Sink Or Swim - The Perils Of Sharing Wild Swimming Spots On Social Media

Posted by Matt Heason on Jul 19, 2018

A friend posted a picture of a sign up on the moors above where I live today. It's asking people not to swim in what has been our favourite wild swimming spot for the past four or five years. The hot weather we've had for the past mont has naturally lead to an increase in the number of people looking to cool down after work and at the weekend. As is ever the case those places easiest to access are the most popular. The place in question is a small reservoir nearly a mile from any main road, but the secret is out of the bag and on a recent visit up there after school one evening it was sad to see that there were upwards of 50 people there.

I say sad, but that was only the selfish part of me that remembers the times we've been the only people there, the night I bivvied there alone and went to sleep after a midnight dip in bath-temperature water, and woke to the most amazing cloud mosaic reflected on the water. I was also happy to see so many others clearly enjoying the weather, the water and the place. Though there was an increased level of noise on that particular night I didn't notice any anti-social behaviour, nor was there any obvious evidence of there having been any. The images on the sign that's been posted up there would suggest otherwise and I can only assume that this has happened in the last few weeks. 

I'm pretty careful to not say where such spots are in public, but I will admit to being happy to share pics of our escapades. I spend a reasonable amount of time harvesting the internet, the social media hive in particular, for information on places to go and things to do, so it seems churlish to not give a little back in return. The problem is not everybody is as careful and word has spread of the location of this spot. Truth be told I've been slightly alarmed to see that Facebook is now geo-locating my photos and suggesting locations to tag them with. I haven't tagged them and I don't plan to. I looked today at how to turn this feature off and the best advice I could find was to turn off the feature on my phone's camera. The thing is I don't want to do that as I would like to be able to identify where a photo was taken for my own purposes, I just don't want to share it with the world. I've watched with a kind of detached amusement at the near hysteria that some folk get themselves into about the malign effects of social media, always having figured that as long as you are considered about what you post, there isn't too much need to worry. But this feature has bugged me and I'd like the option to turn it off entirely, which doesn't currently appear to be possible.

The posting of the above signs came just days after a visit to a historically popular spot in the Lakes which I visited last Saturday with my youngest son. We woke early and wound our way up the river, swimming half a dozen times before reaching our destination. Those swims had been stunning, really breath-taking. Tranquil, warm, beautiful, but they weren't obvious from the path, and neither were they featured in a guidebook. Our objective - again I'll not mention where it is - is visible between two footpaths, is featured in Wild Swimming, and is about a mile from a popular campsite. Sadly we arrived about ten minutes after about 30 young men from the campsite. They had parked themselves either side of the river, most were drinking with one hand and smoking with the other. Every now and then one of them would jump in and splash to the shore cursing about how cold it was. It was no place to hang around with a 9 year old so we left them to it.

Granted, this summer has been somewhat unusual, but that's not to say that it won't happen again. One solution would be to open up some of the water sources we already have to the general public. Coincidentally only this week a new bunch of signs have gone up along the river bank between Grindleford and Hathersage saying no swimming or canoeing is allowed as the fishermen have the rights. We are also surrounded by dozens of reservoirs used for drinking water, all of which are off limits for swimming, mostly citing cold, deep water which ironically is exactly what folk are after when it's warm like this. Given the propensity for sheep and other wildlife to drown themselves in these reservoirs, and the fact that all drinking water must be cleaned / filtered between the taps and the reservoirs, I don't think that cleanliness holds up as an argument to keep people out either. Give us access to the reservoirs, make it clear which bits are safe and which bits are not, and let us swim!

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