The 'dull and grey safety regime' imposed on British society results in most UK children being deprived of some simple joys of summer. We wanted to know whether this is a sign of the times or is it just Britannia which is now afraid of water. We asked Clara, a keen Dutch open water swimmer about attitudes to swimming in inland waters on the Continent.
Here is what she wrote:
It's very normal in The Netherlands to swim in open water. You're nearly always allowed to. Swimming in rivers, in lakes (the big one called the IJselmeer and a lot of smaller ones), in canals, and ringcanals (which are dug around the polders to pump the water out of them). Only the areas where birds are breeding are not allowed in spring. And near to harbours or things like that where it is forbidden because of flow of the water.
There are even man made little sandy beaches near lakes so you could better enjoy the swimming. There are also a lot of outdoor swimming pools although more and more of them are being changed to indoors because of the costs. Alas!

From Dutch friends who live in Switzerland I know that each village (and these are really small villages with less than 2000 inhabitants) has its own outdoor heated swimming pool. It's a meeting place for the people of the village. They also have some nice little lakes in the surroundings where you are free to have a lovely swim with small beaches too.

From our holidays in the past I know that this is the same in Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Hungary. In Norway there are hardly any outdoor swimming pools but many lakes where you can swim.
Our thanks to Clara for the information.
In January 2003 the Scottish Parliament passed the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 - undoubtedly one of the main achievements of the Scottish Parliament in its first term. The Act establishes statutory rights of access to land and water. The Act clearly sets down in statute a presumption in favour of access, if taken responsibly, over most areas of land and water. It establishes statutory rights of non-motorised access (e.g. for walking, cycling, horse riding, canoeing and, no doubt, swimming) to land and inland water for passage, recreation, education and commercial activities. The list of activities excluded from access rights has been limited to being on land in breach of court order; hunting, shooting or fishing; having a dog out of control; removing things commercially from the land, and motorized access
Land over which the new statutory rights will not apply is relatively limited in extent, including areas attached to buildings and farmyards, quarries, railway property and airfields
The Act appears to provide a legislative structure which is perhaps better than that found in any other European country. It provides Scotland with an outstanding opportunity to develop all forms of non-motorised outdoor recreation, an undoubted benefit to the health and social well-being of the nation, but also for land mangers to whom it presents new forms of rural development and regeneration. Click here to see the full Act
Clair wrote to us about river and lake swimming in Zurich where they even have a diving tower (now only found in museums in the UK):
The diving tower in the picture is near a little beach and lawn that you have to pay to get into (about 3) and there are changing rooms etc provided. You don't have to be a member. There are also diving boards in the River Limmat which anyone can swim to easily - no payment needed. Anyone can enter and swim in the lake and river wherever and whenever they like - except from private land. There are some nice public lawns and boardwalks you can lie on and swim nearby with no need to pay - they can get quite busy on a hot day. There are also some nice private lawns and beaches like the one I described above that you have to pay to use but it's all open to the public. An annual "Limmatschwimmen" where hundreds of people swim down the fast-flowing River Limmat in Zurich is held every August: More.. It's a real festive atmosphere and you can jump in off the bridges, swim fast or just float and the river takes you downstream pretty quickly.
We have been informed through another source that swimming is an urban amenity already offered by most Swiss cities
Many of us had the privilege to enjoy the freedom of access to open water which is taken for granted in the rest of Europe. Some countries have gone further than just acknowledging the need to provide local, river and lake swimming facilities. In Sweden, for example, the law gives people the right to swim in all lakes and rivers!
The situation in the USA is less clear. One could hardly expect a liberal attitude to swimming in a well regulated country which is leading the world in the 'blame and compensation' culture. We were therefore pleasantly surprised to discover that... Read on

Julia who comes from Germany wrote:
Swimming attitudes in Germany are very different, people swim in rivers and lakes and before I came to this country I was not aware that swimming in lakes is a 'dangerous' activity. Most lakes have a lido (which is usually unsupervised)- In Friedrichshafen (Lake of Constance) there is an absolutely delightful lido which has lovely wooden changing cubicles and hot (yes hot) showers. You can swim out quite far, swimming round the perimeter will take about an hour at a leisurely pace. The water is deep and cold (18-21 C) compared with swimming pools, you have to simply know when to get out- for me at 18C that's usually after 25 minutes (without a wetsuit), but hey this does not stop me from getting back in again. Some people swim of course all the way to Switzerland and no-one stops you from doing this (at your own risk).

Kirsty, who lived in North China wrote:
'(in China) winter swimming is held in very high esteem in traditional chinese medicine as being excellent for the respritory system and skin and promoting longevity'.(25/10/05)

Tanya wrote to us (4/9/05):
In Sweden, where I come from, everybody swims in lakes, rivers and the sea - and there are loads of lakes everywhere! But here........I feel people look at me like I am a seven headed monster or something for liking swimming outside

Stephen Sian wrote to BBC Wiltshire:
I am somewhat amused at this article having grown up in Canada: (a) that you have created a term "wild swimming" and (b) that it's an out-of-the-ordinary experience. In British Columbia, I have grown up swimming in rivers, low land lakes, alpine lakes, streams, sloughs, and of course the big wide ocean. Never a question of disease or uncleanliness. Further when I was a child, you could drink most of the water you found. Sadly, with global pollution that has changed.

Bartek, originally from Poland wrote to us (16/08/05):
Back in Poland I was swimming every summer in lakes and rivers, which is quite common in my country.

Des Lane from Austria wrote to us (16/08/05): When it becomes impossible to take a dip in U.K. water without facing a fine for taking your own life in your hands you can do worse than a trip to the Salzkammergut (sic) in Austria I'm more a canoeist than swimmer but if it's wet and wild... The whole lifestyle around there seems centred on lake swimming. Not once did I see a sign saying no swimming.

In Paris sand has been transported to the banks of the Seine in recent years for the benefit of summer visitors.

The lake and river in Zurich are inspirational - the UK should learn from them (Claire Powell 12/09/05)