you Anglian Water!


Wild swimming at Machovo Lake Czech Republic Free Entry

There are over 1300 EU designated inland bathing waters in France and more than 1900 in Germany compared to just 12 in the UK - yet we seem to experience approximately the same rate of drowning. Banning swimming doesn't keep people from drowning. Cold water experience and education saves lives.


At the Welsh Assembly Jocelyn Davies asked John Griffiths: Minister, during this lovely weather, wild swimming becomes popular in our lakes and waterfalls, despite the obvious dangers. What is your Government’s policy on wild swimming?

John Griffiths responded: That is an interesting question for me as the Minister with the portfolio in which these responsibilities are brought together, because it links outdoor access and sport and physical activity. The Member makes those links through her supplementary question. Personally, I believe that wild swimming is worth while and have no problem with it at all. I think that it marries up our great outdoors with sport and fitness in Wales. It does happen across Wales, and I have come across many examples, in visiting Wales, where it has been pointed out to me that, in these areas, wild swimming takes place.  More...


Wild Swimming Belgium

Please let us swim in Abbey Park Leicester

Discrimination towards swimmers?

Could it be that Leicester City Council, in an effort to do what's best for the City's residents are unwittingly discriminating against open water swimmers?


Prejudice and discrimination are ugly words, but, there can be no doubt that the history of swimming in Leicester City is a history of growing prejudice towards outdoor swimmers.






Leicester Mercury September 26, 2003

Birmingham City Council Let The Genie Out Of The Bottle 10 February 2012

Open water swimming

A shock decision by Birmingham City Council to turn its back on a decades old bylaw prohibiting outdoor swimming in the cities lakes and ponds, may see the genie out of the bottle for open water swimmers. More...

The Law in relation to the public's right to swim (source: River Access For All)

43 - 410

Following Roman law, a permanently flowing non-tidal river was regarded as public property (res publicae). Thus, any member of the public who could navigate the river had the right to do so. (See The Institutes of Justinian - page 19, 1-4)

2013 Annual Liffey Swim 

Dublin City 2013 Annual Liffey Swim 

c. 850

"Undoubtedly, in these times, it was a natural and unquestioned practice to use the rivers of all parts of the country as a means of transport so far as their physical state rendered them capable of such use..." Arthur Telling (Barrister) & Rosemary Smith (Solicitor) - The Public Right of Navigation, A Report to The Sports Council and The Water Space Amenity Commission - 1983

Wild Swimming Germany

Wild Swimming in one of 1900 Bathing Areas in Germany


Magna Carta (sealed by King John in 1215 and confirmed at least 44 times in the next 200 years) confirmed the public rights of navigation on "the Thames*, the Medway*, and throughout the whole of England" and ordered the removal of all obstructions. (* the Thames and the Medway had been subject to earlier charters). (See text of Magna Carta section 33, 47 & 48 refer to rivers)

Wild Swimming in Venice 

Wild Swimming in Venice


Act for Wears and Fishgarths reconfirms (and clarifies) intent of Magna Carta;

"Whereas, by the laudable Statute of Magna Carta, among other Things, it is contained That all Kedels by Thamise and Medway, and throughout the Realm of England, should be taken away, saving by the Sea-banks, which Statute was made for the great Wealth of all this Land, in avoiding the straitness of all Rivers, so that Ships and Boats might have in them their large and free Passage..." (See text of the Act)

Wild \Swimming in Hungary 

Wild Swimming in Hungary

c. 1450

"By the time of Henry VI riparian owners had come to own the bed of the river but, it is submitted, those owners took their new property subject to the public right of navigation over it that had existed from time immemorial." J.H. Bates, Water and Drainage Law (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1990), para 13.1

Sandwell Council, near Birmingham have opened Swan Pool for wild swimmers to enjoy.

Sandwell Council, near Birmingham have opened Swan Pool for wild swimmers to enjoy. 

1423 - 1827

Between 1423 and 1827, 83 rivers were improved under Acts of Parliament. All but 2 of these have evidence of prior use (no evidence does not mean no prior use). Often the wording of the Act includes wording such as "an Act to improve navigation".

All of these rivers would need a right of navigation to allow ships/barges/boats to use them but most of the Acts do not confer such a right.


Escaping the heat on the River Frome at one of Britain's last remaining river swimming clubs

The inference is very clear - public rights of navigation already existed under common law. It was not the right of navigation that was being changed by the Acts but the capacity of the river to accommodate vessels of a particular size.

Wild Swimming - Claverton Weir, near Bath

Whilst it was normal for riparian landowners to be compensated for any losses arising from these Acts of Parliament (such as land for structures and disruption to other activities) none of them was awarded compensation for the loss of the right to control navigation. Again the inference is clear - riparian owners did not have the right to control navigation and therefore couldn't be compensated for the loss of it!

 © Rivers Access for All, 728x90px jpg

Bathing in Abbey Meadows Leicester John Flower

The Popularity of swimming in Leicester

The incredible popularity of swimming during the industrial  revolution prompted the middle classes to restrict free access for open water swimmers country wide. Originally concerns over the behavior and conduct of working class bathers saw their freedom restricted to designated bathing areas.



Swimming Leicester

Later alarm over water quality forced swimmers into man-made pools.

It is now a criminal offence to swim in the canal, and river swimming is rigorously opposed in Abbey Park.

