Swimming in Bristol Harbour set to continue

The next phase of a pilot for swimming in Bristol Harbour begins Saturday 9 September. 

A second trial for swimming in Bristol Harbour will begin on Saturday 9 September and run for the next four weeks. The pilot, in partnership with All-Aboard Water Sports, Open Minds Active CIC, Swim Bristol Harbour and Bristol City Council, means that people can swim from 8am to 10am on Saturdays and Sundays in a cordoned-off area of the harbour. The swimming area will be in front of The Cottage Inn near Baltic Wharf, on the south side of Bristol Harbour.

“These additional sessions will allow us to monitor interest in swims during the cooler months, as we move towards the autumn, alongside costs, and any impact on our ability to maintain a safe environment throughout our harbour,” said Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees. The water quality will also be tested weekly to make sure it meets bathing water standards. 

A step closer to year-round swimming in Bristol Harbour

This latest stage in the pilot is a massive step forward in the group’s vision to make swimming in Bristol Harbour an activity people can enjoy throughout the whole year. “Swimming in Bristol Harbour has always been an obvious move,” said Johnny Palmer​, founder of Swim Bristol Harbour, a local group campaigning for access to swim in the city’s harbour and waterways. “Pools and recreation centres are closing down, few new ones are being built and our community needs blue spaces to exercise, socialise and live healthy, fulfilling lives.”

The announcement, he said, comes after months of collaborative planning and co-ordinating with Bristol City Council. “The Council has turned out to be a pretty good bunch to work with; progressive, supportive and even adventurous – it was a bit different in the early days of the ‘Splash Mobs’ we used to do!” continued Johnny, referring to the time a group of wild swimmers demonstrated by swimming in Bristol harbour in 2020 (below).

Inspired by harbour swimming in Copenhagen

Campaigning for access to clean waterways for swimming has become a major part of Johnny’s life, ever since he bought the land beside Warleigh Weir and learnt how important waterways are to so many people, in so many ways. “Access to wild waters makes people happier, healthier, more connected and can even save lives,” he said. “For anyone who hasn’t engaged with the wild swimming community I encourage them to do it.”

Johnny was inspired to campaign by the story of Copenhagen harbour, where campaigners managed to get harbour swimming going. “The documentary we made about this helped get people to realise it wasn’t such a crazy idea”. 

Watch the documentary

Join the Bristol harbour pilot

The group is encouraging people to sign up and come down to the harbour for these supervised sessions, but it is critical that no-one swims in the harbour at any other time, which could undermine the whole campaign to get open water swimming up and running in the harbour. 

“Together with other members of the Bristol Water Safety Partnership, our harbour staff will continue to monitor any unpermitted swimming and other dangerous behaviour of people entering the water outside of the harbour swimming arrangements, helping to prevent accidents and maintain a safe waterway,” said the Bristol Mayor.

“If demand and interest in the swims continues, and we’re able to maintain a safe and financially self-sustaining open water swimming area in Bristol Harbour, we will look into options for how we can provide swim sessions on a regular basis for spring/summer 2024.”

Read all about the harbour swimming pilot, how to book a session (£7.50 for a two-hour swim), what to bring, how to get there, swimming facilities and safety plus FAQs here. To join the pilot and swim in Bristol harbour, you must be over 18 and be able to swim a minimum of 200m continuously in deep water. You must book your swim session in advance.

Images: Bristol Design, Johnny Palmer

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.