Skip to content

The wild swimmers of Henleaze Lake

December 31, 2017
A man climbs into waterImage copyrightJames Beck

Sitting behind woodland and surrounded by steep rocky slopes, it’s hard to imagine Henleaze Lake is just outside the centre of Bristol.

Formed in 1919, members of Henleaze Swimming Club have been bathing in the green water of the lake ever since, gaining a diving board and a sauna along the way.

A clubhouse wall is given over to photographs of swimmers from throughout the years, and parts of the grounds seem fixed in the past.

A woman walks on grassImage copyrightJames Beck
A man dries himselfImage copyrightJames Beck

Come summer, the banks of the former quarry are full of bathers. However, the winter offers a different picture.

The leaves are off the trees and the landscape is quiet.

Yet a small but enthusiastic core of swimmers remain, braving waters that regularly reach temperatures close to freezing.

A person splashes into waterImage copyrightJames Beck
An elderly man in his shortsImage copyrightJames Beck
A pair of shoesImage copyrightJames Beck

There is a sense of community within the group, perhaps bonded by the temperature of the water.

Motivations differ, however. Anna van Wely, who has been swimming at the lake for many years, has relished the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals.

Another swimmer, Mike Rafter, points to the sense of liberation that winter swimming provides, saying little else can make you feel so alive.

A woman climbs the diving boardImage copyrightJames Beck
Legs and bodies in a saunaImage copyrightJames Beck
A man reflected in a mirrorImage copyrightJames Beck

All photographs by James Beck.