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Our Top Five Iconic Swims: No. 5 Henley-on-Thames

Over the coming weeks I am going to write about my personal experiences swimming in some of the most beautiful scenery in the south. I’ll be providing readers with my personal top five ranking – in reverse order of course – and you’ll have the chance to contribute your own views on our social media.

There are some spectacular places to swim in the world and up there among my favourites must be the Blue Hole in Gozo, where the Game of Thrones Dothraki wedding took place; or perhaps in the coves under Cap Camarat on the French Riviera where my Dad took me and my brothers swimming on our 1970s camping holidays.

However, the aim of this top five is not to encourage us to restart our environmentally damaging foreign travel but instead to encourage us to make the most of what we have on offer here in the UK and I hope to show readers that you don’t necessarily have to travel the world to find an iconic swim. Some of the best swims are right here on our doorstep.

In FIFTH position : Temple Island to Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire (2.1 km)

Rowing boats on the Thames at Henley watercolour by Annabel Eyres


Ex-rowers like me will understand the significance of the Oxfordshire town of Henley-on-Thames, but nowadays there are probably just as many people in the river swimming as there are rowing around Henley. Every summer just over a mile of the river is transformed into a straight-line racecourse for the annual Henley Royal Regatta which takes place at the beginning of July. Swimming inside the wooden booms along the course itself, whilst not illegal, is certainly frowned upon and can be downright dangerous too, especially when the rowing boats are out practising, but it remains a most tempting stretch of water for a swim. Where else can you find a perfectly straight line to follow for over a mile through the beautiful English countryside?

After many years of rowing races at Henley, I finally descended into the hallowed waters, inspired by two local rowers who had faced off in a swim duel at dawn the previous year. Fifteen of us gathered at 5am on midsummer’s morning 2005 to take part in the second Henley Swim. I have swum along many of the different stretches of the upper Thames and I was struck by the clarity of the water in the Henley dawn. Since those early Henley swims the event has gone from strength to strength and is now an established fixture in the open water swimming calendar.

My only word of warning is that this swim is now so popular that you’ll be unlikely to experience the same peaceful dawn solitude as we enjoyed in 2005. By 2009, the last time I swam the Selkie Henley Classic (as it is now known), there must have been over five hundred swimmers in the water, so I decided it was time to look for iconic swims in other beautiful places.

Check back next week to see where we went for our FOURTH placed swim. To find out how to join us on Iconic Swims this summer browse our swims.



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