English rivers are drowning in sh*t
If you read just a handful of posts on here, you’ll see I’m a big fan of having more adventure in your life. Cycling is a great way to do so, but certainly not the only way. Swimming and cycling is a great combination, and better still if it involves camping.
Camping elicits images of wild-swimming in a river or lake, which I greatly approve of. Also, especially if you’ve never done so, I’d encourage skinny-dipping. Of course, unless you’re a total exhibitionist, do check that there’s nobody else around first, though. Remember, you can go into the water first, then get undressed underwater. That way, you can skinny dip in places where there’s the risk of other people being around, without them being any the wiser, or at least without anyone seeing you naked.
Stunning rivers and lakes
The UK is astoundingly beautiful, and certainly has no shortage of rivers and lakes. Just looking around reveals an emerald lushness in practically every direction (outside of urban areas). All that green is good for you, and there’s solid, peer-reviewed evidence proving cycling through such a green landscape is indeed very good for you.
There shouldn’t be anything surprising in any of that, and if you’ve ever cycled through the British countryside, there’s a high likelihood you’ve at very least stopped by a stream, and after taking off your shoes and socks, dangled your feet in the water.
On a hot summer’s day (and yes, we do get those in the UK) you may even have gone for a dip in your cycling shorts – I certainly have. But here lies the problem – how clean is the water in that river?
Sadly, water quality in rivers and lakes, almost throughout the UK, is often very poor, and there are rivers you simply should not swim in. Which rivers? That depends, and there isn’t a simple and conclusive answer. As a rule of thumb, though, avoid rivers busy with boats, or with industry alongside, but also check the map below for up-to-date data. You see, the primary pollutants in rivers and lakes are from sewage discharges (from land, not boats), and can vary from raw sewage, to treated sewage. How inviting does the water look now? This is also why you should avoid drinking water from rivers or streams – dysentery is no fun!
When planning your next adventure, one that may in any shape include wild-swimming, do yourself a favour and check the state of the river you’re planning on swimming in beforehand. If uncertain, but still desperate for a swim, consider keeping your head above the water at all times, and try to avoid water splashing in your face.
The map linked to above only shows England and Wales – this map shows bathing water quality for Scotland, but is different, in that it doesn’t show sewage spills. Instead, it shows set locations where the bathing water quality has been tested. The good news is the water utility in Scotland remains publicly-owned, and doesn’t do what the English and Welsh water companies do. As a result, water quality is far better in Scotland.
The charity Surfers Against Sewage has a free app that you can install on your phone, to have live, up-to-date water quality alerts in the palm of your hand, covering all of the UK. Do yourself the favour of installing that app, and always check water quality before going swimming.
Importantly, and extremely disappointingly, the UK passed new legislation in October 2021, allowing water companies in England and Wales to discharge raw, untreated sewage into rivers and the sea. This has enormous health implications, and almost immediately resulted in “Don’t swim” notices for many beaches. Sadly, though otherwise excellent, the Surfers Against Sewage app only covers beaches, and some beaches only have water-quality monitoring during the summer.
Before swimming in ANY river in England or Wales, you really must 1st check if it’s safe to do so!
The map below is provided by the Rivers Trust, and allows you to check river sewage pollution throughout England and Wales: