Juliet Turnbull

Artist swims the Thames to raise money for The Rivers Trust

Rebecca Duncan


Here at The Rivers Trust we love it when people take action to protect rivers. As well as getting involved with volunteering on river clean ups, tree planting days, and citizen science events with your local rivers trust, taking on a big fundraising challenge is a fantastic way to help improve the health of rivers across the UK. One person doing exactly that is Juliet Turnbull, who has decided to swim the entire length of the River Thames – a whopping 215 miles – to raise money for The Rivers Trust!

What does the challenge involve?

With so much distance to cover, Juliet’s Thames challenge is likely to take a few years. Swimming the length of the river all in one go would require a sizeable support team to provide food, accommodation, and safety equipment. Because Juliet is doing the swim independently, she’ll take one section at a time. Usually with a friend to keep her company, Juliet is swimming weekly sections of about 4 miles each, meaning that the total number will be close to 70. So far, she has completed nearly 50 miles of the river.

Why take on the Thames?

According to Juliet, raising money for The Rivers Trust through the challenge to swim the Thames was a natural fit: “I’ve always liked challenging myself” she says, “I’ve done team triathlons in the past, but I’ve moved away from organised events now and prefer to do my own challenges”. These challenges are always used as a force for good. During lockdown, for instance, she swam one mile every day to raise money for NHS charities. Swimming the length of the Thames is one of her biggest challenges to date, and the perfect opportunity to highlight the work of the Rivers Trust movement.

What do rivers mean to Juliet?

It’s fair to say that swimming is a way of life for Juliet. She works as an embroidery and textile artist, and the influence that the environment has on her work is clear to see. Living on a Dutch barge on the Thames, her lifestyle perfectly serves her love of open water swimming. In between creating nature-themed pieces to sell in her online shop, she can take a dip in the river whenever she likes. For Juliet, as for many people, outdoor swimming has been invaluable to her mental wellbeing: “My other half will tell you that if I haven’t had a swim then I’m not a very nice person to be around”, she jokes. Swimming is a vital way to keep stress and worry at bay. As well as mental health, Juliet’s physical health has also improved since she took up regular open water swimming. Until a few years ago, she took painkillers every day due to pain in her bones and joints. Now, regular swimming in cold water has eliminated the need for pain medication. Juliet’s story highlights the benefits of river swimming, and therefore the importance of making rivers safe and accessible for all. “I’ve always been a swimmer” says Juliet, “Whenever I see water, I want to get in it as long as it’s clean – and that’s a big point”.

At The Rivers Trust, our vision is wild, healthy, natural rivers valued by all.

For people to enjoy rivers, they need to know they are clean and safe. Sadly, for many of the UK’s waterways, this is not the case. Recent data accumulated by The Rivers Trust and published by the Guardian revealed that raw sewage was released into England’s rivers over 200,000 times, and the scale of plastic pollution is also well documented. Examples of Juliet's art inspired by her love of outdoor swimming

Get involved

By donating to Juliet’s fundraiser, you can help to support our Together for Rivers campaign to introduce bathing water standards to well-used UK rivers. This would make water quality testing mandatory so people can swim, paddle, catch and play without worrying about pollution. Visit Juliet’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube pages to see the progress of her incredible challenge, and donate to her fundraiser now.

Donate now

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