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Open-water tourism

Lou visits fast flowing torrents, 91m lidos and a bonkers swim spot in Dublin to avoid swimming in a pool...

My growing aversion to the indoor pool has meant that I’ve completely wasted my pool subscription this month. It’s amazing the lengths (and distances) I’ll go to to avoid ‘the concrete pond’. In the last month I’ve extended my open-water repertoire to include a river, a couple of lidos and an iconic dipping spot in the Irish Sea.

My swim tourism started when I needed to do a longish swim and couldn’t face the pool. I snuck off to Guildford Lido (venue for the 2Swim4Life 24 swim back in April) early one Friday morning. The sun didn’t come out until I was finished, but to be in the open in a 50m pool for 5k was bliss compared to narrow lanes in a clammy 25m pool.

Then a few of us braved the fast-flowing torrents of the River Itchen in Hampshire. We pushed against the current for about 20mins – the swimming equivalent of the climb at Alpe d’Huez. We had to keep our wits about us because every now and again we’d swim into great clumps of weed that had been cut free during bank maintenance. The swim back was like white water rafting without the raft. We hurtled along – mainly doing the fastest heads up breaststroke ever, four abreast cackling like OAPs on something illegal.

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting a bee in my goggles about my two-hour Channel relay qualifying swim which has to be in water colder than 15.5°C. Quite a few friends had already managed theirs in kidney curdlingly cold temperatures as low as 11°C. I’d plenty of time to do it and could afford to wait until the sea was warmer but wanted to get this final hurdle out of the way.

The 91m pool

So another early morning dash took me to Tooting Bec Lido in South London. Tooting Bec is unheated and, at 91m, the longest pool in the UK so a good location for a long cold confidence-booster. The day was cold, overcast and breezy so, although the water was 15°C, I never warmed up. I got bad cramp twice in my calf but kept going, hoping the lifeguards wouldn’t notice I was swimming with a limp. Luckily they let me swim on, the cramp went and they formed a little welcoming committee for me when two hours was up. They also put the kettle on. Lovely boys.

Then a weekend in Dublin couldn’t go by without a dip at a wonderful, bonkers swimming spot called Forty Foot. It’s a tiny, sheltered rocky outcrop on the southern outskirts of the city with steps cut into the rocks leading down to water that’s deep at all states of the tide. It used to be men only but these days it’s frequented by lady dippers in frilly hats, teenagers in bikinis, rock hard nutters who swim all year round and old men who plunge in for two minutes in their pants. The welcome and banter was friendly and warm and I urge anyone going to Dublin to visit. I persuaded two friends to come in with me and they are now hooked on sea swimming.

This summer I’ll definitely do more swim tours because the variety is endless and it makes training fun. I’ve learned that rivers can be great fun as long as you’re with people who can keep you safe, and that lidos are alive and kicking in the UK and are great venues for both tri training sessions and a bit of a splash about.

Oh, and this weekend, I did another two hours in the sea in 12.2°C. Job done.

Lou is training for a Channel relay attempt in September 2013, raising money for three charities. You can donate via her fundraising site: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LouWalker and follow her on Twitter: @LouArtfulHen or at www.louwalker.com/blog.

Photo credit: Rory Fitzgerald

Profile image of Matt Baird Matt Baird Editor of Cycling Plus magazine


Matt is a regular contributor to 220 Triathlon, having joined the magazine in 2008. He’s raced everything from super-sprint to Ironman, duathlons and off-road triathlons, and can regularly be seen on the roads and trails around Bristol. Matt is the author of Triathlon! from Aurum Press and is now the editor of Cycling Plus magazine.