When I travel around the UK, and I think I might have time for a swim, I like to take copies of Kate Rew’s and Daniel Start’s books with me. Both are excellent for discovering interesting swimming spots – some of which are still hard enough to find with the books and would be almost impossible without.
Last week, after about 45 minutes of searching and asking bewildered locals, I found one such spot hidden at the end of a narrow overgrown path and behind a locked but insecure gate. If I had read the description in the book properly I would have been forewarned that the regulars pursued a costumes-optional policy. As it was, I found myself looking fixedly into the eyes of a naked stranger and asking if I could join him for a swim.
Luckily, requests to join people for swims are rarely refused and shortly thereafter, and feeling very over-dressed in my swim shorts, I slipped into a green and slow moving river.
Usually I am a committed front crawl swimmer. I consider breaststroke to be a form of cruel and unusual torture. It causes pain in my elbows and knees and results in very little forward motion despite large amounts of effort.
However, this particular river was so still and peaceful that is seemed a crime to break the silence with my hurried and noisy front crawl. Besides, there was so much algae in the water you could barely see your hand in front of your face. The surface meanwhile was so still that dust, leaves and bird feathers had settled on it and pond skaters and other insects busied themselves around the banks. Arrogant and slightly dangerous looking swans blocked my route downstream so I breaststroked against the current, trying not to make a sound, so that I could take it all in.
The swim was neither long nor challenging. It barely counted as exercise. Nevertheless, it was memorable and satisfying. I felt refreshed and ready for the congested drive home, and once again I was reminded that open water swimming offers such a wide range of experiences as well as exposure to some curious English eccentricities.
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