Several swims on my A12 swim journey were in Ipswich or nearby, as the town played a big part in the lives of my family from when we first came to Suffolk in 1960 to the last year of my parents’ lives 55 years later. It is also a place with an interesting swimming and waterside history.
In June 2016 I did a swim journey to remember my parents and raise money for charities related to their deaths, at places relevant to the family threaded along the A12 Road. Round up and charity info in post: A12 swim journey June 2016: I did it!
I wrote about the Ipswich places in one story, originally a Facebook Note, still available (though many links are out of date), and the photos are in this Flickr album. I have now split this up into three stories. See XXX and XXX – links to follow
During nine very difficult months for our family, October 2014 to June 2015, both my parents became ill. Mum spent nearly five of her last six months in Ipswich hospital and subsequently died there, and dad spent a short time there and his last days in the hospice in Ipswich. Either my brother or I were with them almost all of the time they were there, staying overnight in shifts in the hospital ward or hospice.
The idea for my A12 swim journey came to me when thinking about the swims, dips and paddles I managed to fit in over that period. Most of those watery interludes that helped me cope were in the Ipswich area, and many were in spots as near as possible to the road, to squeeze in the opportunity when time was very limited.
When mum was in hospital after a major stroke in early October 2014 it quickly became clear that visiting would not be enough to keep her safe: we would have to stay with her 24 hours a day. My brother and I did this on a rota of rolling shifts. At first we used a campsite at nearby Purdis Farm for rests and sleeps, then realised that would be too expensive long-term, so just slept in my camper van in the hospital car park between shifts alternating with going to the family home to look after dad and bring him in to visit.
Purdis Farm and Rushmere Heath
On one occasion early in mum’s hospital stay, I went for a walk from the campsite between shifts and discovered the Mill River, a tributary of the River Deben, which runs through Rushmere Heath. I was desperate for a swim in that glorious October, so though the water was shallow I got into the water and hoped that no-one came along to see me looking so silly. It was a refreshing swim and walk. I also had several walks on Rushmere Heath, across the road from the hospital, which is lovely in all seasons and provided a very welcome break from the claustrophobic atmosphere of a hospital ward. (I didn’t revisit this river on my journey.)
The drive from Wilford Bridge to Fore Street goes round the Martlesham bypass, which cuts through a beautiful river valley (the River Fynn). It is 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. I did this drawing from memory when sitting by mum’s hospital bed. Later, after mum and dad had died, I had to stop in the eastbound lay-by on the bypass to wait for the RAC because of a problem from the period when engulfed by our hospital vigil: there was no time for anything but bare essential activities, and all sorts of important things were neglected. From the lay-by you can walk down a steep bank, take the footpath from Martlesham to Kesgrave under the A12 and along to where the river goes under the road. (I didn’t include this in my swim journey route.)
Fore Street baths and the docks
I swam a half mile in this lovely swimming pool in a break from sitting with mum in the hospital in March 2015, and told her about it afterwards. Although it wasn’t always clear what she understood and what her reactions meant, I am fairly sure that this pleased her. She was a keen swimmer for most of her life, though didn’t have as many opportunities to swim as she would have liked. She and I swam at another Ipswich swimming pool since lost, St Matthew’s Baths, in long ago shopping trips to the town. I went to Fore Street baths again after registering mum’s death at Ipswich register office – which is a strange and traumatic business if you have never done it before. (It has since moved, oddly enough, down to near West End Rd – the next swim spot on the journey.)
On that March 2015 break, I also went down to the nearby docks – an important part of Ipswich history (much changed, of course). Somewhere we have some 1960s photos of the working docks dad took when he worked in Ipswich. He and my brother photographed it again when my brother was at art college, about 1982. One of the photos I took in March 2015 is from virtually the same position as one dad took then.
More about the history of the Baths building; a photo from 1961; more about the 1961 Fore Street Facelift. See a panoramic view of the docks in 1965 by local historian, David Kindred, showing the wider vista.
Fore Street pool, originally called St Clements for the church next to it, was opened in 1894, is still going strong (story in local paper). It is the friendliest indoor pool I know. On the swim journey visit here the 30 degrees warm water was soothing after the earlier outdoor swims, though I took a cold shower to cool down afterwards. The manager and lifeguard were supportive and took photos, and I swam here with Emma and Anita, and then met Rachel who joined us for the next swim.
In June 2016 I did a swim journey to remember my parents and raise money for charities related to their deaths, at places relevant to the family threaded along the A12 Road. Round up and charity info in post: A12 swim journey June 2016: I did it