I have swum several times at Freshford in the Avon by following the public footpath over the railway footbridge, across the field to the first stile and then turning down to a clump of willows on the bank. From there it is about ¼ mile down to the weir and I have swum about a similar distance upstream. I have however had an interest in a point a little further upstream where the River Frome flows into the Avon.
The Frome is only small and whilst I once found a good spot to swim near Rode and have swum at the Farleigh Hungerford Swimming Club (it’s not as exciting as people might have you believe) on my only attempt to swim down to the confluence I found the Frome to be little more than a weed choked trickle between high banks thick with undergrowth and therefore not swimmable. Similarly the Avon upstream of the join is wide, shallow, slow moving and resembles a reed bed rather than a river. I had to assume then that the swims I had had before where the river was deep and clear were entirely down to the weir. How far upstream I could swim was open to exploration.
The day is sweltering, especially beside the river where the humidity has been drawn up from the fields and hangs heavily with no breeze to clear the air.
From my usual swim spot I walk upstream following the path, across another stile, through some willows and across a ditch, looking for somewhere to enter the water. Finally beneath another willow there is a spot where the cattle have trodden the bank down so I can leave my bag out of sight and step down the tree roots into the water.
The water feels soft and warm, well compared to the River Dart much earlier this morning anyway and the very warm sun dips in and out from behind the willows as I move upstream against the flow until I hit the first reed bed.
The reeds are tall, dark green spears and some, where they sand upright nearer the bank, are crowned with a pom-pom flower, but where they are bent over by the current they are sharply tipped and all point in my direction. Where there are tall reeds there are also long mats of trailing grass fronds in the water, they cling to my arms and wrap around my legs, but here I can see the river bed and as I am in only 2 feet of water I stand and wade until I am upstream to where in can swim on. There is another reed bed ahead but the water here is even shallower where the river turns gently to the right.
The cattle have lined to top of the bank. The bank is broken down to a slope so this is clearly where they come down to the river, but they are however not to sure about someone swimming and when I stand up they back away cautiously.
I swim through the left arch of the railway bridge, the water shallows to just a few inches and as I wade forward my foot slips between 2 stones and I give my ankle a firm bash. But now I can see where the rivers flow together and here they have created a deep and wide pool and I laze in the almost still water.
It has taken over half an hour to swim 3/10 of a mile rushing along slow. Now though I have to get back and with the flow behind me I shoot down the river, whisking through the reed beds and finally swinging in under the willow and back to my towel.