About Project

This research explores the different health motivations, responses, and complications of open-water swimming (OWS) at Windermere across a full 12-month season, questioning the bodily, socio-cultural, political, and environmental factors that shape these relational experiences of ‘healthy’ OWS practice.

The fieldwork was situated at two popular designated bathing sites (Rayrigg Meadow and Millerground) across the season, between September 2022 – September 2023.

The findings will be used for the researcher’s PhD Thesis, alongside future academic publications and teaching material within health geographies, psychogeographies, and other transdisciplinary OWS research. The research also aims to encourage broader public engagement with existing (and potential) communities invested in Windermere.

wave

Why Windermere?

Windermere is a significant body of water that experiences year-long recreational, therapeutic, and competitive OWS practice. However, this freshwater site is also embedded within a highly contested ecology of leisure, tourism, residence, cultural heritage, and conservation, whilst engrained in broader, often inequitable, motivations towards health and wellbeing.

Plus, Windermere is under growing local and global environmental pressures, including increasing water temperatures, extreme weather conditions, algal blooms, active sewage discharge, agricultural and urban runoff, invasive aquatic vegetation (often transferred from unwashed equipment), and even plastic pollution. Therefore, these concerns generate further questions regarding the different bodily, socio-cultural, political, and environmental factors shaping these understandings of ‘healthy’ OWS practice.

Researcher

Taylor Butler-Eldridge

Taylor is a neurodivergent ESRC-funded PhD researcher at the University of Exeter (Human Geography). Combining his interests in open-water swimming, psychogeography, and environmental health, alongside his background in digital design, outdoor learning, and human geography, Taylor brings a wealth of creative research skills to this project. To date, he has co-authored a book chapter, presented at academic conferences, guest lectures, and public talks, and received multiple awards in recognition of his research. His PhD is supervised by Dr Jennifer Lea , Prof John Wylie, and Prof Jo Little and supported by the University of Exeter’s Geography Department and the Cultural and Historical Geographies Research Group (CHGRG).

Taylor’s research is also indebted to the many encounters shared with fellow swimmers, dippers, and dunkers invested in this growing practice.

Taylor Butler-Eldridge

Research Fieldwork

The research fieldwork included: (1) observing general swimming/lake activity and water/weather conditions, alongside recording the researchers personal swim responses; and (2) recording separate one-to-one ‘swim-along interviews’ with open-water swimmers. Both recordings included written diaries, photographs, audio, and video.

The fieldwork concluded in September 2023. For more information about the methods, please click the button below, oget in touch.

Research Principles

  • Demonstrating care-full open-water swimming practice, encouraging socially, politically, and environmentally responsible behaviour.
  • Encouraging critical discussion/reflection without overwhelming or intruding on the participants experiences and motivations for swimming.
  • Assuring care, anonymity, transparency, and flexibility throughout the research, safeguarding both the participants and the researcher.
  • Applying professional conduct throughout the inquiry, respecting the representation of the University, funders, department, and the research team.
  • Seeking, communicating, and advocating for more-than-academic knowledge(s) of OWS and environmental health at Windermere.

Supported By

University of Exeter Faculty of Environment, Science and Economy
Economic and Social Research Council
South West Doctoral Training Partnership

This research has also been reviewed and approved by The Geography Research Ethics Committee at the University of Exeter.

Care-full swimming

Open-water swimming can be risky. So let’s take care of ourselves, our communities, and our shared environments.