A lovely piece in the Guardian online about swimmers around the world taking part in a traditional New Year’s Day dip. You have to the love how inventive everyone is. Hats off to Angela McClements from Ballymena who makes a graceful entrance at Carnlough Harbour, County Antrim. Pic by Pacemaker/Charles McQuillan.
According to the BBC’s website: ‘More than 1,600 have braved the cold sea in a record turnout for a Pembrokeshire New Year’s Day swim.The 28th year of the fancy dress event in Saundersfoot took an Olympic theme to celebrate the 2012 London games.’ Love the outfits. Love the turnout. Nothing better than a good swim on New Year’s Day to start the January purge. Amazing.
Today one of my colleagues at work told me about this website that Speedo has set up about Unforgettable swims. It is lovely. I particularly like this blog about Cyril and Yvonne Wood pictured, and filmed at Tooting Lido. They have been in love for 63 years. But it’s not just their love for each other that keeps them together: there’s also a special place in their heart for water. Their unforgettable swim is one of hundreds they’ve shared in their long life together. It is lovely, and it made me smile even more knowing that Cyril won the Sunday race held at Tooting Lido (albeit with a huge head start!!).
I’m in Melbourne for just three days – in Australia for a week in total – working on a research project. Naturally I am working my fingers to the bone, but the jet lag has got the better of me, and I find myself at 04.10am writing about one of the treasures this delightful (if expensive) city has to offer.
Last night, having completed a focus group with some lads about their considerable booze intake (while they got hammered, and we sat there as sober as judges), my colleague and I met up for dinner at Golden Fields, a culinary hotspot in St Kilda with two of his friends. It was amazing – the food, company and some swimming-related conversations.
Over a delicious meal of rustic pork dumplings, with Shanghai chilli vinegar; crispy soft shell mud crab with fried egg aioli, twice-cooked duck with steamed bread, vinegar and plum sauce; all nicely washed down with some Stoney Rise Pinot Noir – a native wine from Tamar Valley – we were given a lowdown about the city that you never get to read in any copy of Lonely Planet.
One of the nuggets to emerge from our conversation was about the city’s ‘historical’ swimming baths. It sounded incredible, and most definitely warranted some further investigation. Typically though, as a consequence of being on too many planes, and lack of sleep I have come down with a bit of man flu, so swimming in this little gem will have to wait until next time I visit the country.
First opened in 1860, and one of the few buildings of age in this ultra modern city, the Melbourne City Baths has provided what it describes as “health and fitness services” to Melburnians and the odd Pommy for more than 140 years.
According to its website: “In Melbourne’s founding years, a bathroom in the home was a luxury only the wealthy could afford. For most, a weekly wash or dip in Port Phillip Bay or the Yarra River sufficed.”
By the 1850s the Yarra had become quite polluted – not necessarily from the poor using it as a shower facility – and an epidemic of typhoid fever hit the city causing many deaths. However, people continued to swim and drink the water.
One of the Melbourne City Councillors, Sizar Elliott, initiated moves to build public baths and urinals in the city. A triangular piece of land on the corner of Swanston and Franklin streets was chosen and the City Baths was opened on 9 January 1860. People flocked to the baths and it was reported that 79,096 men and 2,950 women enjoyed the facilities in the first year.
For financial reasons the council decided to lease the baths but lack of maintenance resulted in such deterioration of the building that it was closed down in 1899.
In 1901 the corporation of the City of Melbourne advertised a national competition for the design of new public baths on the same site as the previous baths. The winning entry was from a well-known architect J J Clark, who also designed Melbourne’s Treasury Building.
The Lord Mayor, Councillor Sir Malcolm D McEacharn, officially opened the new Melbourne City Baths on 23 March 1904 in the presence of the Premier, the right honourable Thomas Bent, and other guests.
The design reflected all the social conventions of the turn of the century. There was segregation of the sexes for all facilities, right down to separate street entrances. Class distinctions were also apparent with second-class baths in the basement and first class baths on the main floor.
Facilities consisted of two swimming pools, 16 slipper baths and six spray baths each for the men and women.There were also Turkish and vapour baths, a Jewish ceremonial bath (Mikvah bath) and a laundry.
Mixed bathing was introduced into the City Baths in 1947 and the popularity of the swimming pool began to increase.
The success of the Australian swimmers in the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 further contributed to the popularity of the swimming pools, after which attendance rocketed to over 300,000 per year. In fact the baths had been considered as a possible venue for the Olympic swimming events but were disregarded due to the state of the facilities.
In the 1980s, in disrepair, they were nearly closed, but were saved in 1983 by a public campaign and $4 million refurbishment. Thank goodness they were. Melbourne City Baths is now a leading health, fitness and wellness centre with innovative programs and modern equipment, as well as being a significant historical icon that is visited by thousands of national and international tourists.
The uniqueness of the building and the significance it holds for so many Victorians has also prompted theatre groups, television programs and fashion magazines to use the baths as the setting for their productions, films and photographic shoots.
What can I say, apart from that I am gutted that I will not get the chance to swim a few turns in what is as truly a stunning swimming pool as any I have written about so far – you Melburnians are lucky people to have it on your doorsteps. I on the other hand feel privileged to have been told about it. Enjoy.
