Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Going wild.

I must begin by saying what a splendid debate we had yesterday on 'Controversial Issue' - that is really the good side of blogging when everybody really thinks about an issue and makes an interesting comment - so thank you to everyone who took part.

Now to go wild!

There is a move afoot to promote wild swimming. In 2000, that marvellously eccentric writer, Roger Deakin, set out to swim in the watery places of the British Isles, starting from the moat around his own house, Walnut Tree Farm in Suffolk. He was somewhat inspired to do this by John Cheever's short story 'The Swimmer'. The result, published shortly before he died, was a book 'Waterlog - a swimmer's journey through Britain' -a super read and one of my desert island books.

Now folk are taking up this pursuit in earnest. If you are interested then go to the website www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com to get more information.

What a lovely idea you might say. All I can say is 'what goes around, comes around' because I and most of my contemporaries - certainly in the Lincolnshire village where I grew up, learned to swim in the river. In my case the River Witham, which wanders down from above Lincoln, through the fens and into the Wash at Boston. It is a fairly narrow but quite deep river, navigable the whole way from Lincoln to Boston and in those days, although very muddy underfoot, it was kept navigable by being dredged yearly.
In Summer we spent every waking moment in it or by it. I don't remember my parents ever stopping me going down there and I don't remember anyone ever being drowned.
There had been a ferry there many years before and there was a wooden landing stage. One side of the stage the water was 'paddle deep' and the other side it was about four feet deep. We would paddle until we dared to climb over the wooden stage and immerse ourselves up to our chins (depending upon our height of course). From then on we would make tentative sorties until suddenly, one day, we would strike out for the opposite bank. My goodness that day was a Red Letter Day in all of our lives. It was like an initiation ceremony - we had joined the ranks of the 'grown up'.
My brother, Jack, was a strong swimmer and I remember the day a motor cruiser got stuck in the weeds at the side of the river, where it had moored up for the night. They handed my brother a huge carving knife and he went down under the water and cut the propeller free from the weed. They gave him a meal on board as a reward!
The water was always muddy and your feet would be in soft squishy mud, but we thought nothing about it.
Until, that is, the day when (around 1946 I think) an epidemic of Poliomyelitis hit the village of Digby in Lincolnshire. I don't remember the numbers involved, although I daresay the information is somewhere on line, but many children died or were seriously maimed by the outbreak. The immediate reaction was to stop all river swimming in case that was where the virus came from (I think there was also a suggestion that it may come from the railway tracks and the railway ran alongside the river in our village).
Overnight we no longer swam, or even visited, the river or its banks. They became a no go area and as far as I know that is still true. A few years ago I visited the village and had a walk down the lane to the river. It was a warm, Summers day and the river flowed slowly, as it always did, its banks sloping down to the water
and clumps of yellow water iris everywhere. Nothing and nobody disturbed the scene - it felt like a stage set waiting for the play to begin.
Now, I wonder, will the River Witham be full of laughing, shouting, swimming children again if the fashion for going wild takes off? Now we seem to have beaten Polio will children go into the river again - or will 'Health and Safety' step in and say it is too dangerous. I do hope not - for that time of my life remains such a
lovely memory give or take a few mouthfuls of very muddy water.

24 comments:

Eryl Shields said...

I expect there will be all number of objections to this, from disturbing wild-life habitats to health and safety, but I do hope some children get to play and swim as you did, it sounds idyllic.

When he was a boy my son used to disappear all day in summer to the river with his friends, ours isn't deep enough to swim in here, but he would come home breathless and bright with the fun of it: what mother could ask for more?

Heather said...

I once swam in a very large pond in Canada, with swallows and dragonflies skimming the water - it was totally dreamlike and blissful. Years ago people had commonsense and took responsibility for their own actions but I wonder if wild swimming nowadays would create more trouble than pleasure. I live near the River Severn and each year there seems to be a serious incident - if not fatal - where a person or family have been caught by the tide and have to be rescued. One would think people would learn from the mistakes of others. Rivers and the sea need a great deal of respect and then you can go out and enjoy them.

