Open Water Swimming

Open Water Swimming

It’s intriguing how much nostalgia is generated when you swim in an English river. People on the bank stop to talk with you about the times they used to enjoy a dip “when the children were young”. Common courtesy has you join the conversation which usually means your swim is punctuated by a phase of treading water for the duration of a good old natter. It’s good to talk and treading water is still exercise so everyone is happy.

Except their dogs! Even dogs from my village who know me very well raise their hackles and bark at me in the water. They become best friends again once I return to dry land but while I’m in the water it seems to confuse them.

Water temperature is always a consideration. I’ve usually been for a decent run before venturing into the river so I swim in my running apparel; which does not include a wet suit. Since I run bare footed there is no footwear to be left where I enter the water. It’s a simple matter of walk in, make sure the temperature is above lethal and swim until I want to get out and continue the run.

Swans are the only real threat. For ecological reasons I never disturb adults with cygnets. For cowardice reasons I do the same. They are big creatures and water is their domain. I recall a time during my PhD studies when I was taking blood samples from swans’ leg veins but those birds were already trussed in secure body sleeves. When you’re that close to an adult swan you learn what an unhappy swan face looks like!

Dr Harley enjoying life

I’ve only had one swam swim after me and I wondered if it was deciding how to rescue me. There was certainly no aggression. In the years I’ve been enjoying this stretch of water there has only been one other person in the water; a friend of mine who gave it a go once. So it’s quite likely I was the first person this swan had seen swimming. It seemed we were both enjoying the spectacle so all was well. It has never bothered to follow me since which might mean it knows I don’t need to be rescued after all.

Other wildlife tolerates my quiet breast stroke very well. Kingfishers, reed warblers, any number of ducks, moorhens and coots. There are otters in the area but we haven’t met yet. That joy must wait for another day. Having your eyes at water level brings a very different perspective. The water lilies certainly look better at very close range.

I’m writing this at the beginning of autumn with beautiful colours forming in the tree leaves. I’ll still be running barefoot so if the water looks inviting I’ll test the temperature. Even during winter it can occasionally be ‘warm’ enough and sneaking a swim out of season somehow means more.

If you are visiting my part of the world you are welcome to join me in the river.


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