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Ban, what ban? 200 join slow swim on the Cam at Grantchester

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The annual slow swim on the river Cam went ahead at Grantchester today – the first such event since the national furore during the week which saw King’s College ban people entering the River Cam at Grantchester Meadows.

Getting ready for a slow swim at 10am
Getting ready for a slow swim at 10am

The event is an annual event which started in 2018 and the organisers, Slow Swimming, stated that it took place with the full co-operation of the authorities.

The first swimmers in the four waves arrived around 10am to set off in the water which was a relatively mild 17 degrees, according to the lifeguard service in attendance on the riverbank. They set off on the 2.5km swim in the muddy, chalky water on the Cam, heading north towards Grantchester Meadows.

Simon Nash, a lifeguard from Stansted with the Royal Life Saving Society UK – a drowning prevention charity with a team monitoring the day’s proceedings – was standing by the riverbank watching the swimmers.

“I'm a cub leader,” he said. “We do open water events which is why I got qualified.

“This started in 2018 I believe, everyone’s really well behaved. It’s a very good turnout. 17 degrees is good, its lovely. The fastest time I believe is 35 minutes, then they walk back.”

Royal Life Saving Society UK lifeguard Simon Nash supervising the slow swim at Grantchester
Royal Life Saving Society UK lifeguard Simon Nash supervising the slow swim at Grantchester

As wave one set off crowds of people, young and old, were coming to the riverbank from both the Red Lion access from the village of Grantchester, and further upstream towards the city. The incomers were more intergenerational, and the youngsters had dinosaur and dolphin inflatables, and dingies, canoes and rings. ‘Nothing bigger than a lilo please’, request the organisers. It took the following waves a lot longer to get into the water without being bunched up and they were a lot more vocal. Everyone was having fun: anyone skittish about social distancing was doing a good job covering it up.

“It’s a very good turnout,” said Stuart Hamilton, one of the Slow Swimming organisers – motto: ‘It’s all about the journey... and the cake’ – on the bank. “Surprisingly – I guess lots rolled over from last year.”

Stuart is based in Colchester.

“The maximum number of swimmers is 350, there’s at least 200 here. The ban has had zero effect because we own public liability insurance.

“King’s are very happy about us being here, I suspect their main problem is the legal and insurance aspects, but we have professional lifeguards here, and we’ve spoken to them [King’s] as well. They know we have public liability insurance."

The event attracts people from all over. Bella Santos and her mother Millie came from Walthamstow.

“We came up last night and stayed at an airbnb,” said Millie. “It’s my first slow swim, but I’ve done lots of swimming and some wild swimming.”

Slow Swimming can be thought of as “a reaction to the ever increasing speed and complexity of the modern western world”.

Stuart Hamilton, one of the organisers of the Slow Swimming event, by the Cam
Stuart Hamilton, one of the organisers of the Slow Swimming event, by the Cam

The organisation said: “When you swim slowly you see more of what’s around you. You notice the sounds of the wildlife, how your body is moving in the water, the feel of the water as it passes you and you will even notice the different temperatures, smells, and sometimes, even the tastes of the water.

“Slow Swimming promotes swimming for the pure pleasure of experiencing the nature that you are fully immersed in.”

You may even be a slow swimmer without even being aware of it, because the activity “encompasses swimbling, pottering, meandering, sauntering, mooching, toddling, ambling, dipping and bobbing”.

So now you know.

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