Troubled waters: Cambridge river divides city and dress | Swimming
It is a muggy and overcast day in Cambridge. Down by Grantchester Meadows, accompanied by butterflies and birdsong, Camila Ilsley enjoys an illegal swim in the River Cam.
This inviting stretch of river – known incongruously as Dead Man’s Corner – is one in which Ilsley, a local resident and wildlife charity worker, regularly swims with her children and friends. “During the pandemic, we all really need it,” she said. “I’ve been swimming in this river my whole life, but over the past year it really saved my life.
His mood, like that of the other swimmers present, is provocative. Ten days ago, King’s College Cambridge – which has owned the prairies since 1452 – put up a sign prohibiting wild swimming in the area, abruptly depriving residents of a freedom they have enjoyed for more than 400 years.
But that was far from the end of the matter. Since then, a petition started by Ilsley has drawn more than 20,000 signatures, and over the weekend a mass ‘protest swim’ was staged on the river to highlight the restrictions imposed and demand that the sign be removed.
The college has now told the Observer he wants “to temper the language of ‘no swimming’ to a less prohibitive form of words”. He plans to meet Ilsley and the local authorities this week and says he has no plans to stop the swimmers who continue to swim there as he attempts to “find a solution quickly for the sake of all”.
It seems unlikely, however, that the feud that erupted over this famous pocket of land – beloved by figures ranging from Lord Byron and Rupert Brooke to Virginia Woolf and Pink Floyd – will be extinguished anytime soon.
For Ilsley, King’s behavior added to the feeling of living in a city still deeply divided into ‘town’ and ‘dress’. “I have always respected college. But I don’t know how much I trust them anymore.
Swimming in the river meant so much to her during the lockdown. “I’ve never experienced anything as hard as working and teaching three kids at home. Being able to go down to the river, to be in cold water and in the countryside, has made such a difference to our well-being.
She says Grantchester Meadows is one of the few “scraps of land” available to the people of Cambridge where they can meet safely during the pandemic and bathe in nature. “So it’s extremely upsetting to have that taken away. The timing is appalling.”
Swimmer Clare Hutton, who co-signed the petition with Ilsley, agrees: “When you’re just a resident – that’s how we put it, we are ‘only residents’, not residents. students, we don’t have their privileges – it feels like a lot of decisions are being made over your head. I don’t think there is much consideration for the actual residents of Cambridge and the recreational facilities that we have.
The college said it decided to install the sign because the prairies had become “a frequent site for large gatherings of individuals entering the River Cam under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, and subsequently requiring emergency assistance “. He is also concerned about bank erosion, which he said was largely due to swimmers entering and exiting or “poorly mooring their boats.” The launching of all boats from the meadows was also prohibited.
Many swimmers said they saw anti-social behavior occur during the lockdown. But they didn’t think wild swimmers should be punished for it. “These are mostly school kids who get together and socialize, get drunk and leave appalling amounts of trash behind – and I mean really disgusting amounts,” said Paul Beaumont, a resident who swims the meadows three or four times. per week.
He believes that educating young people about their responsibilities to the environment, rather than a sign prohibiting swimming, is the solution.
The king’s ban is just the latest incident to fuel tensions between the university and residents who live in its shadow. Cambridge is officially the most unequal city in the UK, where the richest 6% of people earn 19% of the total income generated, but homelessness is widespread and rising house values have taken a toll on many. local people.
“Cambridge is growing rapidly and many people are confined to small apartments or living in multi-occupancy houses,” said Michael Goodhart, chairman of the Cam Safer Swim Initiative. “And so they desperately need to be able to go out for their mental and physical health and enjoy the nature of the Cam Hall.”
A King’s spokesperson said he understood why he was accused of creating a wedge between the city and the robe, adding that the college had no intention of undertaking patrols to prevent the use of the river by responsible swimmers. “Our concern is to keep everyone safe, and we ask all swimmers to consider the potential risks before entering the water. For those who wish to move forward, no action will or indeed can be taken. “
The college has asked people not to swim because it has a legal responsibility to try to deter activities that can cause harm, he said. “The advice given to us suggests that it is not enough for us to state that entering the river would be” at the swimmer’s risk “unless we have taken steps to prevent it. . ” However, he added that King’s was seeking further legal advice.
Goodhart said the responsibility of wild swimmers is well defined by the Outdoor Swimming Association. “The swimmers are fully responsible for their activity, they assume this risk. But landowners have an obligation to inform about dangers that may not be immediately apparent to a responsible adult. “
Fears of drowning in the Cam at Grantchester Meadows have been present for as long as people bathe there, he points out: Records date back to 1587, when a member of St John’s published a Latin treatise on the art of swimming. . “He decided to write it because he was concerned that undergraduates might drown in the river.”
He believes the college and residents should work together. “The ideal outcome is that we find ways to make people aware of the value of Grantchester Meadows and to behave responsibly there. ”