Rivers Joining

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.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

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.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

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.

From Dawn ’til Dusk

So no vampires then.

It’s 4:30 in the morning, it has been light for half an hour but under the trees shadows still lurk on the edge of vision.  And again there is not a hint of breeze.  We join the group who bivvied on the beach as the horizon assumes a hazy orange glow.  The waves are sweeping softly over the high tide line belying the deeper swell that makes the 5 Knot buoy bob and nod further out.  We ride the swell as the sun clears the horizon filling each face with summer warmth and promise.

We swim back in as the sun rises higher making noticeable progress minute by minute, there is a lot of sky to cover today.  Climbing back up the hill the shadows have fled away from beneath the tress, it is just 6 o’clock.

The first day of summer is a scorcher as the camper van creeps up the motorway then onto major roads and minor roads through the Brecon Beacons, across the heart of Wales.  The route picks up the River Wye and follows it back up into the hills until crossing over at Eisteddfa Gurig from where I can almost see the sea.  It is an extraordinary twist of geological fate that send the river instead half the length of Wales east to the Severn 100 miles back the way I just came.

It is much later in the day when I pull the camper onto the roadside at Borth.

The heat is already draining from the day as a slight breeze stutters over the pebbles and sand.  The sun is now creeping down to the horizon off this seeming endless stretch of beach as I throw off my t-shirt onto my towel and wade out through the surf almost reaching the sunset before there is sufficient water in which to swim.

The sun creeps lower, casting golden tints across the water, its progress seems far slower than its earlier ascent, reluctant perhaps to give way to a brief darkness, a darkness that is now on the ascendant from here to December when there might again be vampires, but for now there is only the summer.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

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À bout de souffle

It is just about 7am as I take the bridge over the River Dart at Staverton.  The low sun casts long shadows, but even so it is apparent that the river level is still high after recent rain as the shoal of pebbles is fully covered by water.  As I walk down though the trees the sound of the river seems more urgent that usual and it cannot be the sound is carried by the breeze as there is none of that.

It is rare that there is not some breeze, today is that rare moment.  The water is unruffled except where the flow that is indeed at least a hand’s span up on summer ‘normal’ surges over rocks that have been unseasonably submerged.  Not a single leaf twitches, the rope swing hangs motionless and even the sunlight reflected from the water fails to dapple the undersides of the leaves.  Totally still and almost totally silent.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

Diving from the rock there is very little light in the water under the tall oak tree but out in the middle of the river there is a sudden change from shade to sunlight which reveals the sand and pebbles out of reach of my fully extended toes.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

The river bed has been changing in recent years.  There used to be a beach and the sand used to slope gently out into mid-stream except when it collected a coat of sunken leaves which bubbled when disturbed.  But the floods of 4 years ago and since have set in train a reconfiguring of the profile.  Some of the bigger logs were dislodged which exposed the longer buried more rotten wood and that has put up no resistance to the river.  Now the beach is barely 1/2 the width it was and beneath the water the edge is a vertical drop off into water deeper than I am tall.  What’s more the exposed face beneath the water is just more compacted twigs, branches and sand, so I expect the erosion to continue.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

The water is chilly despite the sun and each time I breathe out I leave a thin, white cloud hanging above the water.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

Climbing up the bank and looking back the river has been reset to ‘still’ and there is as yet no hint of a breeze so that all there is to tell I have been there are a few splattered watery footprints.

 

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

Summer’s Here

It was a dull grey morning, cold, breezy and without promise.  But I hadn’t been standing around on Dartmoor at 5am yesterday morning with the local morris dancers singing up the summer not to have confidence.

“Hal-an-Tow, jolly rumbelow,
We were up long before the day, oh,
To welcome in the summertime,
To welcome in the May, oh —
For summer is a-coming in,
And winter’s gone away, oh!”

Lunchtime and the blue had out paced the clouds and as the breeze dropped there was more and more blue eventually leaving not a cloud in the sky.

I was just changing in the gloriously warm evening sunshine when J arrived having been looking at the swimming options further downstream.  Spitchwick it has to be said is rarely my first choice as there are usually too many people and too much litter.  On a day such as this however I know the sun will be absolutely perfect for an evening swim at the top pool, though not so the bottom pool where it will be down behind the trees already.

The transition in the water is remarkable.  Ten days ago it had that bright zesty lime green tint.  Last week it had gone almost clear again.  Today it is dark orange after the rain on Monday washed peat off the moorland upstream and that is the colour it will stay until October.

J has not swum here before and it is ideal for that, easy to walk in to the water, easy changing, the water is slow moving and deeper under the cliff.  It does have it all in some ways.

The ‘new’ second hand wetsuit arrived this morning, it’s a little tighter than the previous ‘identical in every way’ one I have worn out, except the tightness of course and the feel that it is made with slightly thicker neoprene.  It is most certainly tighter and keeps the water out until I am waist deep, or maybe it is just that the other is full of holes, the worlds first fishnet wetsuit.  It’s not a pleasant thought.

We share the water for 15 minutes and in the end it is only the lateness of the day that forces us out.  The water is only just over 10degC but I always feel that sunshine adds several degrees especially factoring in the black wetsuits which absorb the sunshine.

We change and chat, talking about other places to swim and non-swimmer’s reactions to the whole idea, but as J says, ‘it is so invigorating’.

With a hope we will catch up again soon we head off to our respective cars as the sun nudges ever closer to the horizon and shadows draw out across the grass.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall