Bristol’s harbourside is one of the city’s most iconic locations, filling up visitors and locals’ Instagram posts alike. The sight of boats, paddle boarders and rowers heading down the water – set against a backdrop of surrounding colourful houses – is one we all know and love well. But for swimmers it’s a different story.
Swimming in Bristol’s harbour, as well as the River Avon in the city, is illegal under a council bylaw. Often cited reasons include the quality of water quality, the number of boats in the harbour and the risk of cold-water shock and drowning. But Bristol County Council could pilot a safe swimming spot in the harbour as early as next year.
Swim Bristol Harbour, which campaigns for safe, accessible open water swimming venues in Bristol, have long wanted local authorities to scrap the law, and allow wild swimming. They note that regular tests for e-coli prove the Floating Harbour’s water quality is “so good that often it’s registered at the ‘excellent’ standard for bathing waters.”
Other tests near Bristol Bridge and Netham Lock, however, have shown poor water quality and very high levels of E.Coli bacteria. Swim Bristol Harbour admit more can be done to reduce pollution and risk too. But they claim regular testing, a safe space to enter and exit the water, and providing education on cold water swimming can make the harbour a safe and enjoyable resource for all.
It appears local authorities are listening too as Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees, has said he could axe the bylaw. “We know many people want the opportunity to enjoy open water safely,” he said. “We have therefore listened to people’s requests for a safe swimming space in the harbour, and are actively working to make this request a reality, with a view to piloting something next year.”
There will be no rush to remove the swimming ban by the council, however. Their concern is that without it, they could be liable if any swimmers came to harm. If we’re lucky, however, Bristol could soon have another amazing outdoor swimming spot on its hands.