Snell’s Window

underwater mark tipple

When you are under water and you look upwards, you see everything above the surface of the water through a round window of light. I think we are so used to this phenomenon, if not from experience then at least from films, that we don’t think about it. At least I didn’t until I saw Neil Gower’s beautiful drawing for the cover of the Watermarks anthology.


The round window of light is known as Snell’s Window and is to do with refraction of the light as it travels from the air to the water. The area outside of the cone of light that forms the window will be completely dark or will reflect objects within the water. It sounds complicated, and in terms of physics it is, but a photograph taken from under the water reminds us how familiar the effect is even if, like me, you don’t fully understand it.

Art work for Watermarks by Neil Gower, underwater photograph by Mark Tipple



Wild swimming

Felix swimming

I am always very happy when someone who has come to me for swimming lessons, especially someone who has felt fearful or nervous in the water, finds the time and the motivation to swim outdoors.

Personally I love swimming in rivers more than any other kind of outdoor swimming (maybe it is the sense of actually being able to go somewhere rather than just swimming about that appeals) so I was very happy to receive this photo from one of my pupils.

When we started working together he told me he couldn’t really float, but as you can see here he really can. I don’t know that this is exactly ‘wild swimming’, I would say it is fairly sedate but how glorious it looks.


I am honoured to have a short story included in this anthology. It is out on 8th May. Edited by Tanya Shadrick  and Rachel Playforth. Cover design by Neil Gower. Published by Pells Pool Lewes and Frogmore Press.

watermarks full

“I’m living my dream life” Sea swimming at 66

It’s being a child again

Click to see this  lovely film about swimming in the sea. People always think you are mad when you talk about swimming in the sea in the winter, but what she says here, that after three seconds you don’t feel cold, is absolutely true. Afterwards you feel wonderful.



IMG_1792Last summer a young woman contacted me saying that although she could swim she had a fear of deep water. She longed to be able not only to swim out of her depth but also to jump and dive into deep water. We arranged to meet at the local pool that has a deep end, a luxury these days when the cost of heating a large body of water means that so many pools now are a uniform 1.2 metres deep.

She was nervous at first but she was brave and we did a little bit of work on treading water and finally after watching me do it, she plucked up the courage to jump into the three metre part of the pool.

Jumping into deep water is wonderful. After hitting the water, your body travels downwards until the water catches you and sends you back up to the surface with a surprising force. Thousands or maybe millions of tiny bubbles burst on your skin and you can watch them sparkling around you as you travel with them towards the air and the light.

We only had one session at the pool. She was off travelling and didn’t have time for more. I wished her a good journey and that was that I thought. Then a few weeks ago I had a message from her.

I just wanted to write and tell you that- thanks to you: I abseiled down waterfalls and canoed in Vietnam, snorkeled, scuba dived and dark cave swam in Thailand, and even went scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia! I’ve included pictures for you below. Just wanted to thank you again. Without you I wouldn’t have been able to do any of these amazing things!

We only met once, so although she very sweetly says she wouldn’t have been able to do these things without me, in fact she was already brave and full of courage and I just helped her to see it. She has kindly given me permission to post the photos she sent me here.




“The act of swimming is a primordial act; the body becomes more sensitive and aware of nature in water,” Sylvain Hartenberg.

kings x pond 3

Today I went to the Kings Cross Pond. I thought it was just another place to go for a swim but it was more amazing than I ever imagined it would be. I vaguely knew it was some kind of temporary art project but I hadn’t thought too much about that aspect. In fact the whole place was a revelation to me.

I knew that the weather was forecast to be beautiful today and I decided to take the opportunity to visit the pond, something I have been meaning to do all summer. As usual I had difficulty finding the pond. I am so bad at directions and I don’t know how to use the GPS on my phone properly. I had brought an old A to Z with me but as I had forgotten to bring my glasses that was useless. I did find it eventually and from the first moment I was astounded.

The pond is in the middle of a building site. It is made to look even more like a building site by the red and white edging and workman’s hut like changing rooms. It is a temporary installation, part swimming pond, part artwork.

It is cleaned by plants, gravel and somehow or other that I don’t quite understand yet, by the presence of the swimmers. They allow a maximum of 163 swimmers a day so you have to book your place but it is not expensive, only £3.80 per person per swim. There are sun loungers, a life guard, changing rooms, showers (cold) and grass to sit on.

The staff were helpful and friendly. The water temperature was 15 degrees.

kings x pond 2

I got into the water quickly. I am always amazed when I get into cold water how I seem to be overwhelmed by a rush of happiness. After that I couldn’t stop smiling. I immediately fell into conversation with another woman, also Jane. It was her first visit too and I think we were both so amazed and happy to be there that we had to communicate it to one another.

The good thing is that although it is small there is a shallow end and a deep part, something that is so often missing from swimming pools these days. It is so much nicer to swim in deep water, you feel more supported, at least I do. I stayed in swimming up and down for about twenty minutes. I did not feel cold at all but I could start to feel that my hands and feet were getting a bit numb so I thought I’d better get out.

I got dressed and went to have a cup of coffee in the lovely café nearby that seemed to be connected to an urban garden. They were growing all sorts of plants and herbs. Then I went up on to the viewing platform to look at the pool from above.

kings x pond 1

More information about the pond can be found here Kings Cross Pond. It is absolutely worth a visit.

Dogs and water

Pingte swimmingMany dogs seem to have a natural affinity with water, and I believe that all dogs can swim, even if some prefer not to.  When I was a child our dog used to love to swim in the Thames.  We would throw sticks into the river for her to fetch but if we accidentally threw them too far, where the current was too strong, she always knew when to give up and turn round. She knew the limits of how far out she could swim and still get back to the bank. She never got it wrong, and never seemed to be in any kind of danger no matter how fast the river was flowing. At the time I took this for granted and never gave it a second thought but now it seems quite remarkable.

The photo here is not of my dog but of a dear friend’s dog Pintga happily swimming in a river in France where she lives.


Hidden depths – the natural world

One of the lovely things about swimming outside is that you are submerged in the natural world. It doesn’t even have to be in a lake or river. O???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????nce when I went to Parliament Hill Lido I found myself at eye level with a pair of ducks swimming along beside me.  I think in our increasingly technological and connected age time spent alone, away from the phones and machines, is important.

When I learned to scuba dive the instructor said to us,

‘The thing most people are afraid of is the marine life, the fish, sharks and jelly fish but in fact these are the least dangerous aspect of diving’.

It is the same for swimming outdoors. When I tell people I  swim in the wild lakes of Sweden they often say things like  ‘What about the fish?.’

I believe this says more about our fears of hidden depths and monsters lurking waiting to get us than any real danger. At least I think this is true. Some of the pike you can catch in those Swedish lakes are quite enormous and they do have lots of very sharp teeth but I don’t think a pike has ever bitten a person. I have never heard of that anyway. Have you?