Friday, 24 August 2012

A Swim #1 catchup - Cricklade to Water Eaton

Sunday the 19th was one of the most glorious days in August 2012, the temperature forecast to reach 27°C. We were four swimmers: Sarah, Paola, Sharon and Tim, plus one walker, Charles.

On the slipway at Cricklade. "So if you find a submerged log, do one of your karate chops on it, ok?"

We got in from the little slipway next to the car park at the end of Abingdon Court Lane in Cricklade, and found ourselves in 18 °C fast-flowing water that came up to our chests. Some locals informed us that the water wasn't usually this high; typically, the water came up to the end of the slipway, but today, the water at the end of the slipway reached up to our belly buttons, approximately 1m above normal.

The current was lovely! Unlike far downstream sections of the Thames which have been flowing at "can just about tell which way is downstream" speed for several weeks now, here we were whooshed along nicely, at about swimming speed, i.e. going upstream was not an option!

There were a lot of weeds, drifting along the river surface, most of which we could glide over quite happily. After a while the forwards swimmers gave up shouting weed warnings to those further behind, finding it much more efficient to only give advance notice of the non-weedy patches. As we went further along, the water deepened, to approximately 2m, and the weeds did get noticeably less intrusive, so we could spend less time avoiding weeds and more time swimming freely and enjoying the surroundings.

The sunlight on the river was just glorious, rendering the bright green weeds below shot through with gold, mixed in with occasional red-stemmed weeds. So we spent a lot of time just gazing downwards and watching the weeds whizz past...

Sharon looks down at the weeds.

...and bobbing...

Paola and Tim float along.

...and generally relaxing.

Sarah floats on her back.

We made a certain amount of entertainment for ourselves: Sarah treated us to a rendition of the song on the Battle of Agincourt. We also found several trees growing in the middle of the river that were too tempting to pass up, and so we climbed and hung off various branches. Once we were all into sloth or other interesting positions, we hollered for the photographer, who was nowhere to be found (later he claimed the Thames path didn't go near the river at that point). In retrospect, perhaps it is best that there are no photos of that part of the swim!

Halfway along, we stopped for some delicious chocolate-cherry brownies, baked by Sharon, carried by the fabulous Charles.

We all thought that this swim was the best (or one of the best) swims we'd ver had. You can tell from the smiles on our faces.

We also did a fair bit of diving down to look at what was to see under the surface. Sarah got down close enough to the sandy bottom to be within arm's reach of a crayfish. She was going to bring it up to show us, and then realised that as crayfish had pincers, maybe she'd better not risk it. So she told us about it, and got the impression that we didn't believe her. On the contrary, we believed her all too well, and when diving down, took a good look around and kept our hands to ourselves!

Later on, Sarah shouted to the rest of us, further ahead, and she seemed to have got something. We thought she might have got another crayfish for us to look at, so we all grabbed hold onto weeds to stay still for a bit whilst Sarah caught up, and she proudly displayed her catch: a golf ball!

Sarah with her trophy.

We also saw a few swans along the route. Unlike the swans I had encountered on Swim #2, who had all panicked upon seeing us and fled down the river, these swans were much better trained, and knew exactly what to do. We had no trouble easing past them quietly and gently, keeping close to the opposite bank.

The well-trained swans let us slip past.

That is, until we got to just shy of Water Eaton, where we encountered the first daft swan from Swim #2 again, who, despite being in a very wide part of the river, as far away from us as it could possibly get, again could not get the hang of letting us past and fled away from us downstream.

The swim ended all too soon, and we got out, in the glorious sunshine, and walked the couple of miles back to Cricklade.

On returning to the car park, most of us couldn't resist the blackberries that were growing nearby, and went picking. As a result, I can now offer these top tips for Thames blackberrying:

  • There are lots of nice blackberries growing near the car park in Cricklade.
  • The locals know about them too.
  • You look silly picking blackberries in swimming gear, until you pick the blackberries that are only accessible from the water.
  • With swimming gear on, you are better equipped to reach the water-accessible blackberries than the locals are.
  • Some of the locals don't mind getting their clothes wet in the slightest.
  • If it stings you, it's a nettle. If it stabs you, it's a bramble, but at least you're on the right plant.
  • Try bending down and looking upwards to spot more blackberries hiding under the leaves.
  • A "I love the Thames" swim hat makes an excellent impromptu container for blackberries.
  • Swimsuits are less resistant to thorns than silicone swim hats.
  • The box you brought the cookies in makes an excellent blackberry container to keep tipping the contents of your hat into.
  • The Thames itself is very handy for rinsing out the silicone hat afterwards.
  • Silicone hats rinse well, with no purple-black berry stains left at all!
  • Try to choose fellow swimmers who aren't interested in picking blackberries, that way you get more for yourself.
  • Blackberry and apple jam is The. Most. Delicious. Jam. Ever.

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