Monday, 19 August 2013

A Swim #4 catch-up

Raf, Neil and Sharon did a catch-up of Swim #4 on 19th August 2013. This isn't so much a trip report, as a round-up of useful information for those yet to catch up this (or earlier) swims.

Access and Parking

We followed the same logistical arrangements for Swim #4 as the original Swim #4 in June 2011, because as mentioned in the report for the original Swim #4, the Thames path doesn't go anywhere near the river (on the plus side, no anglers!), so it requires car shuttling.
We can add that the Riverside Car Park in Lechlade had a charge of £2 for all-day parking, for this you get a car park attendant, and an ice-cream van if you're lucky.
We can also add that the road to Hannington Bridge is closed, due to works strengthening the bridge itself. These works are due to go on until 19th October 2013, and status updates can be found on the Roadworks Closures and Diversions page for Swindon. Fortunately we approached from the north, so could still park near the layby just to the north of the bridge.


Aside from the ice-cream van in the car park, there are no refreshments anywhere. Having read the original Swim #4 report, we opted to take refreshments with us in our big orange Chillswim drybags. This worked well, apart from one thing: there aren't many good getting-out spots on the swim, and the one we did use, approx 4km along, had a very very soft muddy exit, so our hands were all caked in mud by the time we scrambled up onto the bank. We could have done with some wet wipes in our drybags. Or napkins. Or anything more effective than dry clumps of grass, really.

Getting in

Tricky. I recall getting out from Swim #3 at a tree just past the bridge; the tree was there alright, but we could find no sign of the awkward little-used path to get back to the road! There is a shelving access point on the north bank just upstream of the bridge, but that has rather a lot of nettles guarding it.
Instead, after wandering around for a while near the bridge trying to find a good spot, we ended up going via the south bank of the river, on the upstream side of the bridge. We entered a field with a gate and an anglers' sign, hopped over a (non-barbed) wire fence and descended down the neat turf-cut steps that the workers on the bridge had made, right next to the bridge itself. Careful, the big stones in the riverbed near the bridge are slippy!

River Conditions

It was approximately 18 °C, with occasional warm and cool patches. Make sure you're not going to under/overheat in your chosen swimming attire: this is a long swim, with not many getting-out points, and there's no path alongside the river.
The flow was a little more than in the Lower Thames the previous two days (no rain fell overnight), but not much more. You could definitely tell which way the current was going, but most of the way, the assistance it offered was small.

Swim Length

Raf's satellite gadget reported 6km (just under 4 miles), which differs in opinion from Chris', reporting 3.6 miles. Still, rather a long swim, whichever way you look at it.
Despite the length, it was a really lovely swim. The river twists and turns and there's always something new to look at round every corner.

Water Levels

The water levels here can vary significantly, from "a wet walk" to "too deep to touch the bottom". If you check out the current water level readings at Hannington Bridge (Environment Agency), that together with the following should give you an idea how swimmable you are likely to find this stretch of river.
On 19th August 2013, the Environment Agency's reading was 2.02m, at the lower end of the typical range for this section of the river. Where they take their measurements from, I don't know, but 2.02m was not the depth of the water as we stood in it next to the bridge that day; a better description would be "calf-deep". However, for relative comparison of river levels, the recorded measurements seem useful: last year, when I did Swim #3, the water levels at Hannington Bridge were about 1.5m deeper, as were the Environment Agency's measurements.
Anyway, the water depth varied a lot, but gradually got deeper over the whole swim. For the first half of the swim, the water level was always deep enough to float in, but not always deep enough to swim in; depending on your arm length and swimming stroke, your knuckles or knees might graze the bottom. There were also a lot of weeds and reeds, which we either carefully circumnavigated or ignored and swam over the top of, and there are a small number of hidden branches with pointy ends to watch out for in the water.
The middle third was much more conducive to swimming, with several patches where you couldn't wade because the water was too deep. Much to our surprise, approx half-way along we found 4 boats moored, and some others in a little side-area where the river turns sharply north. Once you see the boats, the depth remains deeper than your toes can touch, and you can pretty much put your head down and swim swim swim all the way to Lechlade.


This was a good time of year to do this swim, with regards to swans. The cygnets were fully swan-sized but still grey, and we didn't get any swan aggro. Having said that, we didn't see many swans. One group (1 parent, 4 cygnets) passed us during our refreshment break in hot pursuit of any bread that might be carried by the family in the flat-bottomed boat zooming upstream. Another group (2 parents, 2 cygnets) went on ahead and then preened themselves in a muddy patch to the side whilst we glided past.

Other Wildlife

We saw a couple of herons, one small-ish bird that looked like it might have been a juvenile little grebe, and lots of swallows near Inglesham.
Oh, and we did see a couple of anglers, right at the end of the swim. Not one of which accused us of ruining the river.

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