I love swimming in rivers, especially in summer, when the waters sparkle and hold you in a warm embrace. I often swim alone, savouring the many sightings of kingfishers and even a rare otter, and sometimes secretively hiding away from the crowds.
Rivers are always changing, with the seasons, as you travel along them, nearer to the source, along the tidal stretches, in a different landscape, in different weather. Often crystal clear, sometimes stirred up with sediment. In summer rivers can sometimes be clogged with what swimmers call weeds and others call aquatic plants. You have to learn to love the clasp of the strong stems of water lilies, or the stroke of tendrils of water crowfoot.
In summer I follow in the wake of Roger Deakin, who said on one trip across East Anglia when following a swim in the Little Ouse with another in the Wissey that he felt like a philanderer of rivers.
Last summer I spent six months swimming in many different rivers and other waters in East Anglia, with several days of multiple swims, which could be described as promiscuous. Of course I practice safe swimming. I’m careful to use clean bathing costumes for each swim in a different river. I think Roger only had one pair of trunks (now carefully and lovingly preserved in the archive along with his notebooks) but perhaps we are more conscious of biosecurity now.
I judge whether the water is clean, following the OSS advice, Is It Clean. (Some of my favourite places photographed here are the urban rivers or below a water treatment plant, so best avoided after heavy rain, but perfectly safe at other times). And I play safe in other ways – checking the current, whether the water looks clean, where I can get out, and I protect my feet with shoes. So I’m not that wild a swimmer, after all.
This winter I’m being unfaithful to rivers, turning away from the turbulent current and instead having sociable dips in a calm lake. But I’m looking forward to returning to the beautiful clean rivers of East Anglia as spring returns.
This article was inspired by the Outdoor Swimming Society writings about a love for swimming – though I can only aspire to the quality of the writing.