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Enjoy some slow, wild swimming in the River Cam

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Slow swimming organiser Stuart Hamilton (in the swimming cap in the centre of the picture)
Slow swimming organiser Stuart Hamilton (in the swimming cap in the centre of the picture)

What started off as a bit of fun for six friends has, over the last five years, grown into an event for nearly 500 swimmers and their friends and families

The slow swimming event
The slow swimming event

Now the social swim and picnic that takes place at Dedham Vale on the Essex-Suffolk border, has spawned a sister event in Cambridge.

On Sunday, July 8, a 2.5km wild swimming event will run from Grantchester to Sheep’s Green, where the picnic will be held.

Although it is not a race, there will be a starter, an official timer, support kayaks, marshals and records to set. There will also be two trophies awarded, one each for first-placed man and first-placed woman.

With four ‘waves’ for swimmers to choose from, getting progressively more laid back, there should be something for everyone.

Slow swimming event taking place at Dedham Vale on the Essex/Suffolk border
Slow swimming event taking place at Dedham Vale on the Essex/Suffolk border

The money raised goes to charities local to the swims with a primary interest in promoting a sustainable lifestyle and looking after the rivers to allow continued swimming.

The Sustainable Food Hub in Cambridge and the Cam Valley Forum – a group of volunteers who look after the river – will also benefit.

Organiser Stuart Hamilton, 53, who owns Hamiltons Fitness Centre in Colchester, told the Cambridge Independent: “The slow swimming event is a way to encourage and publicise what has become known as ‘wild swimming’.

“That’s a catch-all title for swimming outside of formal indoor swimming pools. It includes rivers, lakes and the sea.

“Most outdoor swimming events are races in their own right, or one part of triathlons, so encourage very competitive people to become involved. Slow swimming is all about inclusivity.

“It’s about the 90 per cent of people who want to enjoy outdoor swimming for the pleasure they experience while doing it. It’s for people who don’t want to get there in a hurry, but love the journey.”

The first event was in the River Stour in 2013. “There were six of us to start with and three others who came along in kayaks to keep us safe,” he recalled.

“Mostly we were surfers a long way from any surf, so weren’t too worried about getting wet and cold... At the end of the swim we met some other friends, who didn’t want to get wet, for a picnic.

“It was so good we created a Facebook group for the photos and before long people were asking whether this was an annual event.

“We opened it up to friends of friends and very quickly people were emailing from all over southern England, wanting to be involved. We’ve always said that it’s organised ‘for swimmers by swimmers’.

“We use the event on the River Stour to raise money for The River Stour Trust, a charity that looks after the river and keeps it clear, allowing us to swim the rest of the year as well.”

Stuart is delighted that Cambridge will be involved in this year’s swim.

“I love Cambridge and have visited as a tourist many times,” he explained. “There’s been a history, on and off, of swimming in the Cam and I thought it would be great to see if we could raise the profile of slow swimming there.”

Swimmers must sign up in advance at hamiltonsfitness.co.uk/camswim.html. Entry is £12.50.

The free picnic starts at about 11am on Sheep’s Green by the river. Wave one, for the serious swimmers, starts at 10.30am, while those who want a relaxed, steady pace, should join wave two from 10.45am.

Wave three is for those who want to ‘enjoy the journey’ from 11am, while wave four, ‘Pooh sticks’, is for those who want to float along with lilos, rings or armbands, and runs from 11.15am.

The ‘traditional’ event in Dedham takes place on August 12. Visit hamiltonsfitness.co.uk/mill2mill.htm.

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