Ep 9: Tips on safe open water swimming in Weston

Claire Trevor-Roper, Codirector of Weston-super-Mare Marine Lake Mudlarks, and Karen Barry, one of the founding members of Supermares! share tips on the best times and places to swim safely in Weston.

Open water swimming in Weston

Listen to Claire and Karen chat to host Becky Walsh the two different groups and the subsequent swimming community that has been created in the town in episode 9 of the We are Super Weston podcast:

Claire Trevor-Roper is one of the Codirectors of the Weston-super-Mare Mudlarks Community Interest Company (a CIC setup, not a swimming group), along with Jan Doyle, Jane Hayden, and a wider team that includes Mark Bradshaw, Helen Jones, and Paula Birtwhistle. She is also a member of the Supermares! (which is a swimming group!)

Karen Barry is a founding member of Supermares! Anna Southwell and Karen used to drive to Clevedon Marine Lake to go swimming, as they’d heard it wasn’t safe to swim in Weston-super-Mare (Weston Marine Lake hadn’t yet opened) and that the water quality wasn’t great.

A local sea swimmer, Alan, with really good knowledge of the local tides, gave the two women loads of information on safe swimming in Weston and armed with this knowledge and confidence, they set up Supermares in 2018 to support people in enjoying Weston’s waters.

It started off with a handful of friends gathering together and then it slowly got bigger and bigger. Occasionally Supermares will organise swimming events such as a Full Moon swim or something on the equinoxes with 50 to 100 people taking part.

Weston Marine Lake
Weston Marine Lake

What do the Mudlarks do? Why do they exist?

The Mudlarks was created in December 2020 to support North Somerset Council to form a strong community base for people who wanted to use the lake and get it repaired. 

They manage Weston Marine Lake’s website and social media – their Facebook page has nearly 3000 followers, with a reach of around 12,000 people when they post. They run events, fundraise, sell merchandise, do litter-picking and manage the relationship between the council and the public. 

When the lake’s regeneration happened in 2020, were the Mudlarks behind the steer for that?

The initial money for some of the lake’s regeneration came from the Great Lakes Project set up by North Somerset Council. Having a formal CIC group was hugely beneficial for North Somerset Council, because it gave them the community evidence of the need for the lake regeneration to be resolved. 

From the start, the aim was to get the sluice gates repaired and the lake dredged. Then there was a shopping list of other stuff that people from the community really wanted to see – such as good access steps, getting the apron repaired (the apron is the lower walkway around the water) and showers.

The original goals were achieved and then with the success of the Levelling-up fund (Jan and Claire helped write a small bit to do with the lake), now the rest of their shopping list is getting ticked off.

What further developments are planned for Weston Marine Lake?

The shopping list includes lots more dredging, getting the whole of the apron replaced and a disabled hoist installed. The slipway is set to be repaired, more showers are planned, as well as some very swanky concrete wave-shaped sunbeds which can go underwater when the tide overtops.

The Old Cove restaurant by the RNLI shop is going to re-open up the toilets that belong to the restaurant and there are loads more events happening.

Weston Marine Lake with depth signs
Weston Marine Lake with depth signs
Dredger at work Weston Marine Lake
Beach renourishment Weston-super-Mare
Dredger at work, Weston Marine Lake (left), Beach renourishment (right)

As well as maintaining the relationship with everybody who uses the lake – the council, the RNLI and the Coast Guard who use it for training, the Mudlarks CIC are getting water polo players in,  synchronised swimmers and Scout kayakers. 

They’re also organising events around the lake that are not to do with water – including music and food events. Mary Lattimore – the world famous harpist playing at the lake was set up by Anna Southwell, through her Loves Cafe, there’s also been fundraisers down there for Cancer Research.

There are some stunning murals down there (thanks to Upfest’s Weston Wallz).

Synchronised swimmers in Weston Marine Lake
Synchro swimming Weston
Synchro swimmers in Weston Marine Lake
Synchro swimmers in Weston Marine Lake
Murals at Weston Marine Lake
Damo (Damien Jeffery) - RNLI Shop, Weston Marine Lake

What’s the water quality like in Weston Marine Lake? 

The water is tested every two weeks and is posted on the website – it’s been excellent for weeks. The sea around the coast of England clearly has some issues and there are plenty of places you can go to and find out more details – Surfers Against Sewage is a very good place to get further details on that.

The lake itself tests as excellent. The colour of the water, which what people sometimes go ‘ugh’ at, is simply the colour of the silt. In Budleigh Salterton, their water is red. When the silt settles at Weston Marine Lake, it’s fabulous. beautifully clear.

Weston Marine Lake
Weston Marine Lake
Weston Marine Lake
Weston Marine Lake

The Supermares!

The Supermares! is a sea swimming group in Weston-super-Mare with a Facebook group of about 1,500 members. Some people swim regularly, some people dip in and out. 

It was set up in 2018 as a way for people to meet and go for social swims together and because safety is something that the group takes really seriously about swimming in Weston.

Where can you swim safely in Weston?

There’s Marine Lake which has been a real bonus for everyone, because one of the things that the Supermares group make people very aware of is swimming with the tide.

