Bawsey Pits

Please note: all swims are at our own risk. Including a location does not indicate that it is recommended or that it is safe; each must do their own risk assessment each time they swim or travel to a location. I accept no liability for the choices that people make. There is Swim Safety info on this website, and on Outdoor Swimming Society website, Survive section.
Please follow the Outdoor Swimmers Code.

County Norfolk
Water body Ex sand quarry
Swim location name Bawsey Pits, Car park location info, Gayton Road, Bawsey, Leziate
Grid reference TF675197
Latitude 52.749826858592556
Longitude 0.4809267749479722
Nearest postcode PE32 1EP
What3Words stall.pots.dolls
Brickyard Lake beach

and two beaches on Great Lake (there are others, too)

See details here:

https://tinyurl.com/BawseyLocs

Walking access See OS map for footpaths
Other info Swimming here is contentious but not illegal, and it is not clear why it is specifically dangerous, other than the usual risks – see below. If I hear of any more unusual risks I will update this page.

UPDATES: WARNINGS:

The nearest beach to the east car park has a small patch of quicksand, which could cause someone to sink a short distance, which might come as a surprise but is not known to pose a great risk.

There are reports of some metal left over from quarrying time. One report is of a metal spike about 15cm below the surface opposite the first beach to the west of the East car park. So swimmers need to be vigilant. We have tried to verify this, but this has been inconclusive. However, there are branches in the water over by the wooded shores, so swimmers should take care, and jumping could be unwise.

(Standard to any large lake: ) Great Lake: if it is windy be aware that it will be much harder to swim against the wind, especially if that is your return journey when you are tired and cold. You might prefer to go to the smaller and more sheltered Brickyard Lake.

NEW UPDATE: The pipes you can see DO NOT extract water from the lakes. (It is possible that they might have done in the past, though no info on whether that used to pose a risk to swimmers.) there is no risk of this now.

Open 8 AM-8 PM – though that might be different in winter. Check their website.

Parking: there is an East car park (only one in winter) and a west (overflow) car park. Charges are currently (October 2021) £15 all day, £2.50/hour for cars, £3.50/hour 3.5 tonne vans and motor caravans. There is a half hour free slot (which varies by time of year). Parking charges are likely to be enforced. It is possible to park in some small laybys around the site and walk in by footpath or byway.

From the car park either walk east towards the small lake, the Brickyard Lake, which has a sandy beach along the northern edge. Or walk west towards the Great Lake, which has beaches around several sides. You can walk all round, a distance of about 2 miles.

Swim account https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/exploring-bawsey-pits/
 
map of lake
Map of the site (from the website, https://www.bawseycountrypark.co.uk/park-safety).
map of lake and area
Map of the area, showing footpaths (note that the large middle lake is covered in reeds)

This location is contentious. The owners make it clear that they do not wish people to swim, and that they consider it dangerous. They haven’t explained what is specifically dangerous about the venue, however. They have park wardens on duty in the summer, who will talk to people and tell them about dangers and that they should keep out of the water. https://www.bawseycountrypark.co.uk/park-safety; https://www.facebook.com/bawseypark/

I am not aware of any evidence that this location is particularly dangerous, or has any features that make it more dangerous than other previous sand quarries or gravel pits. No information is provided about specific dangers, though various things are said locally, particularly about ironwork that might possibly still be in the lake. So – as with anywhere – any swimmer should always assess very carefully every single time they go for a swim.

Many locals have for many years believed that this place is particularly dangerous, and there are understandable sensitivities because people have died. There have been four deaths in three incidents over the last eight years, which appear to have been from such causes as cold incapacitation, or falling off an inflatable into deep water, rather than for reasons specific to these lakes. Any deaths, whether swimming or doing something else, are tragic and it is important to find ways to prevent them. However education and information about the real risks are likely to be a more effective way to help prevent such tragedies, and would work much better than a fruitless attempt to stop the unstoppable, as well as enabling the large local population to enjoy this healthy and generally safe activity (when done safely and with knowledge).

If more people swam regularly, particularly responsible and knowledgeable swimmers, then their presence would be established, the owners would not be able to deny the people swim or ignore the fact, and would perhaps be persuaded that it would be better to recognise this and take some constructive action to improve safety knowledge amongst visitors. It would also persuade them to do a more thorough assessment and warn about unusual risks, perhaps by using divers to see what is under the water and how near to the surface it is. Responsible swimmers can be of great help, in influencing others and helping to deal with issues. They follow the Outdoor Swimmers Code, which includes taking responsibility for their own safety.

We need more places to access for the popular, healthy, affordable, safe and enjoyable activity of outdoor swimming, and this part of Norfolk is poorly served with inland swim spots. The sea is less safe than swimming inland and often unsuitable due to tides or weather, while lakes have far fewer risks. More on access and legality on this website.

This location has many similarities with another ex-sand quarry in the Norfolk Brecks, where the landowner has a different attitude and hundreds of swimmers use it happily every year.

Entering the water is not illegal, though it could perhaps be construed as trespass which is a civil offence. More detail on access and legality of swimming here, https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/issues/access-guide/ and here, https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/is-it-legal/.

All around the site are numerous signs and banners emphasising Keep Out of the water, No Swimming or paddling, no boats etc. In summer, many people paddle and swim despite this attitude and the wardens. It is not clear how much this is enforced either in summer or winter, or even how possible it is to enforce it.

On a more practical and constructive note, the owners have installed some throw ropes with instructions and location info, and there was an RNLI banner about river safety in the car park (Oct 2021), which is a useful way to inform about potential risks in waterways (though more relevant to rivers than a lake, and without much advice about how to avoid these risks).

Useful and accurate information on water and swimming safety

https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/understanding-flooded-quarries/

https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/cold-incapacitation/

https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/risks-cold-water/

https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/category/features/survive/

https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/issues/swim-safety/

https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/issues/swim-play-in-water-safely-q-a/

RNLI Float to Live, https://rnli.org/pages/ppc/beach-safety/beach-safe-float

Public rescue equipment
Throw rope station at Brickyard Lake
banner
RNLI river hazards banner in East car park
no swimming signage and lake
Great Lake west, near West car park,

[swim log 1413, 1419]

swims and swim places, and related issues