From the Suffolk family home to Ipswich where we spent much of the last nine months of mum and dad’s lives, under many A 12 bridges, to leafy and watery Essex.
Brief explanations of the memories and significance of all the swim locations on Day 2 of my A12 swim journey (Roundups and charity info in post: A12 swim journey June 2016: I did it! https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/imogens-a12-swim-journey-june-2016-i-did-it/). This and the other posts were written in 2016 just before or after the swim journey and updated December 2022.
We used to swim in a wonderful pond on Parham airfield, which was a large rectangular shape with an island that had been dug out for fishing but was never very successful. It was a wonderful place to explore and swim. It became overgrown and now access by people and deer has been cut off by fencing for the solar farm. There are two large new lakes that my brother remembers being dug, very deep, used for angling, and also managed for wildlife. I once saw a flock of waxwings here, rushed home to get my dad although he was recovering from his operation (in February 2013), but once we got there they had gone. There was a massive spread of orchids when my brother and I visited it a week after our father died (mid-June 2015). The water looks blue green after rain, as it is clay. It is a wonderful place to see the sunset or enjoy nature.
Just down the road, before you reach the A12, is the ford at Marlesford, which is only deep enough for a paddle (though can flood deep and into the village after a lot of rain). I had a couple of quick paddles there when travelling to and from the hospital and hospice in 2014/2015. A favourite place for the family to visit in earlier years: interesting church, pretty village.
A swim spot in the River Deben under the A12, which I discovered one day on the way to Ipswich. You can park in the northbound lay by, walk back a few yards next roaring traffic, and go down steep slope by bridge. I went there a few times during the difficult period, as it is so close to the road that you can swim if you only have a short time. It isn’t pretty under the bridge, and you have to swim through weed in summer, but it is still a lovely spot. I gathered water flowers for dad’s funeral arrangement here. You can swim or walk downstream, which I did in summer 2015 on a glorious day. I swam in some lovely places on a long walk. We had family friends that lived near here, though no more, and we would regularly go to the mill at Wickham Market to buy birdseed. This is where dad took the last picture of mum before her stroke.
This is the first of several swims literally under the A12 itself, which has become a fascination. I think this is something to do with driving across the river and looking out longingly at the sparkling water, and something to do with swimming in a lovely river but with the contrast of the busy road and roaring cars overhead.
There is a lovely deep pool by the Three Bridges. So far I have only paddled here, including on a very hot July day with my cousin Teresa who stayed for a few days after my dad’s funeral. Also had a long and interesting walk here with my brother in October 2013. As a family we often visited the church, which has an amazing font cover.
Melton Wilford Bridge
This is a place where we had several family walks in recent years, because there is easy access to push mum in the buggy (off-road wheelchair my brother built). I was there on one hot day when we went upstream to where path ends abruptly at railway line, and took photos by the river and in the wooded walk back to the car park. Another day I went up river here in a kayak, with the tide helping me to go upstream and then come back down. You could do the same swimming, ideally around high tide.
Dad worked in nearby Woodbridge for several years as the manager of the job centre, until he put up a poster for the TUC day of action in 1979. A local Tory saw it in the window and complained, leading to newspaper articles about ‘Red Radford’ and he was disciplined and moved to Ipswich to open the Job Library (as it turned out, a very interesting project).
The drive to the next spot goes round the Martlesham bypass, which cuts through a beautiful river valley (the River Fynn). It’s a road we travelled very often between the family home and Ipswich Hospital or the hospice, and in autumn 2014 was beautiful with autumn leaves and I did this drawing from memory when sitting by mum’s hospital bed. I had to stop in the lay by to wait for the RAC because of a problem caused by running my van on no oil for a period when first engulfed in hospital vigil, with no time for anything but bare essential activity, and all sorts of important things were neglected. You can walk down a steep bank, take the footpath under the A12 and along to where the river goes under the A12.
I went to this lovely swimming baths in a break from sitting with mum in the hospital, and told her about it that I think pleased her. I went again after registering her death at Ipswich register office, which was a strange and traumatic business. Old images of Fore Street on this website.
Ipswich – West End bathing place
This is where the River Gipping joins the River Orwell and becomes semi-tidal. There used to be a river bathing place here, now built on. Dad worked in Ipswich for many years, from when we first moved to Suffolk in 1960, with a long stretch at Hadden Best printers near Portman Road, and later at the Job Library. This article has stories from several lost swimming places in Ipswich http://www.ipswichstar.co.uk/news/kindred_spirits_from_broomhill_lido_to_west_end_bathing_place_the_lost_swimming_pools_of_ipswich_1_4180480, and there is an aerial photo ofWest End on this website (scroll down to second to bottom photo)
This is a beautiful place on the River Gipping, with walkways in riverside meadows and woods. This was another place I discovered during difficult times. I first found places to swim upstream of the bridge (pools between silky weeds) when dad was in the hospice in a break between shifts (my brother and I stayed with him 24 hours a day as we have done without long). I then went back to Bramford after registering dad’s death, on a beautiful sunny summer day and had a long and glorious swim downstream just by the wood, with dragonflies and water lilies, and a rope swing under the canopy of trees.
Stratford St Mary
Another beautiful but also convenient quick stop place to swim next to and under the A12. I swam here many times on my way between the family home or Ipswich and London, in winter and summer. The River Stour is slow moving and warm, and runs through beautiful water meadows. I park by the old road bridge opposite Le Talbooth, a posh riverside restaurant, walk through the tunnel under the A12 or down to the riverbank between the two bridges. Downstream are the better known Dedham mill and Flatford mill.
Lexden, A12 bridge
This is a river valley that looks lovely from the road above, though I preferred it before they built the golf course. A footpath goes under the bridge. Another in the series of the places you can swim actually under the A12. I’ve walked there but haven’t actually swum.
Kelvedon, A12 bridge
Another place to get in the river under the A12 bridge, though it might be too shallow to actually swim. You reach it by a short footpath that goes down to the river. I kayaked through here on the annual mid April Blackwater Tour, a fascinating opportunity to travel 8 miles down this river that isn’t usually open to access.
Witham A12 bridge, R Brain + Blackwater
Another bridge on the River Brain that runs under the A12, this time definitely only deep enough to be paddled, but just downstream it joins the River Blackwater, which runs alongside a lovely nature reserve made from an industrial site. I first saw this spot on the Blackwater tour, but this will be the first swim there.
I found this weir pool near the at the end of the Blackwater tour, and think it might be a good place to end Day 2, before going to the campsite nearby.
I’ve been to this campsite off and on over the years. It is small, quiet, and best of all just a short walk through fields away from the River Chelmer, just upstream from Ulting church on the opposite bank.