You may already have seen this picture. Julie Lloyd shared it via Twitter earlier this week. What does it say to you?
Julie has previously featured on our ‘I love open water swimming’ page in the magazine. A relatively recent convert to open water swimming, Julie (a self-described woman of a certain age) has taken to swimming outdoors as enthusiastically as anyone I know and enjoys sharing her experiences via social media. This picture was taken from a collection she called “Crazy Ladies Swim, Pickmere”.
According to the River and Lake Swimming Association (RALSA), Pickmere (in Cheshire) “must have been an absolute gem for water leisure activities in the old days.” Sadly it seems the facilities that were once there have been destroyed by commercial developers and the council-erected sign serves to discourage any further enjoyment of the water.
RALSA goes on to say: “Fortunately, large parts of the lake are common land. Although no rights of common are registered it is clear that there have been traditional public navigation rights which are, in fact, still exercised by boat owners. If the boats have navigation rights then swimmers probably have them too.”
So it appears the sign is advisory rather than legally binding. Even so, swimming in front of it, and plastering pictures of that over the internet, feels subversive and rebellious. No doubt some people will say it’s irresponsible.
Take another look at the picture and see if you can spot the tow-float. And note that these women are clearly waving, not drowning. I don’t think these ladies are in any danger – at least not more danger than life throws at us every day.
The sign is possibly the biggest hazard around. Someone might swim into it. Or they might decide that Pickmere truly is a dangerous place to swim (why would there be a sign otherwise?) and swim somewhere else that has no sign, but could in reality be more hazardous. Or they might decide not to swim at all and go to the pub, which might not kill them straight away but could be worse for their long-term health.
In the UK we seem to have a curious relationship with open water. We have been told so often that it’s incredibly dangerous whereas statistics show it’s probably safer to go for a dip than to drive your car. Yet almost every discussion open water swimmers have with the media requires them to defend the safety of our sport. Open water swimming is then viewed as something for eccentrics and fanatics rather than just a natural and relatively safe way to enjoy the great outdoors.
People like Julie Lloyd and her friends show us how open water can be enjoyed safely even when the signage says otherwise. They show us that swimming outside is accessible and fun. They inspire us to get off our sofas and do the same.
So, let’s raise a toast to rebellious ladies of a certain age. Long may they continue swimming.
You can see the rest of Julie’s pictures here.