Hackney Marshes swim 19 August 2016

A dip in the river at Hackney Marshes to start my London West, Middlesex and Thames swim trip, August/September 2016. With photo of me taken by professional photographer Marc Burden.

The swim marked the start of my second 2016 swim trip. I revisited a spot from near the end of my June swim trip from Great Yarmouth to Hackney, to form a link between the two trips.

beach, clear water with weeds, Himalayan balsam on bank, trees behind
Old River Lea, looking upstream to White House bridge

The Old River Lea next to Hackney Marshes might seem an unlikely place to have a dip. I first swam there in June, and then a couple of times in July, and found the water clean and clear, full of fish, visited by kingfishers, damselflies and herons. However, as the river branches off an urban canal it would be safest to keep your head out of the water and put a plaster on any cuts.

On this occasion the water level was much lower and although pleasantly warm it was rather muddy and smelly, so I wouldn’t recommend it until there’s been some rain (though not too much). (And don’t confuse it with the River Lee Navigation in Hackney, in which swimming is definitely not recommended.)

The banks are partly lined with Himalayan Balsam which also grows in the ditch opposite our family home and which my mum loved for its colourful exuberance and the way that the seeds explode when they are ripe (giving it its Latin name Impatiens glandulifera). I never had the chance to take her along this lovely riverside path, but I did take photographs of the blooms for her birthday card one year.

close up photo of flower with insect
Himalayan balsam flower with hoverfly

The plant is hated by conservationists – who say that it drives out other ‘native’ plants – but is valued by bees and other insects (download statement on the controversy from British Beekeepers). Richard Mabey suggests that there might be other ways of looking at it than the orthodoxy of ‘bashing’ the ‘alien invader’ in this BBC radio programme,  which was reviewed on this blog by a biologist and a poet, with a wider discussion on this blog about animism.

Mum and I greatly admired Richard Mabey from when we first discovered his writings, especially The Unofficial Countryside in 1973 – updated edition and information on Little Toller website (and see more links at end of this post).

The photos of me on this swim are thanks to professional photographer Marc Burden, who kindly took some using my camera, after doing some shots of me for his project, People and the Marshes. I was very pleased to be part of the series.

photo of me in pink costume, reflected in the water in a gap in the weeds
Old River Lea, me in river, next to Hackney Marshes, photo by Marc Burden, www.marcburden.com

In my London West, Middlesex and Thames Swim Trip I did lots of short swims and some kayaking, but over a more relaxed two weeks than in my three-day June swim challenge. The details of the route evolved as I went along, and I posted about each swim on my Facebook page (as I did for the previous swim journey).

This swim trip was an extension to my June A12 Great Yarmouth to Hackney swim journey, summarised in this post.

If you would like to support two charities that helped my family and help many others, please see my fundraising page.

This story was posted as a Facebook Note on the day.

looking through weeping willow at river and vegetation opposite, both reflected in water
Old River Lea, near Hackney Marshes Centre

More on The Unofficial Countryside 

Telegraph article by Richard Mabey

Review on Caught by the River website

Old and new editions available on Abe Books website

and on nature writing

Article on nature writing by Richard Mabey, Roger Deakin and others

Article on nature writing by Richard Mabey

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Location details  for Hackney Marshes swim