Discover the rich history of swimming in Leicester, and discover how what has happened here has reshaped modern British history.



"A photograph is powerful proof. Its indisputable evidence." 

Brian Skerry

Nick Clegg and William Hague love wild swimming!

Whatever Next? - RoSPA Recommend Wild Swimming!

Discover what is going on in Sparth.

Just How safe is wild swimming? Try our three question quiz...

Advice from the Lake District National Park Rangers:
Published on: 18 Jul 2013

As temperatures sizzle to near record breaking heights lakes, tarns and rivers
have become popular 'hot' spots to cool-off and swim.

Lake District National Park ranger Sara Spicer said huge numbers were
getting a lot of pleasure from the cool waters, adding keeping safe was 'not
much more than common sense'.

She explained: "We actively support and promote open water swimming in
our world-renowned lakes and tarns.
It's a fantastic way to enjoy the
summer, scenery and be active into the bargain. 

What About Wild Swimming in Leicester?

A letter to the Council:

July 5th  2011

Dear Peter Soulsby       

Open water swimming in Leicester

I appeal to you as head of Leicester City Council to bring an end to the prejudice shown towards open water swimmers. Please find enclosed a copy of previous correspondence.

Wild Swimming in Croatia 

Bathing Beach Croatia

Leicester was once a swimming city. River, lake and canal swimming gave the city identity, personality, and fame. Please see the short film I have put together about the history of outdoor swimming in Leicester on You Tube: 8 Lidos Leicester. (this film has now been replaced by the video below).


Swimming Prohibited and discouraged at one of Leicester Cities most popular and safest bathing places in Abbey Park. 

Swimming Prohibited and discouraged at one of Leicester Cities most popular and safest bathing places in Abbey Park.

Wild Swimming Australian style 

Children trained as safe river swimmers in Australia

Originally concerns over the conduct and morals of working class bathers saw their freedom restricted to designated bathing areas. Later concerns over water quality forced bathers into man-made indoor pools. Even so, youngsters continued to swim until attitudes hardened to the point that prejudice replaced reason and outdoor swimming came under a blanket ban.

Wild Swimming in Lake Zurich, Switzerland 

Wild Swimming in Lake Zurich, Switzerland 

It would seem from Stewart Doughty's letter of May 18th that the main concern of the Council today is to avoid any possibility of litigation. The question then is: If the Council were to relax its attitude towards outdoor swimming would they be culpable should tragedy strike?

lake swimming at Friedrichshafen Germany

Jean Perraton, President of the River and Lake Swimming Association responds to Stewert's concerns by saying: "His fears about the duty of care, under the Occupiers' Liability Acts, should have been laid to rest by the land mark ruling in the House of Lords, which made it clear that the civil law does not require landowners to prohibit swimming where there are no unusual hazards, beyond the inherent danger of swimming (Tomlinson v. Congleton Borough Council 2003). All that the landowner/manager is required to do is to put up warning signs if there are any unusual dangers, such as lock gates or underwater obstructions. There is nothing to stop them from allowing people to swim at their own risk - as is done in a number of places such as the country park at Frensham Great Pond and two sites on Lake Windermere. In Lord Hoffman's words: 'it will be extremely rare for an occupier of land to be under a duty to prevent people from taking risks which are inherent in activities they freely choose to undertake on the land.'"

Wild Swimming in Poland 

Wild Swimming in Poland

In case he then comes up with worries about the Health and Safety Executive, you might point out that the HSE has recently amended its rule book in relation to swimming in open waters. (HSG 179). It no longer requires lifeguards to be present in lakes where swimming is allowed, provided that swimming is 'not actively promoted'. It states that: 'If people choose to swim in open water where swimming is not actively encouraged, it is reasonable to assume that they take appropriate personal responsibility for their own safety.'

Wild swimming in Sweeden

Swimming Beach Sweden

Additionally Rob Fryer, Chairman of the River and Lake Swimming Association responds: "Doesn't the duty of care mean that they are obliged to advise of any unforeseen or unexpected hazards? Erecting "No swimming" notices does not do this. Do they allow skate board sites?"

Wild Swimming in a Czech Lake 

Wild swimming in a Czech lake

The answer to Robs question is of cause yes! In fact the paddling pools in both Western Park and Braunstone Park have been transformed into skateboarding Mecca's. Despite the fact that skateboarding is a comparatively dangerous pastime, children are encouraged to congregate and play unsupervised, by the Council.  I have no issue with this. Individuals who wish to take part must weigh the risks for themselves and skate at their own risk. On one hand the Council encourage skateboarding, but on the other it outlaws swimming.

Wild Swimming in Zurich 

Wild Swimming in Zurich

One has to ask the question: Does Leicester City Council have a policy of discrimination, intolerance and prejudice towards open water swimming?

Yours sincerely

Chris Ayriss


Skateboarding is encouraged in Abbey Park Leicester but river swimming is not tolerated on health and safety grounds


Wild Swimming Dangerous, Skateboarding Safe? 

In 2011  42 people died while skateboarding according to a 2011 USA skateboarding fatality report by: Skaters for Public Skateparks Research Committee. Most of the fatalities were caused by skating in the street, and 39 of the deaths were people between the ages of 13 and 24, according to the report.

