On the face of it, ironing and open water swimming do not appear to have many common denominators. However, a group of environmental activists and wild swimming enthusiasts based in the Peak District have brought these two unlikely bedfellows together in the name of raising awareness about access to open water, Sheff News reports. 

Open water swimming has soared in popularity in recent years. Many people discovered the joys of an outdoor dip during the pandemic when leisure centres were closed, and even access to outdoor pools was limited. The UK has over 600 designated Bathing Waters, which were designated under the Bathing Water Regulations 2013.

In England, the majority of these sites are coastal, with relatively few in lakes, rivers, or reservoirs. The Bathing Water sites are rigorously monitored by the Environment Agency between May and September for water quality, and they are given a rating from Excellent to Poor, based on how safe it is to swim in.

Swimming in a site with poor water quality is not banned, but it is strongly advised against, because of the risk of picking up bacteria such as E. coli that can cause serious stomach upsets. It is possible to check the rating of a site online, and it should have a warning sign clearly displayed. 

Campaign groups across England have long been calling for increased access to safer water to bring it in parity with Scotland, where it is permitted to swim in almost all open water sites. The ‘Right to Swim’ campaign is supported by environmentalists as well as outdoor swimmers.

As part of the latest awareness raising campaign, extreme ironing events were held around the Peak District. Extreme ironing is a bizarre sport involving taking an ironing board to an unusual location and ironing a garment. 

 Its creator Phil Shaw, of Leicester, says it "combines the thrill of an extreme sport with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt". Shaw first came up with the idea in 1999, when he was looking for a way to make the tedious chore of ironing more exciting. 

This quirky idea has struck a chord with people around the world, and extreme ironing events have been held everywhere from mountain tops to ocean floors. There are extreme ironing world championships, and it is also used to garner media attention for various causes or raise money for charity. 

Extreme ironing events will be taking place across various Peak District locations over the next few weeks, including Kinder Scout, the Rivelin Valley, and Derwent Water. Updates will be posted online and social media via the Outdoor Swimming Society. 

A short film will also be made about the events, with a similar project last year being premiered at the Kendal Film Festival. 

Extreme ironer, Julio Nunez said: “We are campaigning for the free access to swim in reservoirs. There are people all over the UK who are trying to swim safely, but the idea for our campaign is to make authorities conscious of the risks and make swimming safer.

“Scottish reservoirs have had free swimming access since 2003. We want changes made to legislation to have the same access here in England, which will hopefully make wild swimming more regulated and safer.”  

Saskia Juric, who was an onlooker at Rivelin Valley, said: “I had no idea extreme ironing was even a thing, but it seems great fun and the ‘Right to Swim’ needs more recognition.

“I swim frequently here at Rivelin and in other places in Sheffield. The message they are spreading is so important. Sheffield has so many beautiful spots, we all need to encourage everyone to make the most of them.”

Outdoor swimming can bring huge benefits for both mental and physical health. Some people even find that it is an effective tool for managing conditions such as depression and anxiety, because of the endorphin hit and sense of exhilaration that is triggered in response to the shock of entering cold water.

Over time, this can help to build up the body’s mental and physical resilience and increase a person’s ability to cope with stressful life situations. Many people also enjoy the sense of camaraderie and inclusiveness that the open water swimming community is noted for. 

Sarah A