Swimming Against the Stream


This book is the culmination of years of research on UK policy and practice on wild and outdoor swimming. Jean Perraton has kindly allowed us to reproduce some extracts from her accomplished book here. Click the book jacket below to view it on Amazon. Click here to find excerpts from her introduction, history chapter and section on litigation. Read on for more general information about the book or buy it from Amazon here.


Reclaiming lakes and rivers for people to enjoy

From Jean Perraton:

“In our well-watered land we have, as Daniel Start’s photos prove, many lovely places to swim. But far too often when we approach an enticing lake we meet the forbidding words ‘DEEP WATER – NO SWIMMING’. In England and Wales our inland waters, unlike those in many other countries, are not regarded as places to swim. The Environment Agency and RoSPA warn us not to swim in lakes and rivers, and land managers try to stop us from doing so for fear they may be sued if someone drowns.

“Yet for centuries people have enjoyed swimming in fresh waters. In this plea to regain a watery freedom Jean Perraton marshals the words of ordinary people and evocative poets who have enjoyed swimming and vividly recorded its delights. After a brief dip into the history of swimming, she looks at recent changes in our countryside and the problems of access to, and rights to use, inland waters that the recent ‘right to roam’ legislation has done little to improve. She goes on to examine the policies of public agencies that control the use of inland waters demonstrating how safety watchdogs have exaggerated the ‘duty of care’ that landowners owe to people using their land and waters. The book shows, too, that the evidence on drowning, and the health dangers of untreated waters, do not support the view of swimming as a uniquely hazardous activity.

“Jean Perraton argues that there are good reasons why public agencies should be helping people, rather than forbidding them, to swim in suitable waters near their homes The popularity of those sites where swimmers are welcomed, and the anger and frustration that follows when swimming is banned, shows how passionately wild swimmers feel about swimming in natural waters, surrounded by meadows and trees, mountains or moors. Others would love to join in if they could find good places where it is clearly acceptable to swim. Enabling them to do so fits well with public concerns about obesity and the environment. Swimming against the Stream sets out many practical ways in which public agencies, at little public expense, could enable more people to swim. But in the longer term, the author argues, we need a more comprehensive ‘right to roam’ which, as inScotland, should include a ‘right to swim’ in our lakes and rivers.

“Swimming against the Stream brings together the emotional response and a cool appraisal of the risks and benefits, giving double strength to the case for a change in attitude and new policies. It is both a delight and a practical guide for anyone concerned with our heritage of lakes and rivers.”

Swimming against the Stream by Jean Perraton, with a foreword by Marion Shoard, was published in 2005 by Jon Carpenter, price £14.99  ISBN 0-9549727-0-8. It is available from Amazon: click here.

What readers say:

I loved the combination of art and poetry, social history, access management and policy evaluation…it brought out the radical in me.

Lynn Crowe, professor of Environmental Management, Sheffield HallamUniversity

It is beautifully produced with some delightful photographs, and the literary, personal and imaginative parts are lovely…may it be widely read, enjoyed, and acted upon.

John Freeman, poet and lecturer in English, Cardiff University

The book appears at a particularly interesting moment in the struggle about rights over the environment in Britain and over access in particular

 Marion Shoard, author of The Right to Roam and other seminal works on access to the countryside

The author has managed to translate a large volume of researched material into a well-structured, readable book. ‘Swimming against the Stream’ is the definitive source of information for wild swimmers. At RALSA we refer to it as ‘our bible’.

Yakov Lev, secretary to the Rivers and Lakes Swimming Association


The author:

Jean Perraton’s concern for the environment stretches back almost as far as her love of wild swimming. With a degree in geography and a diploma in town planning, she has struggled with environmental problems in various capacities and countries, as a university researcher in Cambridge, a regional planner in Botswana, rural policy manager in Cambridgeshire and a planning consultant in Barbados. Now she has time for making sculptures, playing the piano and playing table tennis, growing organic vegetables, and trying to learn modern Greek. She is President of the Rivers and Lakes Swimming Association (RALSA) and also chairs the Cam Valley Forum, which seeks to conserve and improve the environment of the river Cam. Jean believes that, in our affluent and polluting society, we need to regain a delight in simple pleasures, such as swimming in natural waters, pleasures that re-unite us with the earth that sustains us.

Main chapters:

■ The summer’s sovereign good

■ A quick dip into the history of swimming

■ Lost opportunities and continuing constraints

■ The guardians of the water environment

■ A countryside for all?

■ Litigation or liberty?

■ The cost of a quick dip – the danger of drowning

■.The cost of a quick dip – the health hazards

■ Who wants to swim?

■ To cool in the dog days – health and happiness

■ Tread lightly, swim gently – swimming and the environment

■ Let’s go out to swim – making it possible

Arts & Culture