'It should be appreciated that skateboarding is an exciting sport and that accidents will occasionally occur. RoSPA will normally Risk Assess all skate parks as being high risk. That does not mean that we do not approve of them, just that we recognise that accidents are going to occur'.[RoSPA information sheet 27]. ROSPA

To put things into perspective, there were 35,788 skateboard injuries in 1996 and 156,681 football (soccer) related injuries (again in the USA). However skateboarding injuries tend to be more serious than football related ones. A third of all skateboarding injuries occur at weekends. The average age of skateboarders is between 13 and 14 and they participate in the sport on average 50.8 days in the year. 90% of them are male and 60% are under 15. ROSPA

Skateboarding is actively encouraged by Leicester City Council, but river swimming is not tolerated


Daily Swimming in Rutland Water

Adrian Russell Director, Environmental Services responds:

30th September 2011

Dear Mr Ayriss

Re: Open Water Swimming in Leicester

Thank you for your letter dated 05 July 2011 in respect to the above which Peter Soulsby has asked me to respond to on his behalf. I apologise for the delay in sending you a response.

I have taken the opportunity to review and confirm the advice originally sought by the Parks manager, Stewart Doughty, from our Risk Management and health and Safety teams and I am now in a position to comment as follows.

Wild Swimming Cotswold Water Park

Cotswold Water Park 

I have considered a report published in January 2011 by the National Water Safety Forum, 'UK water related fatalities 2009' to inform decisions on risk acceptability, prevention and the appropriateness of risk controls and regulations with the overall aim to reduce accidents/fatalities to the public from water based activities, which is also our aim. The report details 48 fatalities during 2009 caused through swimming of which 15 were in rivers, more than any other single water feature, incidentally the majority of fatalities seem to be under the age of 18.

Wild Swimming in Belgiums Rivers

Wild Swimming in Belgium

Chris Ayriss Responds:


RoSPA and Wild Swimming

At one time RoSPA encouraged the public to avoid outdoor swimming, but they have now refocused attention on the real danger: a combination of swimming and alcohol. In line with this the RoSPA website features the question:

Wild Swimming in China 

Wild Swimming in China

Where is it safe to swim outdoors?

It answers in part by saying: "For those who want to take a dip in the water, RoSPA's advice is that it is best to go to a properly-supervised site, such as a beach, lido or swimming pool." "However, not everywhere - particularly inland waters - has a lifeguard, and there are some important things to consider before you swim or jump in at locations like these. The water might be colder than you were expecting and there might be hazards such as strong currents and debris that you cannot see beneath the surface."

Wild Swimming river pool Peru 

Wild Swimming river pool Peru 

"Be honest about your swimming ability and remember that alcohol and swimming do not mix."

Safe river swimming at Cesse Bize Minervois 

Safe river swimming at Cesse Bize Minervois 

The river in Abbey Park is generally slow flowing, and for this reason it was used in the past as a swimming attraction with many races and Water Polo matches being hosted in Abbey Park.

Wild swimming history Abbey Park Leicester









Wild Swimming at the Abbey Park Show 1905 just look at the crowds!

Further RoSPA state:

"...Consider how you are going to get out of the water once you are in it..."

I am particularly concerned that in an effort to discourage bridge jumping, Leicester City Council has planted prickly bushes restricting egress from the river. It could be argued that by their actions Leicester City Council are increasing the risks faced by youths engaging in this activity as well as to park users who fall into the river through mishap.

Leicester City Council's Actions put park usersat risk

No Way Out! Abbey Park Leicester

No Way Out May 2012

wild swimming Copenhagen Belgum 

One of four swimming areas in Copenhagen Denmark

Adrian Russell continues:

I have also looked at how other local authorities approach open water swimming to see if there are examples of best practice, however I have been unable to identify any similar organisations to Leicester City Council who operate a proactive policy.


In Oxford the City Council Allow Swimming in Parks

I am informed that there are no local waters classed at Bathing Waters under the EU legislation (there are only 9 inland sites, the rest being coastal, DEFRA 15 November 2010), and the two local sites that have official swimming in them (Watermead Country Park North and Market Bosworth Water Trust) both have leased the activity to Triathlon clubs to manage and are not open for general swimmers.

Wild Swimming Carding Mill Valley - Reservoir 

Wild Swimming at Carding Mill Valley - Reservoir Aug 2012

The National Trust allows swimming in their Church Stretton Reservoir,
Shropshire, they have put up signage giving swimming safety advice, a throw line, and
buoys marking the 1.4 m depth. 

Swimming can be enjoyed, but just not in Leicester!

Swimming Pool Haddan Estate 

Swimming Sign Haddon Estate

Chris Ayriss Responds: 

Attitudes towards open water swimming have changed dramatically since the 1970s. The water safety film Dark and Lonely Water  frightened most young swimmers out of the water; and in fact many children had recurring nightmares after seeing this safety film. Since then a culture of litigation has drifted across the Atlantic from America posing a real threat to business and institutions as outrageous lawsuits have been upheld by the judiciary. Even so the Daily Mail reported on the 22nd of June 2004 that Lord Phillips, at that time the Master of the Rolls - the second most senior judge in England and Wales - added his voice to those who believe that people should be free to engage in sports which are known to carry a risk and that they shall not be in a position to claim compensation in case of an accident. The judge said: "I feel very strongly that individuals should not be restrained from carrying on sporting activities that involve risk like hang-gliding or swimming" and urged councils not to cave in by outlawing such activities.


