Last summer holidays, I received a mysterious phone call from a friend telling me to pack up the kids togs, a few towels and a flask of tea and meet her by the side of the Thames in East Molesey, just upstream from Hampton Court.


Half an hour later, me and my sons, 6 and 8, parked the car, grabbed our bags and walked the ten minutes along the tow path until we saw her and her children, already in their swimmies, standing on the edge of the Thames.

As we drew close, my lads were excited to see a rope swing tied to a branch of a tree that extended out into the river.

"Can we?" they asked. I've never swum in the Thames but a group of boys opposite were hurling themselves in off the roof of a boathouse so I thought, why not!

Two seconds later, all the kids were flinging themselves into the cool green water, swinging off the rope and screaming in delight. I joined them a little gingerly, not really wanting to put my head under and drink the Thames, stories of Weil's disease and pollution putting me off.

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Within five minutes I, too, was bombing off the bank, convinced that the rows of mussels clinging to the side of the bank proved the water was as clean as we thought it was.

I can't tell you how exhilarating it was. The kids charged around on the bank after their swim, warming themselves up, and then we all settled down to a great picnic. A great fun day.

It's prohibited to swim in some parts of the Thames without permission, from Putney Bridge up to Crossness, but the Port of London Authority states,

"We have not ‘banned’ swimming over the 95 miles of river that we cover. From Teddington Lock to Putney and from Crossness (roughly the Thames Barrier) to the North Sea there are no explicit requirements, bar people using their common sense."

So, go on, take the plunge and find an outdoor swimming spot near you.

Have a look at the Outdoor Swimming Society website. It's an organisation that believes it's time British swimmers had more fun and got a chance to recover a sense of how the natural world smells, tastes and sounds.

"In the early 1900s there were river swimming clubs and lidos all over the country, but outdoor swimming died out as indoor pools came in. We believe it's time to get back to the joy of swimming under an open sky. Water needs no roof."

You'll find a Swim Map that lists family-friendly outdoor swimming spots on lakes and rivers all around the country and you just go along and jump in. As the site says, swimming needs less equipment than a game of football! And remember, half the fun of outdoor swimming is a hot cup of tea and a picnic afterwards.


Don't forget the towels and a big rug!