They say it's one of the cleanest major rivers in Europe, but is the Thames really swimmable? Caitlin Davies and Chris Romer-Lee think so. They're guests on Londonist's floating stage at Totally Thames, where they'll discuss the past, present and future of Thames swimming.
Caitlin Davies is author of forthcoming book Downstream: A Social History of Swimming the River Thames. She recounts her first experiences in the our city's river.
When I started researching Downstream my editor said he expected I would need to do quite a few swims in the Thames. I thought, oh yeah we'll see about that. It wasn't actually written into the contract, so I thought I might get away with a dip or two. Then one wintery January night, after a drink, I signed up to do three Thames swims — upper, central London, and the estuary. For the next eight months I can't count the number of people who said, 'The Thames? Ugh. You do know you'll get sick like David Walliams". But in the end all three swims were so brilliant that now I'm going to do at least one every year. I'm a Londoner born and bred, the Thames has never been that far away from me, and yet I never thought of it as somewhere to swim until I wrote this book. Plus I had no idea that we have such a rich tradition of swimming the Thames that goes back hundreds of years and to be part of that tradition was fantastic.
Chris Romer-Lee, meanwhile, wants to build a lido in the Thames, just off the Embankment. It would offer all the thrill of swimming in central London, without the bacterial dangers.
As with Caitlin, I'm a Londoner. 42 years in this great city. I've grown up around the Thames but also around watery holidays in Cornwall and Europe. Working on reintroducing swimming in the Thames feels like something very close to my heart. The enthusiasm from both Londoners and the swimming community has been a huge influence. The refusal for this project to go quiet has convinced us that this really can happen. I had my first swim in the London Thames two weeks ago. The swim was one of the most exhilarating I've experienced. Looking at the houses along Chiswick Mall from Thames water level isn't an everyday experience — imagine doing this in Central London...
Find out more about the lido plans, and how to safely swim in the Thames, at this special event hosted by Londonist and presented by M@Brown, part of a weekend of river-themed talks at Totally Thames festival.
Swimming the Thames: Then and Now is on 20 September, 1pm-2.15pm onboard HMS President, Victoria Embankment. Londonist is proud to be media partner for Totally Thames 2014.