By Daniel Start
Punk Publishing Ltd. 2008
On my map of Oxford, which dates from the year 2000, but probably hasn’t been updated all that thoroughly for the 2000 printing, there are five places by the rivers marked as “bathing place,” including Parson’s Pleasure and Sunnymead by the river Cherwell, and three others by the river Thames (or Isis, as it is called in Oxford).
In the real world, however, if I walk down to the river Cherwell, I find big signs saying “no swimming or diving” or something to this effect, and hardly anybody dares to swim there these days. There is a simple reason for these signs cropping up just about everywhere – land owners are scared of being sued if somebody comes to harm, so they stay on the safe side and put up the signs:
Yet there are many places around Oxford and indeed around the UK where swimming in the wild is at least as safe as crossing a road, for those who can swim and are willing to behave with the necessary caution. Thus it is very welcome that Daniel Start’s book lists around 150 such places around the country, complete with practical tips regarding how to get there and how to stay safe, and with as many gorgeous photos of surprisingly large numbers of people engaged in the forgotten pleasures of wild swimming.
Our local spot, Parson’s Pleasure, is only mentioned in a historical anecdote in the text and not officially included in the list – presumably due to those signs that the university put up after someone drowned a few years ago. But I might one day check out the place at Stonesfield, which, as I learned from this book, is the village where the first fossil was found that came to be recognised as a dinosaur. There is, actually, although the book fails to mention this, a local bus service from Oxford to Stonesfield.
The trouble with a guidebook that covers the whole country when you only need to know about your nearest place, is that it doesn’t appear to be very good value for money and you may be tempted to look up the info in the library or bookshop. I’d recommend to buy the book regardless, though, firstly to enjoy the wonderful photos, and secondly, to support the severely threatened art of wild swimming.
A picture taken at Parson's Pleasure - click to view full size on flickr.
PS: The site "dereliction in the shires" has a nice appreciation of Tumbling Bay bathing place by the Thames.