Burford river Windrush oxbow Sept/Oct 2013

I discovered a whole new way of swimming rivers … it happened in a Cotswold tributary of the Thames, the Windrush, whose beauty to me that day was that it still winds, and still rushes.

“About a mile downstream from Burford on the meandering footpath to Widford, I found the finest oxbow bend I have ever seen. …

“I was so absurdly delighted with my discovery that I swam round and round until I was dizzy.”

Roger Deakin describes his swim in the river Windrush 29 August in his book Waterlog (pages 255-8, 1999, Waterlog on Amazon).

I took a trip in 2013 to swim and kayak rivers from East Anglia to the south-west, finding traditional swim spots and places Roger Deakin had swum.

field with fence across and path beside
Fence across the neck of Burford oxbow

On a September morning I swam in a lovely mill pool in the Windrush near Minster Lovell, then set off to find the oxbow. It wasn’t difficult, as it shows up clearly on the ordnance survey and satellite maps. I parked in the lay by and walked along the footpath to have a look. Fences beside the path were crudely marked “PRIVATE LAND AND RIVER”, and since Roger’s visit the neck of the oxbow has been fenced off with the same message.

Checking that no one was coming, I dashed over the fields to the pollarded willows Roger describes, then walked all the way around the oxbow to have a look. But foolishly I hadn’t brought my swimming things with me, and by the time I got back to the car I had lost my nerve.

When I got back from my trip I regretted my cowardice, and a month later I was back determined to swim the oxbow.

On a cool sunny October afternoon I donned wetsuit in the van, covered it up with trousers and jacket, and once again looking to see that no one was around dashed over to hide behind the willows before sneaking into the river to ride the current around the oxbow. It was as exhilarating as Roger described, in a river that does wind and does rush. Delighted that I had braved it, perhaps feeling particularly pleased because it was forbidden, I went round once more before grabbing my clothes and sprinting back to the car without meeting anyone.

Of course, the water in the river is not private, only the land beside it, so entering and exiting the water from the footpath is unlikely to be illegal, but it would completely lose the point of swimming the oxbow that Roger describes:

eye level view of water and trees
In the river around Burford oxbow

“… these boomerang swims were highly satisfying, because they solve the river swimmer’s eternal problem of returning to your towel and clothes…. It was like tobogganing endlessly downhill without having the fag of trudging back uphill.”

Burford Oxbow location details

[swim log 107]