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Venue visit: Queenford Lake, Oxfordshire

Already the approach to Queenford Lake was impressive. The satnav led me through idyllic Oxfordshire lanes. The birds were singing so loudly I could hear them through closed windows and above the sound of the engine. I arrived 10 minutes before the lake opened on a Sunday morning and was lucky to get a space in the rapidly-filling main car park (but don’t worry if you come later as there is plenty of additional parking). The lake looked calm and inviting, with just a hint of morning mist waiting to be burnt off by the rising sun. The water was clear and had a slight blue tint from the dye used to limit weed growth. Swimmers, impatient to get started, lined the bank.

In terms of facilities, there is a small portacabin with changing rooms, hot showers and toilets, but they are basic. Many people change at the vehicles or on the small patch of grass next to the lake, and there are outdoor (cold) showers to rinse off after your swim. The atmosphere is relaxed and the staff are friendly. Clearly there is a large group of regulars but it is also welcoming for new swimmers.

Queenford uses the NOWCA system for scanning swimmers in and out. New swimmers can join NOWCA at the lake, but it is quicker and easier to sign up online in advance and then simply collect your welcome pack when you arrive. The system works well but at busy times you should expect to queue for a few minutes before signing in.

As a relatively shallow inland lake, the water warms up (and cools down) quickly with the ambient temperature and amount of sunlight. It’s been known to freeze in the winter and has hit 27 degrees in the summer. On the day of our visit it was a very pleasant 18 degrees. Entry to the water is via a small beach. The main circuit is a 1km loop that follows the edge of the lake before returning across the centre. There is also an option to cut back earlier to make a 400m loop. I felt very safe swimming here under the supervision of a safety team that consists of both a land-based observer (with binoculars) plus an on-water kayak and paddle board team equipped with radios. There are a number of qualified open water lifeguards and first-aiders on the site.

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Swimming direction is anti-clockwise. Faster swimmers are requested to swim wide of slower ones and to dial down their kick. The course is clearly marked with large, visible buoys and easy to navigate. Wetsuits are optional and non-wetsuit swimmers are required to use a tow float if the water temperature is below 18 degrees. Children (subject to certain age restrictions and parental supervision requirements) can also swim. Several independent coaches operate at the venue offering private or group sessions.

If you need to refresh and refuel after your swim, either grab a snack at the centre or cross the car park and visit the excellent Watering Hole café. For swimrunners, there are a couple of short cross-country trails around the lake to stretch your legs and, for cyclists, Queenford Lake lies on the edge of the Chilterns, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Swimming times and charges

Mondays: 6pm – 8pm

Wednesdays: 6am – 8.45am

Sundays: 7am – 9.45am


£5 per session for NOWCA band holders

£6.50 for guests

£40 for a book of 10 session vouchers

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Simon contemplates his swim

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.