Swimming at the seaside resort of Weston-Super-Mare has always been tricky. Swim times have been dictated by tides, and when the tide’s out, it reveals vast, treacherous mud flats.
Now, after much campaigning, the town’s marine lake has reopened. Using a grant awarded by North Somerset Council, volunteer group, the Mudlarks, organised for a dredger to spend a month in the lake removing the silt build-up that had made swimming impossible, and the sea defences and penstock were repaired.
“We’d get three-quarters of the way across and it was muddy,” said Jayne Haden of the Mudlarks group who led the campaign for renovation. “Most of it was, like, six inches deep, and it was quite dangerous. And now I’m just so excited, just walking into the lake and being completely out of our depth.”
The North Somerset end of the Bristol Channel is an estuary with one of the highest tidal ranges in the world. This, along with its funnel shape and the underlying geology of rock, gravel and sand make it incredibly turbid. Up to 10 million tonnes of silt are churned up and carried by tidal currents running at seven metres per second.
Whenever the tide tops over the lake wall, it brings silt, which then settles to the bottom and builds up over time. This build-up not only made the lake too shallow for swimming, but the mud could also trap people who sink into it.
So, what does having a renovated marine lake mean to Weston-Super-Mare? “Weston’s a deprived area, and we need this free space for people to come and enjoy themselves,” said Mudlark Jan Doyle. “It’s big as well, so lots of people can come without it being crowded.”
And for the Mudlarks, it means swims are no longer restricted by tide times. “For those who work, they’ve been unable to swim unless high tide was at six in the morning,” says Jan. “Now we can swim all day every day!”