Wild Swimming

LIZZIE BENNETT offers a unique exercise solution to combat that Freshers’ Week half-stone.

Bridge Cambridge Coleridge Crusoe Bridge De Quincey Fen Causeway Fishing Lizzie Bennett mathmo May Ball OSS Pike Sport The Cam Wild Swimming Wordsworth Wren Library

Clearly no-one in their right mind would swim in the ‘middle Cam’ unless attempting to gatecrash a May Ball, or trying to gain access (in extremis) to the Wren Library. It’s grotty and rumoured to be crawling with a disease specific to its waters that no one can name but is reputedly uniquely disgusting, causing vomitting from both ends and debilitation.

But wait, cynics. Wild swimming is a (generously) adventurous-sounding name for outdoor swimming, a reawakened phenomenon which might just be the solution to playing college badminton with a bunch of Mathmos. Famous outdoor swimmers include esteemed alumni Wordsworth, de Quincy and Coleridge, as well as Olympic medallist Cassie Patten and the writer (and Peterhouse alumnus) Roger Deakin. The pastime is voraciously promoted in the UK by the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS).

So while the the ‘middle Cam’  – that’s expert lingo, right there – is plague-ridden (probably), the Granta, is practically Constable Country. On the other side of the Mill Pond all the unpleasant detritus connected with such places as King’s, Trinity and John’s is filtered out and the river becomes a gloriously clear, sheltered and tranquil place – absolutely perfect for a splash around.

Swimming in this water is a wonderfully liberating experience. There are no lanes, you can swim at whatever speed you like, you don’t get irritating children or irritating old people, you aren’t restricted to certain hours of the day, and, most importantly, it’s free, unlike Parkside Pools. You’re also less likely to find an old plaster floating past your nose as you swim a length.

Even at midnight and in the early hours of the morning the water is surprisingly tepid. Granted, this was during Easter term, but I don’t think people need to be told that it is colder in November than in April. The ground is a bit squelchy and the banks may have stinging nettles, but, well, man up.











Fish are not a huge problem. As yet, I have not encountered a pike – for which I am eternally grateful. Little fish flit around in an agreeably serene manner, and do not bother the hardened outdoor swimmer. Flora et fauna-wise, the feel of weeds wrapping themselves around your ankles is not quite pleasant, but does make one feel like a Neo-Neo-Pagan, as it were, and brings to mind all sorts of unrealistic films set in medieval times, such as some strange Cambridgeshire adaptation of Robin Hood. But maybe that’s just me.










Lizzie recommends Fen Causeway

The main fun to be had for adrenaline seekers is jumping off bridges. I would recommend starting out with the metal one on Coe Fen (with the satisfyingly adventurous name of Crusoe Bridge), which is only about 10 feet off the water, before moving on to the Fen Causeway road bridge, at a slightly more harrowing 20 feet (I don’t know that for sure. I’m guessing. But it is quite a long way down).











Coe Fen’s Crusoe Bridge

Even when the river was relatively low in summer the water was deep enough to be safe. Although a word of caution about the road bridge – you have to swim some distance before you are able to get out, which is mightily unpleasant when the water is very cold. You should also try to avoid jumping in to the massive bunch of logs and leaves in the water, but unless you’re a total numpty you shouldn’t need to be told that.

A few more words of caution:

– The issue of legality is thorny. However, since this stretch of water is navigable by punt it is legal to swim there too. And when people question the safety of wild swimming the answer depends on how sensible the individual is, not the activity itself.

– But DO be careful with less-than-sober friends, anyone who panics at the first feel of squishy ground underfoot or anyone who can’t actually swim. Try and make sure that there’s at least one sensible person on the bank.

– DO Take towels for when you get cold afterwards. Don’t go in if you’ve got cuts or you will get something nasty. If you cut yourself jumping off a bridge, get it checked out and don’t be too ashamed to tell the truth of how you did it.

– And after witnessing the crosses borne by a particular friend who celebrated the end of his finals in rather too much style: please DON’T decide to go naked, only to then fall in a patch of stinging nettles. No-one wants to see that.











Just watch for nettles on the way out

Those who wish to follow in the fine tradition of Cantabrigian students swimming in the Granta are advised to have a shufti at this website. Set up by the OSS, it gives some information on swimming in that particular part of the river. You can even buy yourself a snazzy red swimming hat in the online shop.