Wild Swimming in Stockholme

I do not suggest that Leicester City Council encourage open water swimming, I do propose that by their actions they show prejudice towards open water swimmers. The council endorse skateboarding; they provide skateboard ramps and facilities that undoubtedly promote the activity and along with it the risk of being sued. BMX cycle tracks are another example of the council's encouragement of a sport that poses a degree of risk. I do not ask that the council erect any facilities whatsoever for swimmers. I do ask that they tolerate outdoor swimming.

As outdoor swimming has been discouraged since the 70s it is not surprising that examples of best practice are few and far between. We can though look to: Frensham Great Pond which is in a country park managed by Waverley District Council where swimming at one's own risk is allowed when lifeguards are not on duty - similarly Fell Foot, a country park run by the National Trust where the trust allows people to swim at their own risk, as it does at other sites it owns. 

Wild Swimming at Eben Bathing Lake Austria 

Wild Swimming at Eben Bathing Lake Austria 

Bosworth Water Trust doesn't encourage swimming in their lakes, yet the waters of these lakes are full of young swimmers on sunny days. A beach with a roped off area is provided next to the camp site and holiday makers fill out the lawns next to what is commonly called Leicester-on-Sea.

Wild Swimming at Rutland Water

Rutland Water Bathing Beach 2016

You are correct in saying that that Triathlon clubs manage official swimming sessions at the lake. However the general public does swim openly at all times. The management does not encourage swimming; however they do knowingly allow swimming and water play in the small lake, and in the roped off bathing area pictured below just as they have done for decades. This example of best practice is one I wish Leicester City Council would follow in Abbey Park. 

swimming at Bosworth Water Trust 

Swimming in the lake at Bosworth 

Examples of best practice at Bosworth Water Trust

Adrian Russell continues:  

I note that you have previously stated that we could remove the no swimming signage at the location in question in Abbey Park, however this signage was erected as part of a direct campaign to manage the situation of young people jumping from the bridge into the river which did incur the risks of individuals diving into shallow areas and for individuals getting caught in hidden debris on the river bed which could result in an accident or fatality, and under our control measures we have attempted to minimise this risk by controlling access into the water at this point. To remove this signage could be perceived by some that we are encouraging swimming.

Wild Swimming China

Wild Swimming in China

Chris Ayriss responds: As already stated the actions of the council in planting prickly bushes, restricts egress from the river by bridge jumpers and swimmers alike. Just next to the bridge a plaque has been installed by the Council featuring the story of a young girl who fell into the river; she would have drowned had it not been for a kindly rescuer. The message concludes with the warning: "do not let this happen to you." It could be argued that the Council are increasing the risk to bathers by their actions as these bushes restrict access for potential rescuers, as well as making it impossible to exit the river in what was previously a swimming area.

Water a real life hazard










Restricting swimming in traditional and safe public areas pushes people out of sight and into danger elsewhere. A lack of tolerance puts lives at risk as youngsters will seek out bathing areas well away from public view and censure. Should they get into difficulties, who will be around to rescue them?


Sand Lake Lhota Czech Republic

Adrian Russell continues:

The waters in question are cleared on a regular basis, however they are subject to continued debris being washing downriver creating obstacles and potential pollutants to anyone accessing the water, in addition the river bed is extremely silted in areas causing additional hazards.

wild swimming Austria 

Wild swimming in Austria

Based on the advice available which is supported by ROSPA and British Waterways, I have come to the conclusion as previously stated, that we do have a duty of care, as the land owner, under our occupiers liability to protect our service users in the most practical and responsible means we have available to us, and we are therefore not in a position to encourage swimming in unmanaged and unsupervised areas which we have overall responsibility for, as we would not be in a position to satisfactorily minimise the risk to general parks users without providing suitably trained and competent life guards and maintaining the water quality to meet EU standards as monitored by the Environment Agency.

Yours Sincerely

Adrian Russell


River swimming in Zurich

Chris Ayriss Responds:

The water quality in this area is tested and it exceeds the standards set down for bathing waters. Even so if Leicester City Council were to encourage swimming in this area they would be responsible to provide lifeguards and minimise risk to users as is the case with the Lido in Hyde Park London. But this would be necessary ONLY if swimming were encouraged.

River Swimming in the Ukraine 

River Swimming in the Ukraine

The removal of NO SWIMMING signs would not indicate that swimming is encouraged by the council. "The meaning of 'encourage' has already been established in case law. In Wilson v Danny Quastel (Rotherhithe) Ltd [1965] 2 All ER 541 at 543 the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker, ruled that the expression 'encourage' is synonymous with 'incite' and in in R v Chamey [1914] 1 KB 137 at 141, 142 the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Rufus Isaacs, held that 'encouraging' an activity necessarily goes beyond merely 'knowingly allowing' " RALSA

It is my hope that Leicester City Council will think again about those of us who enjoy open water swimming and reconsider this appeal for tolerance. I look forward to the day when the freedom to swim in Leicester's beautiful rivers and lakes will be restored.

Water safety sign, by Frensham Great Pond, Surrey, Southern England. A non life guarded bathing beach.

Water safety sign, by Frensham Great Pond, Surrey, Southern England. A non life guarded bathing beach. 

