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Tumbling Bay bathing place, Oxford

A former open-air river bathing pool in an Oxford park. 

Tumbling Bay bathing place is a former open air swimming pool on a backwater of the Thames behind a public park in Oxford. It straddles the same water level change as Osney Lock and takes the form of a pair of  weirs maintaining a constant water level in the swimming pool between them. Its use as a bathing place dates back to the early 19th century and only ceased when  Oxford City Council closed all its Thames bathing places in 1990. 

Since its closure the pool has changed remarkably little. The rudimentary changing rooms that once served swimmers have been demolished but the footbridge has been refurbished by the council for walkers, the ladders for swimmers are still there and the weirs remain intact so the water is free of floating debris and the level has been maintained. The flower beds that once stood in the foreground of the picture above have gone and the undergrowth has started to reclaim the changing room bases but otherwise you could go for a swim there tomorrow if it was warm enough.

Crossing the bridge brings you to the site of the changing rooms. These are visible only by their rather unremarkable concrete bases, and a concrete apron connecting them to the pool ladders.

The several sets of ladders are in surprisingly good condition. This is probably due to the same health and safety rules that forced the closure of the pool. You're not supposed to swim there but if someone does so and doesn't have a ladder on which to climb out then the council can be sued.

The upper weir keeps debris from entering the pool and provides a constant level of turbulence and noise of falling water.

Finally, here's a view from the far western end of the site showing the lower weir. In the foreground are a set of stone steps, surprisingly the water is clear and deep, almost inviting.

River swimming has its devoted fans, but I can see why places like Tumbling Bay have had their day. I've swum at a more rural location on the Thames and it's an experience I'd urge everyone to try at least once, but the fact you can't escape is that this is untreated water with anything that has drained from the entire Cotswolds dissolved in it. Coming away from a swim needing a bath and with the possibility of a nasty illness is probably too much for most swimmers these days.

The Flash Earth location of this site is here:


Access could not be easier, find the park on Botley Road, follow the edge of the allotments.

Hazards are minimal. As with all river sites, you can drown if you fall in, but other than that the only hazards are a risk of Weil's disease or underwater debris if you decide to go for a swim.

The pool above the upper weir is as calm and smooth as glass, allowing a bit of indulgence in reflection shots.