A Year With Windermere

In a couple of weeks, I am due to begin my 12-month fieldwork at Rayrigg Meadow and Millerground at Windermere, two popular public bathing sites nested within the Lake District National Park. Spaces that I have grown increasingly warmer to over the past two years. 

During the first year of my PhD, I decided to remain close to Windermere in contrast to the more ‘conventional’ route of being near my department and peers. A tricky decision. But one that I have slowly learned to value, affording a watery re-introduction within this complex ecology of leisure, tourism, cultural heritage, and conservation. A chance to keep my ears, eyes, and feet close to the social, political, and environmental issues that continually contest, disrupt, and enrage different swimming communities and invested users.

Swim Windermere Underwater
Open Water Swimming

No doubt, it has been an exciting project to be involved with. Yet, there have also been struggles. I have experienced waves of doubt. Endless directions. Even awkward encounters while trying to attempt a punchy overview regarding the research with interested swimmers (and other academics). Of course, I recognise that these tensions all form as part of the process. Times that I now feel indebted to, especially during shared moments with fellow swimmers, dippers, and dunkers in the water, often extended afterwards over a hot brew.

It has been tough, but I feel ready for the field now. Largely helped by my research team, including my supervisors, department, research group, mentors, friends, family, and all the other supportive folk who have been kind enough to listen, encourage, and advise. Thank you.

Dry Robe
Open Water Swimming Kit

So, what is your research exploring?

Good question. My research explores the different health motivations, responses, and complications of open-water swimming (OWS) at Windermere over a full 12-month season (September 2022 – September 2023).

Specifically, my research questions the different bodily, socio-cultural, political, and environmental factors that shape these relational experiences of ‘healthy’ OWS practice. The findings will support my PhD Thesis, alongside future academic publications and teaching material within health geographies, psychogeographies, and other transdisciplinary OWS research.

Toxic Blue Green Algae Windermere
Invasive Species Lake Windermere

What will your fieldwork involve?

There will be multiple methods carried out at the Rayrigg Meadow and Millerground bathing sites (locations below) over the next 12-months. These methods include observing general swimming and lake activity, monitoring water and weather conditions, critically reflecting on my personal swim responses, and recording separate one-to-one ‘swimalong interviews’ with open-water swimmers. Both recordings may include written diaries, photographs, audio, and video using the choice of a GoPro (with a headstrap or tow float mount) and a static camera on the jetty. Of course, that is just a summary. If you wish to take part in the project or require more details, please read the Participant Information Sheet on the research methods page. 

Big ideas are bubbling

My research also aims to encourage broader public engagement with existing (and potential) communities invested in OWS and environmental health at Windermere through a series of creative and collaborative outputs featured on this research website. 

This includes some exciting plans for an interactive guide co-created by fellow swimmers and users on how to take care, including our communities, and our shared environments in/out of the water. So, watch this space!

For more updates about the project, keep an eye on the blog, connect via social media  or just come and say hi down at the lake!

Author: Taylor Butler-Eldridge | Published: 1 September 2022

Wave White


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