The HSE guidance on managing swimming pools including non standard facilities such as lakes & rivers, is HSE179 see specifically paragraphs 6 & 186 to 193.


Serpentine Lido London June 1950

This is to encourage and not deter operators from opening outdoor swimming facilities.

Frequently Asked Qustions's are at which includes guidance on non standard swimming facilities, such as lakes and rivers.

This is a major step forward with a common sense, down to earth approach to water safety.


The Dangers associated with skateboarding

From: The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website.

"To improve skateboarding safety, a growing number of communities provide supervised skateboard parks..."

Wild swimming in Leicester

Wild Swimming in Leicester

"Skateboarding is an activity in which you move quickly over hard surfaces. It can lead to injuries that range from minor cuts and bruises to catastrophic brain injury. Each year in the United States, skateboarding injuries cause about 50,000 visits to emergency departments and 1500 children and adolescents to be hospitalized. (Source: AAP, March 2002.)"


River swimming Encouraged in Basel Switzerland

"Most hospitalizations involve head injury. Even injuries that heal quickly can cause pain and anxiety, cost time, and money and may lead to disabilities. This can include loss of vision, hearing and speech; inability to walk, bathe, toilet, dress or feed yourself; and changes in thinking and behavior."

Wild Swimming in Sweden

Swimming Lake Sweden

Adrian Lane,

Senior Riverside Officer,
Leicester City Council,
Parks Services,
Lodge 2,
Victoria Park,
London Road,
Leicester,  LE1 7RY

April 12, 2011

Dear Adrian

Re: your letter about swimming in Leicester's rivers and ponds.

Thank-you for your reply to my question regarding the prohibition of swimming in the lakes and rivers of Leicester's Parks.

You refer to this as an apparent prohibition, but for example in Abbey Park Leicester, signs reading NO SWIMMING are very prominent all along the river front. Additionally prickly bushes have been planted on the grass adjacent to the footbridge, formally used by swimmers who used to sunbath/dry-off after their swim.

For the sake of clarity and simplicity, my interest in swimming in Leicester's parks and rivers focuses on one particular location: the stretch of river above the weir in Abbey Park, adjacent to the footbridge. The following observations and comments relate to this location specifically.

Wild Swimming Dutch Style

Wild swimming in the Neverlands: The facilities for swimming in lakes and rivers are often excellent, with many boasting a mixture of spotless toilet blocks, manned car parks and refreshment vans, to ensure the best possible experience.

You state in your letter that: "In a perfect world nothing would be better than seeing the people of Leicester enjoying the delights of swimming in the natural environment. However as it stands the rivers and lakes in Leicester's Parks are in most case's an unsuitable environment for us to actively allow swimming to take place for a variety of reasons."


Diving Platform and Swimming Area; Wakulla Springs 

I am encouraged to note that you recognise that not all of the rivers and lakes in Leicester's parks are unsuitable for swimming. However Leicester City Council actively discourage swimming activities in at least one safe location as highlighted above. The reasons you give for this are listed below along with my observations. On first reading your letter gives the impression that the City Council views swimming in the waters of the UK's first Environment City to be both foolhardy and reckless. However reading between the lines it appears that Leicester City Council continues to hold to a policy of institutionalised prejudice towards open water swimming, which has been in place for many decades. I ask that the Council reconsider their position and adopt a more tolerant attitude towards an activity that is both healthy, enjoyable and life saving.

Wild Swimming in Hungary 

Wild Swimming at Lake Balaton Hungary

The objections you presented are as follows:

  • The alternative use's already designated for some of them for such as use by rowing boats, angling and model boat sailing etc, which would conflict with people swimming in the water.

Safe swim code produced by the Lake District National Park

This would not apply to the river in Abbey Park.

  • Their nature conservation value can easily be destroyed unwittingly by the unintentional actions of people being in the water.

Bathing in the river - Europe

The City Council has set apart specific areas for conservation. Encouraging recreational swimmers to use alternative areas away from those set aside for conservation is reasonable and the majority of people would readily respect this. Swimmers traditionally prefer to use recognised swimming locations and will naturally congregate with other swimmers if at all possible.

  • Contained bodies of water such as ponds that have a high number of water fowl can have very high levels of bacteria from their excrement making it very unsafe to risk people coming into close bodily contact.

Wild Swimming sign

Portland Oregon is a city much the same size as Leicester

This is surely not true in relation to the area I have highlighted. The water at King Lear Lake is regularly tested and its quality is beyond question. It is safe for swimming as evidenced by the fact that swimming is approved in this lake by the County Council. In Abbey Park the water is also tested and is found to be suitable for public swimming. The river water is of a quality equal to that enjoyed at the river swimming club in Farleigh Hungerford. Swimmers regularly use the River Frome without health problems. It should be remembered the Frome is promoted as a swimming venue. I do not ask that the Council promote Abbey Park as a swimming venue. Rather I ask that they discontinue their regime of prejudice towards swimming.

Wild Swimming in Lahore Canal

Canal swimming Pakistan

Consider also the swimming area in Hyde Park London. Swimmers enjoy a small area of the Serpentine Lake, sharing it with swans, geese and other waterfowl. It is not unsafe to swim in natural surroundings. The same holds true for swimmers in the ponds of Hampstead Heath. It is not unsafe to swim in the river of Abbey Park, just as it is not unsafe to swim in King Lear Lake. The water is just the same.

