Last week, courtesy of Swiss Tourism and Human Race, I had the opportunity to spend four days in Switzerland. This was a result of a partnership between Human Race and Swiss Tourism to promote Switzerland as a destination for active people, and in particular, people who enjoy open water swimming, cycling and running.
It didn’t disappoint.
It’s hard not to notice that Switzerland has plenty of inviting swimming spots in crystal clear lakes surrounded by snow-capped mountains. In the Bernese Oberland every lakeside town or village seems to have its own ‘Strandbad’, an area reserved for bathing with a clean patch of grass to sunbathe on, a few steps leading into the water and a platform tethered 10 or 20 metres off shore to swim out to and jump off. Some of these are free to use. Others make a small charge but in return provide changing facilities, a lifeguard and even diving boards.
Yes, that did say diving boards.
The difference to the UK is stark. Our outdoor swimming spots are few and far between. Diving boards have been removed and few landowners (either private or public) would dare put steps leading into the water out of fear someone might be encouraged to swim, subsequently drown, and leave the landowner liable for prosecution.
In fact, the attitude to health and safety seemed much more relaxed all round. I had the opportunity to try stand-up paddle boarding. I was given a paddle and told where to find the boards. My only instructions were to stay away from the cruise ships and to put on a life jacket if I wanted to go more than 300m away from the shore. There was no hour-long safety briefing, disclaimer to sign, need to prove I could swim or anyone to watch as I wobbled around the lake. I was advised to leave my glasses behind as I would probably fall off.
Presumably the assumption was that I was a rational, sensible adult and wouldn’t be foolish enough to go out on the lake if I wasn’t water confident. Or maybe it’s because a few miles away (at Lauterbrunnen) there’s a popular base jumping spot where dozens of people have died, and paddle boarding and swimming are relatively safe in comparison.
Health and safety is not disregarded though. At swimming spots in heavily trafficked areas there are buoys and markers to indicate boat-free areas, and signs to warn of any particular dangers. For example, in Neuhaus you’re not allowed to swim when the cruise ship is coming into the dock – and the ships sound a klaxon to announce their arrival.
I may be wrong and I don’t know Switzerland well enough but my impression – at least when it comes to swimming – is that people are expected to show common sense and take personal responsibility for their safety while swimming.