River Dove, Eye – off the Abbey bridge
“I soon reached Eye, where I leant the bike beside the Abbey bridge over the River Dove and clambered down the bank to a pool almost directly below the brick arch, hidden by the road from the parapet…two frayed and much–knotted ropes still dangled from a tall Scots pine.”
Luke and I have traipsed about half a mile out of Eye before we realise we’ve gone in completely the wrong direction. We look askance at the map as HGVs thunder past, pinning us into the shrubs which billow over the narrow footpath, before realising we’ve walked west instead of east.
We retrace our footsteps through this pretty village, the ruined castle and Tudor mansions to our left before we find ourselves leaning over the Abbey bridge and looking down into the narrow little River Dove.
This is the second swim I’ve done on my haphazard recreation of Roger’s final swimming jaunt, which tracks ‘a sort of ley–line’ from his moat in Mellis to the sea at Walberswick. I braved the churning waters in the latter at this time last year with Molly and now Luke, poet, raconteur, old friend and local boy is going to join me for this next stage.
To be honest, it doesn’t look all that inviting. White water slips over a retaining wall into scummy water, litter bobbing through the reeds. I think back to my dip in the murky Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the cut off channel running close to the Great Ouse in the Fens and give thanks for the wetsuit stuffed in my bag. Luke has no such protection and he wavers over whether to go in as I sling a leg over the cast iron fence and edge gingerly down the slippery concrete bank towards the water.
Down by the river, things look a bit more promising. There’s a convenient foothold visible just below the surface, and there’s plenty of space under the bridge for us to change. I look downstream and wonder aloud about Roger’s predilection for romanticising the countryside and rivers in particular. Would the surface have been coated in a slimy film when he came here? Was there a ‘Fruit Shoot’ bottle where there should have been some ducks? And if there was, would he have mentioned it or opted for something more bucolic?
I try to let go of these thoughts as I pad towards my destiny, clad in full neoprene. I slip in, my feet groping for the bottom, when Luke rears up behind me in just a pair of swimming shorts.
“Is it jumpable?” he says as my right foot touches the bottom and I stand waist deep.
“That’s a no then.”
I swim into the little pool, soon out of my depth and turn to see Luke drop in and immediately sling himself forward. He pants like a spaniel, my favoured reaction when cold water hits my chest without a wetsuit for protection. Roger says that ‘going in soon shocked me into getting out’ when he came here on a September morning. Luke channels my predecessor’s understandable approach and is soon back on the bank drying off. I applaud him and then pootle about exploring my surroundings. Downstream, a curtain of weeping willows is crying out to be pulled back, the Dove ruffling along at a fast pace away to the North Sea. I think of the secret Sherberton Stream on Dartmoor, far from here but so similar with its overhanging trees and Pre Raphaelite tresses.
I hop out and we warm up with tea, both chattering fast and talking over each other, just like we used to when we were ambitious students full of hope and wonder. I think we both still are. I clamber up the wall and back to the road, past the rope swings which are far too frayed and short now for jumping off. The Dove may been scummy in parts, but today it’s been a surprising wild swimming treat.