Wild Swimming France 

Lake Cavayere - Carcassonne Plage

Regarding the risk that bacteria poses Pete Roberts said in relation to this issue last year: "As far as bacteria are concerned it must be emphasised that 90% of bacteria are indifferent to humans, some 9% useful or even necessary (our gut bacteria for instance) with only 1% being pathogenic to humans.  The oft-mentioned e-coli comprise thousands of strains with only a few (eg O157) actually pathogenic.  E-coli are simply marker organisms that indicate faecal contamination (all mammalian - not just human) with concomitant risk of more serious pathogens being present.  When bacterial count is used to justify a swim ban, we need to ask the following question: does the bacterial load contain human pathogens, and if so what is the actual percentage of total. count?

Wild Swimming Austin Texas 

Wild Swimming Austin Texas

The logistics of actively managing a reasonable level of health and safety for swimming in such locations would be beyond resources available (the paddling pool at Abbey Park had glass bottles smashed in its daily that had to be removed, hence it having to be drained).  

If Leicester were a seaside town, its citizens would be free to swim anywhere along the coast. In Scotland people enjoy the freedom to swim in rivers lakes and streams. It costs the Council money to discourage swimming. The discouragement of swimming in safe locations is not required by law. The Council do not have to promote swimming in order to bring an end to the prejudice they show towards outdoor swimmers.

The Charles River opened for its first public swim in 50 years 


The paddling pool in Abby Park was not emptied for the reason you suggest. Quoting from;

Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture page 132:

"The Council have also decided to close the facilities so much loved by younger children; all its city's paddling pools. In speaking with Mr Clive Summerton (Parks Manager for fifteen years), I discovered that there used to be paddling pools in Aylestone Park; Abbey Park; Braunstone Park; Saffron Lane Recreation Ground and Western Park.

Wild Swimming at Madison Blue Springs USA 

Madison Blue Springs USA 

The Abbey Park paddling pool was constructed in 1930.[1] Its excellent design, with a large grassed area surrounding the circular pool, made it extremely popular. In close proximity, a sand pit, swings and other play equipment meant that families with young children could enjoy a full day's excitement. Youngsters were always reluctant to leave at teatime, having had as much fun as they would have had at the seaside. The pool used to be re-filled on a weekly basis during the summer season and fi-clor[2]was added to keep the water clean. During Mr Summerton's period of service, he never once received a complaint about cut feet, the major concern of many people. In point of fact, there were never any accidents reported.

Swimming in the cold waters of Sliding Rock USA 

Swimming in the cold waters of Sliding Rock USA 

Western Park paddling pool was similarly very attractive, but improvements to the children's play area saw the large pool replaced by a roller skating rink (which has since closed), with a new, but smaller paddling pool beside it. The new pool was never as popular; it simply wasn't big enough.


Swimming at Skenfrith Castle in Wales

The pool at Braunstone Park was constructed in 1935 and was originally fed by a brook that ran through its centre. The water level in the pool varied with the flow of the brook and it was very popular indeed, situated as it was, in the middle of a council estate. However with concerns over water quality, the pool was halved and kept separate from the brook. Unfortunately the new pool required regular filling from the mains and much more maintenance.

River Swimming Bern Switzerland 

River Swimming encouraged in Burn Switzerland

The hot summer of 1995 saw the appearance of blue/green algae in the nearby Rutland Water reservoir. Concerns were raised when animals drinking from the water suffered ill health. To prevent any such danger to Leicester's citizens, it was decided to close all of Leicester's paddling pools, even though contamination was most unlikely in a maintained pool. The chances of such a threat developing in a paddling pool, which is emptied and refilled each week, are in fact zero. This then raises questions over the decision to close the pools. Was it made due to a lack of understanding regarding the issues involved, or did the appearance of algae at Rutland Water prove a fortuitous turn of events for those keen to save money on children's amenities?"

Additionally the current use of part of the Abbey Park Paddling Pool as a sand pit seems outlandish if broken glass is such a problem, as young children usually remove their shoes when playing in sand.

River Swimming Switzerland

  • On average we have at least one drowning every year in the rivers and lakes in Leicester (6 since Jan 2010). 

Swimming in the Rhine

Swimming in the Rhine

Drowning is always a possibility for those venturing near to water, yet walking alongside the river or canal is encouraged by the Council even though statistics show that it is more dangerous than swimming. A person under the influence of alcohol, drugs or depression may fail to take care and end up in the water unexpectedly. Swimmers who chose to enter the water are in fact less at risk. Quoting from: Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture, page 102:

 "...of the two hundred and forty-eight souls drowned in rivers and streams in 1999, only ten were swimming related![3] Strong currents washed three away, two resulted from diving accidents, three simply got into difficulties with the cause of the other two deaths being unknown. In total there were five hundred and sixty-nine people drowned during the year; forty-five of these deaths were related to swimming. This was unusually high and was possibly due to the hot weather. How did so many drown? Although swimming is shunned whenever drowning occurs, the most dangerous activities would appear to be walking, fishing and boating. For example, no-one drowned whilst swimming in the canal, but forty-three others who had been simply walking, playing or working nearby did. Perhaps signs reading: 'No swimming', should be replaced with: 'Walkers take care.' This statistic is especially interesting in view of the fact that so many young people swim in locks, slide down weirs and jump from bridges. How can this continue to be so without a string of fatalities? Sadly, fourteen people died in swimming pools, including the only drowning in Leicester; another fourteen drowned in their vehicles following mishaps; and a further thirty-one at home in the bath. Wherever water is to be found, the danger of drowning is ever present. But when we compare the press reports of five thousand deaths related to infections caught in hospital each year and the comparatively low number of deaths from swimming incidents, as opposed to walking, etc, surely it is unreasonable to prohibit swimming on these grounds?"