I just got back from a wonderful week in Devon, more specifically Dartmoor. We stayed at Borough Farm with Devon Yurt situated on the edge of the Tamar valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty.
I have some wonderful swimming memories from spending time on the moors as a kid. My dad has a farm in Postbridge – a tiny village dating back to the 12th century – which has the East Dart river flowing though it. We used to swim in the natural deep pools near to the Clapper Bridge on hot summer afternoons. The pools were deep enough to dive into, and so clear you could see the trout gliding through the chilly water beneath us. In fact my step-brother used to take horses into these pools to cool them off when it became particularly sweltering.
There is a wonderful poem called Dart by Alice Oswald, which captures this remarkable river in a way that I could ever hope to articulate. After three years recording conversations with people – swimmers, farmers, foresters, coarse fishers – who live and work along the river, she produced a stunning homage to the river, and those she met along the way – a kind of liquid rhapsody. Winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2002 Dart tracks the river from its source to the sea.
Here’s a little extract:
Dartmeet – a mob of waters
where East Dart smashes into West Dart
two wills gnarling and recoiling
and finally knuckling into balance
in that brawl of mudwaves
the East Dart speaks Whiteslade and Babeny
the West Dart speaks a wonderful dark fall
from Cut Hill through Wystman’s Wood
put your ear to it, you can hear water
cooped up in moss and moving
slowly uphill through lean-to trees
where every day the sun gets twisted and shut
with the weak sound of the wind
rubbing one indolent twig upon another
and the West Dart speaks roots in a pinch of
clitters the East Dart speaks coppice and standards
the East Dart speaks the Gawler Brook and the
the West dart speaks the Blackabrook that runs by the prison
at loggerheads, lying next to one another on the riverbed
wrangling away into this valley of oaks
The other place we used to visit – the place I chose to have a dip on this particular trip – was Bovey Tracey’s Swimming Pool. Built in 1973 and run by the Bovey Tracey Swimming Pool Association, this wonderful little pool is a Registered Charity run by a dedicated group of volunteers.
The Pool itself is a 25 metre “open air” heated pool and is much smaller than I remembered. There is also a Toddler Pool which is maintained at a luxurious 85 degrees – perfect for my daughter to have a splash around in. She loved it!
Situated alongside the village green cricket pitch (you can actually hear as willow and leather collide when you are doing your lengths), it is one of a number of pools in Devon and Cornwall that thankfully have bucked the trend for swimming in bland, municipal sports and leisure centres instead of natural pools. And because it is run by people who love the pool, rather than money men, it is as friendly as visiting a village pub, or local butchers and tearooms.
Watch out, the pool has a few eccentric opening times. When we asked at the Tourist Information hut about visiting the pool, the delightful old lady holding court with a number of ‘grockles’ politely informed me that ‘it is closed today between 1pm and 2.15 and the opening times vary from day to day.’ Wonderfully British behaviour.
There were only a handful of people at the pool, surprising given the modest admission cost, the surroundings and its own admission that it’s: ‘A great place to relax, keep fit and meet new friends!’ I didn’t meet any new friends, but I swam a relaxing 40 lengths, followed by a good old splash in the kids pool with the rest of the family.
There are various different reasons to visit Bovey Tracey – it’s worth checking out the incredibly random auction house, as well as S & D Todd Butchers for its delicious locally produced sausages, but it’s worth visiting this pool as something of a reminder to all the other pools that have been needlessly shut down by local councils over the years. As social as a local village pub, as relaxing as reclining watch a game of cricket, and fun for one and all.
Last night I had the absolute pleasure of watching Wild Swimming on BBC4 presented by anatomist, author and broadcaster Alice Roberts. It was brilliant, inspirational, thrilling – and I would recommend getting on to the iPlayer and catch it while you still have the chance.
Roberts – best known for presenting BBC2’s Coast and the Incredible Human Journey – embarks on a quest to discover what lies behind the passion for wild swimming, now becoming increasingly popular in Britain. She follows in the wake of Waterlog: a swimmer’s journey through Britain, the classic book by the late journalist and author, Roger Deakin – a key note text for any outdoor swimming connoisseur.
Her journey takes in cavernous plunge pools, languid rivers and unfathomable underground lakes, as well as a skinny dip in a moorland pool. Along the way Alice becomes aware that she is not alone on her watery journey.
According to writer Ken Worpole’s obituary of Deakin in 2006: ‘It is said that only exceptional politicians are able to make their own weather. The same is true of writers. Roger Deakin, the writer and environmentalist who sadly died on Saturday 19 August 2006, literally changed the climate of opinion about access to the countryside, its rivers and waterways, with his 1999 book, Waterlog: a swimmer’s journey through Britain. It is a unique book and it will last for a very long time in the canon of British topographical and naturalist writing.
The launch of the book was memorable. Invitations to the party suggested that guests bring swimming costumes. The event was held at the Oasis open-air swimming pool in central London, where a poolside band fronted by Jacqui Dankworth played Loudon Wainwright III’s wonderful Swimming Song, amongst other joyful and upbeat music.”
Now that summer is almost upon us, go and get yourself a copy of Deakin’s book, dust off your road map of the UK, and go and find some of the great outdoor pools and rivers that nature has given – for free!