If you’re a local, you know that the tide goes out so far and can be quite dangerous if you’re swimming at the wrong time. The Supermares recommend that people swim half an hour, to an hour before high tide, and then don’t swim when the tide is on the way out again, because the currents can be quite strong. 

Having the lake means that if you can’t make the tide times you can go whenever you like, and swim any time, because it’s really safe. There’s plenty of opportunities, but it’s about making sure you’re doing it in a way which is safe. It’s about educating people on how to stay safe and giving them swim buddies to join up with.

The Supermares! Weston Marine Lake
The Supermares! Weston Marine Lake, credit Sharon Johnson
Safe swimming in Weston with the Supermares!
Safe swimming in Weston with the Supermares!

Do people swim at Sand Bay and Uphill?

Yes. The main swimming group tends to meet by The Grand Pier because it’s a central spot that everyone knows and not everyone is on the Facebook group. If you go to the decking when it’s quiet, or underneath the pier, then there’ll regularly be people there who you can meet to swim with. 

Uphill and Sand Bay are a little bit further out – it’s not quite so sheltered at Sand Bay. 

Generally, if you’re planning on swimming, it’s a good idea to go on a recce first, maybe go at low tide, see what the beach looks like, make sure you’re familiar with it. Always, always swim with someone. If you want to stay super safe, the best place is just before high tide at the Grand Pier, because there’ll always be people there swimming. Or Marine Lake because you’re very much less likely to be swept out to sea.

Safe swimming in Weston with the Supermares!
Swimming near The Grand Pier

If people want to get involved with the Supermares, how do they do that?

You can join The Supermares! Facebook page. That’s got a load of safety information for beginners. It’s fine swimming in summer, but it can be a different kettle of fish in winter. You wouldn’t want people to get into trouble swimming in cold water if they don’t know what they’re doing. 

It’s a supportive group where people are given information about safe swimming. If people aren’t on Facebook and can’t find out the information, just then head to the pier about half an hour before high tide and you’ll probably see a bunch of people in Dryrobes – they’re a very friendly bunch – have a chat and find out more. Don’t get put off if you can’t afford the expensive kit – Karen turns up in her dressing down regularly!

Swimming in Weston-super-Mare
Meeting under The Grand Pier
Sea swimming in Weston
Sea swimming in Weston
Supermares swimmers
Swimming safely with Supermares in Weston

Do the Mudlarks welcome people to their group too?

Yes, people are very much encouraged. Supermares is the swimming group though, so do contact them if that’s what you are interested in. The lake users are not always in the water -they are photographers, they come for the fabulous sunsets, they come to enjoy the beach, and to walk around it. It’s a wide community, not just about swimming – that’s Supermare’s territory.

Mudlarks has got funding for training for lifeguards – OWLs, (Open Water Lifeguards) and the application is on the website at the moment for people to have a look at. There’ll be posters going up around town, for those who aren’t online. 

There will be a service for people who want to swim, but are a little bit nervous about starting and the lake is ideal for this. 

Between the two metal steps that have been installed, there’s another concrete base – another apron – which means it doesn’t get much deeper than waist height for an adult. It’s a really safe place for somebody to start learning to be in open water rather than a swimming pool, and we’ll be able to buddy them up with lifeguards.

There is another platform, so if you’re not a strong swimmer, that is a fabulous place to be. We will have lifeguards, which there hasn’t ever really been before in Weston. This will also take the pressure off some of the Beach Rangers as well who have quite a hard jobs stopping people going out into the mud.

Weston Marine Lake
Weston Marine Lake
Swimming in Weston Marine Lake
Swimming in Weston Marine Lake

Upcoming Mudlarks events

With Mudlarks and the lake, it’s not just for swimmers, but also kayakers, the WhatSUP Paddleboarders, the canoeists.

  • There are events kicking off in September and October – Whirligig has got Luke Jerram’s story boats (Crossings) coming for people to listen to stories from the boats (9-10 September, 1,7,8 October).
  • The Promenade (15-17 September) which is a whole series of art events around the lake.
  • Later in the year there’s going to be an event to celebrate the NHS’ 75th, with some amazing synchronised swimming.
Kayakers Weston Marine Lake
Kayaking on Weston Marine Lake
Weston Marine Lake beach
Weston Marine Lake

Facts about swimming in Weston

  • Did you know? During a super high tide, the beach and the marine lake vanish underwater. In a spring tide the sea can crash over the top of The Winter Gardens with the wind!
  • Situated on the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, Weston has the third highest tidal rise in the world (after the Bay of Fundy in Canada and Ungava Bay). It can rise by up to 14.5 metres and can go out as far as one mile from the promenade. This can make it very dangerous for all, including the most experienced watersports enthusiasts. 
  • In the 1920s the marine lake was created as part of a scheme to create a barrage between the sea and the houses of the town. At 250 metres in length and designed as an infinity pool, it is said to be the largest of its kind in the world.  
  • The Marine Lake can be used year-round and is perfect for swimmers, paddleboarders, kayakers, canoeists and families as you don’t have to wait for high tide. 
Weston Marine Lake
Weston Marine Lake
Weston Marine Lake shower
Weston Marine Lake shower

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