I do not see the connection between your statistics and the issue under discussion.

Wild Swimming at Rutland Water Bathing Beach 

Bathing Beach at Rutland Water

  • Some stretches of the waterways passing through certain parks form part of the national navigation system. These are owned and governed by British Waterways. Your question would need to be addressed to them to answer in those instances.

This does not apply to the river of concern here.

  • Large numbers of people unofficially swimming in our Parks in the recent past have caused significant problems for other park users and have led to numerous complaints, whereas yours is the first letter in support. 

Wild Swimming in Belgium

Wild Swimming in Belgium

This is simply not true. Ross Clement contacted the Council in the spring of last year, and was told that while it's grudgingly accepted that adult swimmers know what they're doing, "doing so may encourage any children to follow suit". This reasoning could be applied to adults taking the plunge in coastal waters. Of cause children could drown! But we permit swimming on the coast yet we outlaw it inland, both in parts of England and Wales though not in Scotland. To understand why this prejudice developed towards swimmers please refer to the copy of Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture you were given by the late Roger Hutchinson. Roger was also very much in favour of river swimming as expressed in his booklet The Mile Straight, a copy of which was given to all City Councillors. Additionally the proliferation of no swimming signs actually put lives at risk, Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture, page 124:

"...because of our modern day attitudes, swimmers' lives are being put at risk. In Leicester for example, 'NO SWIMMING' signs will generally be placed at even the safest swimming locations. Because of this, swimmers disperse, moving out of public view facing even greater danger should they get into difficulties. Parents feel much happier if their children intend to bathe with others at a recognised spot, preferably one they or the child's grandparents used to bathe at, where the dangers can be identified and prepared for. So it is natural that the bathing places provided by the Corporation in the past proved to be so popular."


Regarding complaints about swimming in our parks, Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture, page 139:

"The vast majority of swimmers in Britain are children and as such they have no voice in government. Today we do not rejoice to see children enjoying themselves in water; rather we see them as unwelcome in the waters of our parks. Having read the history of swimming on the Serpentine, you will remember that many objections were made regarding the idea of tolerating swimmers in the lake. But when the lido eventually opened, what a success it proved to be! Perhaps the same will be true for swimmers in 'Environment City.' One day I hope the signs that prohibit swimming will be removed, allowing the people of Leicester once again to swim in their own rivers and lakes, in their own parks."

River Swimming Zurich 

River Swimming in Zurich

Finally, a bad impression is given when swimmers ignore 'no swimming' signs. Those who have no respect for authority have taken over at traditional swimming holes and their lack of decorum and civility may well lead to complaints. It would be a misconception to conclude that the general public are against public swimming. Over at Rutland Water, plans are tentatively proceeding towards the opening of a bathing beach on the reservoir. Public opinion was measured via a survey and the results showed overwhelming support for the project.

A New Wild Swimming Pool for London 

The First of a kind, a new swimming pool for Kings Cross London

  • Numerous large dead animals are removed from the water each year both in the city and upstream (cows, horses, sheep, foxes and dogs etc). No attempt could be made to remove the countless smaller animals (pigeons, rats, cats, and small water fowl etc). All these have the potential to cause life threatening diseases to people. It is very difficult in an activity like swimming for people not to ingest water and hence raise the risk of infection.

The same could be said about all the swimming places regularly used across the UK. It would obviously be unwise to swim in a small pond containing a dead horse and I think it unlikely that anyone would wish to do so. Even so swimming regularly takes place in King Lear Lake. As you may know, the lake contains water that has already passed through Leicester City. Your concerns then are I fell, unsupported.

  • The storm water drainage system around the city itself, under times of storm still can bring overflow into the main river.

You are right to suggest that storms affect water quality. Yet Triathletes and canoeists, anglers and a great many animals and birds survive the drop in water quality without losing their lives to pollution or contamination.

Rivers fit to swim in USA 

Rivers fit to swim in again USA

  • The road drainage system empties directly into the river.

Rivers empty into the sea and yet sea bathing is rarely discouraged. Rather warnings are given about the quality of the water into which sewage is emptied. Surfers against Sewage have been campaigning for improvement for many years. It is interesting to note that the European Union do not share the prejudice of British authorities towards open water swimming. Quoting from Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture, page 136:       

"A European directive (WFD)[4] is now focusing attention on the quality of our coastal and our inland waterways and lakes throughout Europe. This is good news for swimmers, as it will spearhead further improvements in water quality as all must reach 'good status' by the year 2015. Reductions in chemical contamination (nitrates) washed into rivers from agricultural land will help reduce weed growth. Additionally water treatment works will be monitored and their contamination of rivers curbed, to the benefit of all."

  • Weill's disease (carried by rats) is becoming more common, and swimming is an activity that can have a high risk of exposure due to the swimmers needing to climb in and out on the banks, the very location that will have a higher frequency of rat urine present.

