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Port Meadow, Oxford
Photograph: AstacopsisGouldi / Wikimedia Commons

This very delightful stretch of the Thames will soon get official bathing status

Port Meadow in Oxford could soon be a much cleaner, safer place to go for a dip

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

The River Thames in London is definitely not somewhere you want to go for a swim. Renowned for its billions of litres of raw sewage, staggering amounts of pollution and deadly invisible currents, the river’s sickly green waves aren’t exactly all that enticing, and it’ll take a heck of a lot of work to clean it all up.

Upriver of central London, however, the Thames is a much calmer, safer and more appealing place to have a swim. And a stretch of it will soon be made a designated bathing area. Part of Wolvercote Mill Stream at Port Meadow (an open space in Oxford), which is already a popular wild swimming spot, will receive the status from next month. 

So why make Wolvercote Mill Stream a designated bathing area? Well, it’s an attempt to make the river safer and cleaner. Once a site has official bathing status, the Environment Agency is forced to regularly take samples of water to assess its quality and determine whether they need to clean it up. 

The idea is that by monitoring river quality, water companies are pressured not to dump sewage in them. Data released last week showed that water companies in the UK dumped sewage a shocking 372,533 times in 2021. At the moment, it’s much cheaper and easier for these companies to simply pay a fine than to properly process the sewage.

It’s yet to be seen whether designating parts of rivers as bathing areas will actually make water firms give a damn – but that isn’t stopping a UK-wide push to implement like-minded initiatives. Following the official classification of a stretch of the River Wharfe in Yorkshire in 2021, the government has asked people to nominate areas near to them which are favoured by wild swimmers, kayakers and paddle boarders.

In other words, if you’ve got a fave wild swimming spot near you and want to see it better looked after, here’s your chance. You can apply for designation here.

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