Where to swim – which open water swimming venues are opening, and when?

Now that Boris Johnson has said in parliament that we can swim outdoors, swimmers are asking when supervised open water swimming venues will be permitted to start operating.

The answer is, it depends.

Many of the venue operators that we’ve been in contact with over the past few days are busy looking at their operating procedures and working out how they can be adapted to achieve social distancing for swimmers and ensure the health and safety of their staff. Others believe it’s too early to open their doors. A number are waiting for further advice from governing bodies (expected on Friday 15 May), their local authorities and insurance companies.

For example, Tri2O near Reading, say they haven’t yet set an opening date and they are considering a range of options that they may put in place such as age restrictions, no use of changing rooms, time limits, reduced capacity, pre-booking only, separate entry and exit points and specific first aid and CPR equipment.

Another venue manager simply replied to our enquiry with: “We are locked down. Until there is a solution to the Covid-19 situation we will remain closed.”

Swimming at Elton Reservoir is normally organised by Bolton Triathlon Club on a volunteer basis. However, their club committee has decided not to go ahead with organising open water swimming sessions this year. Stuart Carter, the club chairperson, added: “We think that enabling an activity where a lot of people attend together is not a good idea when 630 people died of COVID in the last 24 hour period.” He also said that current guidance does not permit the type of organised club sessions they would run anyway.

Leon Fryer, from SwimYourSwim, also believes it’s too early to open. “The advice I’ve got from Public Health England is that we shouldn’t be open at the moment. We won’t be opening until June at the earliest and this has been agreed alongside several other open water venues locally.”

At a more personal level, Leon is frustrated that the government appears to have given the go ahead for open water swimming, without considering how people will stay safe. “It’s a mad system that allows people to put themselves at risk without utilising the infrastructure created to keep them safe, kind of unwinds years of safe swimming messages and drowning prevention programs.”

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Another venue staying shut is Rutland Water Park, which says: “as a big SH2OUT accredited venue with a large safety team and a reputation for safety we do not feel it is either economic or safe at this point to open much as we’d love to do so!” Thus highlighting the commercial as well as the safety aspects of running a swimming venue.

On the other hand, Jane McCormick of Openswim UK says: “We feel that we almost have a responsibility to open up so that we can offer swimmers the opportunity to swim safely rather than jumping in and hoping for the best.” Openswim UK have submitted their proposed operating procedures to their local authority and are waiting for feedback.

Rather than opening immediately, a few venues will use this weekend to test their new operational procedures behind closed doors. These include Queenford Lake and London Royal Docks. Both will make further announcements next week.

There is a clear demand for swimming. Marlow Open Water Swimming canvassed opinion on re-opening on their Facebook page and received 173 responses – as far as we could see, they essentially all said, “yes please”.

Some lakes have gone ahead and opened immediately. Dosthill Quarry in Tamworth already held its first swim under social distance regulations, allowing just 10 people into the water at time. Bristol Open Water is also up and running. Russell Hanford says Box End Park will open this weekend, but with new guidelines as follows:

  • All sessions will now need to be pre-booked via our booking software, allowing us to enforce strict limits on numbers
  • Strict social distancing before, during and after your activity
  • No changing rooms will be open, although regularly cleaned toilets will be accessible
  • Sessions will be limited to a maximum of 1 hour in the water
  • A single safety observer will be present, full lifeguarding cover will not be in operation
  • Only experienced open water swim athletes should attend
  • No onside catering will be open. No picnics will be allowed
  • No spectators please.

These, or similar requirements, will be put in place at any venue that opens.

It’s a fast changing situation. We will share updates as we hear them. Meanwhile, see below for a summary of situation and check out our venue listings page for details of your local venue – please call ahead before visiting any venue as they may not be open. If you’re a venue manager, please let us know what your plans are.

Provisional venue status – updated 2 June 2020

Action Watersports – open (pre-booked only)

Box End Park – opening 15 May

Bristol Open Water – open (pre-booked only, limited numbers)

Capernwray – Closed until they can also re-open for diving. Estimated for after 4 July. See for updates

Cliff Lakes (Tamworth) – sessions for intermediate and advanced open water swimmers can now be booked, hoping to open usual open water swimming sessions soon.

Colwick Lake – Hoping to open soon. Waiting for guidance from Nottingham City Council.

Denham Waterski (Bucks) – open for pre-bookings (24 hours in advance using NOWCA Actio app).

Dosthill Quarry – open

Elton Reservoir (Bolton Tri Club) – Closed

Heron Lake – reopened on 1 June (limited numbers, pre-booking only).

Horseshoe Lake (Sandhurst) – now open (pre-booked only)

Liquid Leisure (Datchet) – Opened 16 May (experienced participants, pre-booked only).

Love Open Water (London docks and others) – sessions now available in London and Milton Keynes, pre-book only via the ACTiO App. Check app for updates on other venues

Merchant Taylor School (Herts) – Opened 16 May

QuaySwim (Mytchett) – open for experienced, open water swimmers only (pre-booking required).

Queenford – Opened 24 May. Pre-booking only.

Redrick’s Lake (Sawbridgeworth) – Opened on 13 May.

Rutland Water Park – Closed until further notice

Shepperton Open Water – Closed. Not planning on opening in near future.

Stubbers (Upminster) – now open for pre-booked sessions.

Surrey Hills Adventure Company – Open for pre-bookings (members only, limited to 15 per session)

SwimYourSwim (various venues) – closed

Trifarm – open (pre-booked, existing inducted swimmers only)

Tri2O (Reading) – reopened 23 May (pre-booking only, limited numbers).

Uswim Boundary Park (Manchester) – opened for one-off event Sunday 17 May. Regular sessions now available for pre-booking.

Uswim Salfold Quays – now reopen for pre-booking.

Vobster Quay – Opening week commencing 8 June (pre-booked, members only)

West Reservoir (Hackney) – Closed.

Westhorpe Water Sports Park (Marlow Open Water Swimming) – Opened 18 May. See Facebook page for details.

(Images (c) Katia Vastiau)

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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.