Regarding this issue I refer again to Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture, page 106 - 7:

"All kinds of maladies are supposed to result from river bathing. The most publicised threat is Weil's disease.[5] A comprehensive report headed 'Health Hazards Associated with the Recreational Use of Water',[6] indicated that the benefits we get from using water for fun far outweigh the risks. Dr Robin Philip, an epidemiologist at the University of Bristol, stands as a voice of reason amid the morass of media paranoia. By studying the history of the disease, he has been able to assess the risks to water users, including swimmers, stating:

"There are on average each year in the UK, some 2.5 cases of Weil's disease associated with bathing and water sports (i.e. one case among every two million annual recreational users). As the case fatality rate in the UK is 10-15 per cent, the chances of dying from Weil's disease associated with bathing and water sports is about 1:20 million exposed persons (i.e. one case in the UK every four years).[7]"

Swimmers should remember though, that it is not impossible to contract Weil's disease; risk is apparently heightened if a swimmer has an open cut, especially to the head. If you experience 'flu like symptoms within two to nineteen days of swimming in open water you should inform your doctor, so that he can make an informed diagnosis.[8] It should not be overlooked that anglers are equally at risk! The fact that they rarely enter the water in no way offers protection from the disease. Interestingly, most fishermen have to pay for a licence before they can practise their sport and yet authorities are in no way perturbed as they not only allow but very much encourage fishing activities. It's a shame that the same liberality afforded to anglers is not also shown towards swimmers. Instead they suffer persecution rather than encouragement, purely because of the bad press related to Weil's disease, with outrageous claims having been made regarding the risks to which swimmers are exposed. There is of course a slight chance that swimmers will encounter this problem. Nonetheless, by comparison, your chances of dying in a road accident are one in nine thousand six hundred[9] in any one year; so the emphasis on the risks of Weil's disease at one in twenty million are, I think you will agree, very much overstated.[10]

This disease can be picked up whilst engaging in any water sport, yet just up the road in Nottingham the National Water Sports Centre encourages white water rafting, sailing, canoeing, cable tow and waterskiing.

Wild Swimmingh in Russia 

River Swimming Saint Petersburg, Russia

Leicester City Council has no qualms about providing car parking facilities for park users. Despite the very high risk of death from car use, (1 in 9600 die each year) vehicles are welcome in public parks. To ban swimming due to the supposedly high risk of infection from Weil's disease (1 in 20,000,000) does not stand to reason. You say that Weil's disease is becoming more common and that swimmers are most at risk. Rather than guess at the matter I have looked again at the medical research of Dr Robin Philip. Having made a thorough investigation into the disease he concludes differently:

Environmental Health, October 1992 page 295: This report covers all cases of the disease between 1982 and 1991, concluding that; 'the risks of contracting the disease and of dying from it, therefore seem to be lower among recreational water sports enthusiasts than for the general population.'

Popular among families for its life-guarded swim area, the Lower falls at Ithaca's Robert Treman State Park 

Popular with families for its life-guarded swim area, the Lower falls at Ithaca's Robert Treman State Park 

I hope that the points I have raised will encourage Leicester City Council to reconsider their view of open water swimming. I have sent a copy of this letter to Robert Aspey, Outdoor Swimming Society Projects Manager, Yacov Lev of the River and Lake Swimming Association, and Councillor Peter Coley.

Yours sincerely

Chris Ayriss

Peter Coley responds:

Hi Chris,

A very well argued case to allow swimming in the park again, if I may say so.

The council is extremely risk averse which is often a good thing as it probably reduces the number of times it gets sued successfully but the data you quote suggests the risks are not as high as the officer believes.

Lake Swimming Australia 

Australia’s Lake Parramatta Attracts 12,000

In a landmark act of cooperation, the Outdoor Swimming Society, the Amateur Swimming Association and the Royal Life Saving Society have deliberated long and hard to produce an Access Guide in an effort to open up access to at least some of our lost swimming holes country wide. This is the first step on the road to liberation, with much more work to be done so that this document ends up in the right hands. 

No swimming in Leicester

Wild Swimming and ROSPA

'Peter Cornall, head of leisure safety at the safety charity, said: "RoSPA believes that life should be as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible, and in line with that we want people to be out and about enjoying this weekend's good weather - which includes enjoying the water.

Abbey Park Swimming Centre


[1] Opening two years later.

[2] A chemical agent similar to chlorine.

[3] Older statistics used, as opposed to the latest figures, out of respect for those affected.

[4] Water Framework Directive.

[5] Ironically in Australia, signs warn swimmers that they share their waters with sharks and crocodiles; here in Britain river bathing is often denied supposedly to protect swimmers from microscopic bugs.

[6] South Western Regional Health Authority: Report of a working party. Bristol, December 1991.

[7] Environmental Health, October 1992 page 295: This report covers all cases of the disease between 1982 and 1991, concluding that: 'the risks of contracting the disease and of dying from it, therefore seem to be lower among recreational water sports enthusiasts than for the general population.'

[8] Source: BCU advice regarding Weil's disease.

[9] Dr Robin Philip: Environmental Health, October 1992 page 295.

[10] The British Canoeing Union set out to assess the risks water sports enthusiasts are exposing themselves to when it comes to Weil's disease. They put the chances of catching and actually dying from the disease for a canoeist at 1:333,000 (Environmental Health October 1992 page 295).