A Susurration of Swimmers

It has been a sweltering day and I am very much looking forward to a swim.

I have also been asking around but no-one locally has any knowledge about swimming the Tamar at Gunnislake Bridge and yet it appears as though there is nearly a mile of water held back by the weir.

It is time then to go and take a look.

The first mistake was to park at the Gunnislake end of the bridge and then walk down the riverside path.  it is a pleasant walk, cool under the trees without a hint of breeze.  The water smells of river and drifts by so slowly, limpid in the heat, dull, olive green.  There is however only one place to reach the water where the bank has been worn down, but it is thick oozing mud and there is nowhere to hide my bag out of sight.  I have spent 20 minutes on this so far and the opposite bank looks even less accessible.  Hmmm.

I remembered however that there is a track on the Tavistock side that follows the bank upstream.  Dodging the cars to cross the bridge it turns out that there is plenty of parking space this side and the track is level and wide ending at a large parking place, with, a set of concrete steps and a hand rail down to the water.

Two people paddleboarding are stopped at the foot of the steps.  I had seen them earlier coming upriver so we talk about paddleboards and what the river is like down below the bridge as it is so late now that will be as far as I get.  The water is surprisingly warm, warmer than the sea or the Dart and despite the colour the water is clearer than it looked.

The real surprise is that the water is very shallow.  I’d swum half way to the bridge and softly nudged two obstructions when I decided to let my feet trail, which in turn resulted in me stood only bum deep right out in the middle.  Several more ‘touchdowns’ proved this was the case all the way to the bridge.

It is on the return swim, pushing gently into the current, the sound of cars on the bridge fading to nothing as the bridge is obscured by the slight bend that I am struck by the notion of a susurration of swimmers.  It is a word favoured by Terry Pratchett in the later Discworld novels, the sound of gently breeze through stems of grass or in this cases the swirl of water around me.  Even when I take a pause there is still a faint sound from the water, which seems to be barely moving, yet is sliding amongst the reed stems and twigs trailing from branches that obscure the bank.  Or maybe it is the sound of the water flowing amongst the stones on the river bed.  It may be out of sight but surely it must make some sound after all it does where it runs through stones in a rapids.

The girl is sitdown paddleboarding now, spinning around on the water waiting for her partner to give a hand up the steps with her board.  In the lowering, late evening sunshine it paints an idyllic picture and there is the soft susurration of water beneath her board.

There is time to dwell on such inconsequentia when susurrating in the river.


Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall


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