Featured,  View from the Water

What are the minimum criteria for travelling to do a swim?

If you enjoy both travelling and open water swimming you’ll hardly need persuading of the delights in taking part in events in new locations. Even so, there are conditions. Previously, my criteria have been that the swim should be long enough to make the journey ‘worthwhile’ (whatever that means) and ideally it should be a scenic point-to-point swim in warm clear water with guaranteed good weather. The location should be easy to reach (preferably served by a budget airline) and there should be plenty of accommodation options.
So, last weekend I travelled to a northern European city for a short, circular swim in a canal, and it was fantastic. While Copenhagen easily fulfilled the travel and accommodation criteria, I was dubious about the others, but I needn’t have worried.
Firstly, distance. The Christiansborg Rundt is just 2km, which took swimmers between 22 minutes and 90 minutes to complete, which isn’t really much time in the water for a weekend away. But this was a good thing as it left plenty of time to explore Copenhagen, without being too exhausted from the swim to do the exploring.
The swim is also intrinsically interesting as it circles a historic part of the city, taking in the Royal Library, the old stock exchange and the Christiansborg Palace, and passing under nine bridges and one long (and very dark) tunnel. When you can pack so much into a short distance, why swim further?
As for water temperature, I was pleasantly surprised. Although not tropical, at 18.9 degrees it was perfectly comfortable. I raced in a wetsuit (as did around 95% of the participants) but I swam on the course the previous day without and it was fine. Relatively shallow water and long northern summer days mean late summer temperatures are often in the high teens and can even break 20 degrees.
Copenhagen’s canals are connected directly to the Baltic, which in turn connects to the North Sea. The canal water is, in fact, sea water, which I hadn’t appreciated until I dived in and tasted it. However, the Baltic has some unique properties. Because of the large volume of fresh water flowing in from rivers, the salinity is much lower than other seas – at between 0.5 and 1.0% compared to around 3.5%. It is thus brackish rather than saline. Salty water does flow in from the North Sea but because it is more dense than fresh water it sinks to the bottom giving the Baltic a steep salinity gradient.
The benefits of the canals being filled from the sea rather than rivers are that the clarity is excellent and the quality good. A downside is that the canals host a number of jellyfish and a couple of swimmers did get stung.
Finally, the weather. Well, sometimes you just have to take a chance and hope for the best. This year we got it. Early morning cloud cleared away to blue skies. After my swim I spent the afternoon lazing on some wooden steps in bright sunlight while watching the elite swimmers complete five laps of the same course for the European cup 10km race. And that was for work. There are worse ways to pass your time.
Swimming combines brilliantly with travel. You can travel light – even a wetsuit easily fits into hand luggage – and swimmers around the world are friendly and welcoming. Swimming can also take you to places slightly off the beaten track and often the best views are from the water. Swimming and travel has therefore been a key section in H2Open Magazine since our launch and we’re always looking for new places to explore – so please do send us your recommendations and make sure you subscribe to the magazine to help you plan your next swimming trip.
Find out more about the Christiansborg Rundt.