Arija said...

Playing with and in water is such an integral part of growing up. I tried my hand at swimming when I was 18 months old. They had to resuscitate me of course after my first try imitating what my older brother was doing. Quite an exciting picnic by the river for my parents.
All this molly coddling and health and safety concern
makes me sad for the modern child who seems to be driven to investigate porn on the computer instead of normal exciting adventurous pursuits like swimming in any water hole and climbing trees.

jinksy said...

Childhood is no longer a time for freedom... Indeed, it is almost becoming obsolete all together, as the rush to be 'grown up' escalates in this consumer driven society.

Derrick said...

Strange isn't it, how childhood experiences influence us? I have always swum in the sea but never in a river or lake and the idea doesn't appeal! I have no objection to wild swimming but think it's true that not enough people have sufficient respect for the potential danger.

Phillips said...

I was watching a programme about wild swimming on BBC the other night and we were amused by it all. It was presented to us as if this is some new idea that nobody had ever thought of before and you needed a wetsuit for it!

steven said...

weaver i read an article about wild swimming and my first thought was - this isn't so much about something new as it is about something being rediscovered. whaich is magical and perhaps the various stigmas - health and otherwise - that were attached to it have evaporated. it's there to be enjoyed - with care and respect. steven

Pondside said...

Over here most of our summer swimming is in lakes and rivers - can't imagine it otherwise. At the end of a long day a dip in a lake, dragonflies overhead and minnows parting beneath my breaststroke make for a perfect swim.

Mac n' Janet said...

I've never been completely comfortable swimming in wild places, hate the idea of fish or other critters touching me. Now that we have a lagoon out back with at least 2 alligators in it I doubt I'll ever swim in it.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Eryl - lovely to hear that children go off and play for the day - it happens so rarely now. We live close to a beck and it is a delight to see children in it in the summer, making boats, making dams, getting wet - no adults around - bliss.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Heather - your swim sounds bliss indeed. As for the River Severn - well that is a different kettle of fish - tidal rivers are quite dangerous. My river was a backwater compared with that.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Arija - having just read your very moving post for today - I think of the disruption of your childhood and am pleased to think that you have some happy memories of it too.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Jinksy - agree. Tiny little girls trying to look like adults - sad.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Derrick - I have always been afraid of sea swimming strangely enough - but would love to get back in that river again.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Phillips - a wetsuit? We had never heard of such things when we swam there - what is wrong with a bit of mud, I say.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Steven - I agree about care and respect - a friend walks by a river frequently with her dogs and after the weekend the banks are always covered with beer cans, bottles and such a lot of mess.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Pondside - you make it sound idyllic.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Mac'nJanet - alligators??? No thanks - I would stick to the swimming baths.

Cloudia said...

Ah, ENGLAND!





Aloha from Waikiki :)

Comfort Spiral

Mistlethrush said...

Hi Weaver - Not sure what I think about re-introducing wild swimming. We have a fair number of reservoirs and quarry pits etc in our area and have sadly had a quite a few deaths. In deep water the cold is a killer. I suppose it would be case of having to educate people about water safety.

PS I admire how you manage to blog every day and always have something interesting to say.

Titus said...

Oh yes! We swim at "Sunshine Corner" on the Scaur; just deep enough in the summer (too torrential in the winter). Heavenly, just a short walk away and a small beach thrown in.

George said...

This posting evoked wonderful memories for me, Pat, since I grew up in a community without swimming pools. It seems that I spent most summer days swimming in nearby creeks (small rivers in the U.S.), sometimes walking for five miles to reach them. Those who haven't swam in streams and rivers, with their mysterious natural features, have missed something truly wonderful.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Muddy water- crystal memories.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I can't swim!!
I've never been able to stand the feeling of water going into my ears. Feel free to laugh.