Blythburgh – into the marshes
“I lowered myself off the jetty into a foot and a half of estuary water and propelled myself over the bed of delicate, smooth mud, out into the deeper waters of a maze of submerged drainage channels.”
Guttural screams ring out as we walk deeper into the woods outside Walberswick. The relentless squeals turn to howls and barks, as Tim and I puzzle out what horrors lie on the other side of the main road. Is it a slaughterhouse? Or just pigs larking in Suffolk mud on a crisp and clear November lunchtime?
The sounds fade as we move deeper into the trees, unidentifiable birds flitting between branches, bright red toadstools marking a path down towards the water. This is right to roam territory, a cheery sign at the entrance to the nature reserve telling us we may walk where we please.
With this in mind, we tramp across some flattened reeds and onto a grassy causeway which cuts two hundred metres out into Bulcamp Marshes. The River Blyth feeds into the wide estuary here, the same stream which flowed past the long lake at Heveningham Hall where I swam two weeks ago. The tendrils of this huge body of water worm their way through the reeds, tapping quietly onto dry land.
It is a perfectly clear day, the kind you dream of when you picture autumn from the great heights of a long summer afternoon. Migrating birds cascade down onto the calm water, the trees still aglow despite winter slowly creeping up around the corner.
At the end of the grassy jetty, I tell Tim I’m going to follow Roger’s lead and go without the wetsuit which lies damp in the bottom of my bag after my exertions in the Somerset Levels over the weekend. Immediately I feel a pang of regret as a breeze ruffles up and leaves my ears cold and raw.
I slip in and stand knee deep on hard mud, its slight slippiness feeling strangely comforting underfoot after the slop of the drainage channel a few days ago in Hambridge. I wade out and brush up against the submerged wooden stakes Roger mentions. I remember his warnings to proceed with caution and feel beneath the surface for any more hidden threats.
My hands disappear into the silty, brackish water and turn up nothing, so I launch forwards, the water punching the air from my lungs and causing me to shout bloody murder. After a series of wetsuit dips, the marsh feels painfully cold. I’ve made the grave error of believing Roger when he said it was warmed by the black mud. Of course he’d say that, he swam in a moat almost every day, whereas my regular swims come at a pleasantly heated London pool. But I have a vested interest in going without protection. I have a special swim looming where a wetsuit would simply not be permissible.
I manage a pathetic couple of minutes before wading out, my chest glowing warm before pricking with goosebumps. I hand Tim my boots and gloves and he follows where I led, sinking into the mud and swimming fast and huffily out into open water, before standing up, turning back and splashing towards me, his towel and the flask of tea.
It may be brief, but I feel elated by this swim. It’s every bit as idyllic as I had hoped for and my disappointment with Roger’s retelling of his adventures in Somerset subsides as we walk back through the woods, the screams of what turn out to be pigs at a nearby farm rising in my ears.