“I went in the next day with two or three dozen early-morning regulars, and for a glorious moment, during some lull in the proceedings, I had the entire sixty-seven yards of water to myself. The solitude lasted for a single blissful length.”
Having made hard work of the bike ride up Haverstock Hill, followed by a bumbling attempt to enter via the exit gate, the water of Parliament Hill Lido comes as a blessed relief. A few pesky grey clouds have begun to bubble up as I ditch my towel on a bench and make my first tentative steps into the (very) shallow end.
After a bracing dip at Highgate Ponds last week (temperature 8ºC) and a few excursions into the sea off Lyme Regis over the Bank Holiday, the 15ºC here feels positively balmy as I dunk my head below the surface and strike out on my first length. Continue reading
“I had come down the path along the disintegrated cliffs from the magnificent ruined church at Covehithe. Each year, the path moves further inland across the fields because great hunks of England keep falling away in the winter storms.”
A hazy spring sun hangs out to sea as we pull up by the ruins of Covehithe church. A coastal breeze is whipping up the sunken road, where a sign warns us ‘No Access To The Beach’. Today’s mission is a dual swim, in the sheltered salty lagoon of Benacre Broad, before following in Roger’s footsteps and hopping into the swell of the North Sea. I’m joined by Yanny, whose amazing guidance on my Waveney swim last autumn has been a highlight of my trips so far. With him is his lovely wife Suz and my good friend, the writer Molly Naylor. Continue reading
“About a mile downstream from Burford on the meandering footpath to Widford, I found the finest oxbow bend I have ever seen. Sheep grazed the meadows, and the cropped grass was in wonderful condition, springy and deep green. At the narrow turkey neck of the oxbow were two old pollard willows…I slid into the upstream side of the oxbow, and swam all round it almost back to where I had begun.”
We first catch sight of the oxbow bend from the A40, high on the edge of the valley above the River Windrush. It appears, from the briefest of glimpses through the car window, just as Roger described it. The pollard willows, the swirl of the water as it curves back on itself.
“Swimming without a roof over your head is now a mildly subversive activity, like having an allotment, insisting on your right to walk a footpath, or riding a bicycle.”
It’s now almost four months since I swam the Waveney, the brisk wind and biting cold keeping me out of open water. And despite my best intentions (set out right on this blog no less) and the purchase of a rather natty wetsuit, I’ve let work and countless excuses get in the way of easing myself into a river, lake or the sea this winter.
But no more. Because yesterday, I went for my weekly winter indoor kilometre. Usually, I take this on a Tuesday lunch time with my esteemed fellow freelancer Joe, at a private pool in North London. But this week, that wasn’t on the cards. So instead, I made a beeline for my local leisure centre, the beautifully redesigned Camberwell Public Baths. Continue reading
It’s almost three months now since I braved the waters of the Waveney and took my last swim in the strokes of Roger Deakin. In that time it’s gone from damp to wet to bone-crushingly cold and back to wet again. My plans to swim through the winter have been disappointingly disrupted through a combination of endlessly rubbish weather, a lack of a decent wetsuit and, basically, my being a baby about taking a dip in icy waters. Continue reading
“I was swimming ten miles from the moat, where the Waveney defines the border between Norfolk and Suffolk. It is a secret river, by turns lazy and agile, dashing over shallow beds of golden gravel, then suddenly quiet, dignified and deep.”
Nowhere on my nascent journey swimming the rivers, lakes and lidos of Waterlog has been so dominated by the air of pilgrimage as my trip to the Waveney. Leaving Liverpool Street on a bright October morning, I am heading for my first strokes in Roger’s favourite river, the one he eulogises so beautifully in the pages of Waterlog. It is the closest river to his beloved moat at Mellis, a river he not only swam but also glided along in a canoe called ‘Cigarette’, finishing a trip for a Radio 4 documentary at my starting point, Geldeston Locks. Continue reading
“I had ridden here under my own steam, and here I was in the centre of London gazing up at the stars in the utmost luxury of a heated outdoor pool. It seemed the height of civilisation. yet this was no exclusive private pool; with a Leisure Card from Camden Council, you could get in for £1.”
I usually associate London swimming with slowly easing myself into cold water and a post-workout shivering session of anything up to 30 minutes. But not today. Just like Roger, I’ve made my way to the Oasis Sports Centre and its heated outdoor pool, on the corner of Endell Street and High Holborn, by bike. Once again, I’m meeting my friend Joe, my reliable cohort for all things outdoor swimming. Continue reading