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The Seacliff beach hotel which overlooked the swim and hosted the presentation

There is an open water series of swims in my new adopted home and this was the first one. I was looking forward to competing even though my swimming has been a little poor of late. The event was a 1.6km (1 mile) sea swim. In past years it had been along the coast to a buoy near the jetty and back.

When we set out from hone the weather was looking a little unsettled. There had been storms over the last few days and the forecast for today wasn’t too promising. When we arrived, the sea looked a bit choppy and we were told that there quite a strong current running southward. It looked like my ideal conditions. The current would take me to the buoy and then I could fight my way against the wind and wave to the finish. It would also slow down some of the pool swimmers that only ever swim in flat calm.

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The conditions looked either good or bad depending on your view

After registering we went for a little pre-race nutrition or as it’s usually known a cup of hot chocolate and a walnut muffin. As we passed the time of day looking out to sea we noticed that the buoy near the jetty was being moved. What was going on. We could only speculate and all our speculations lead to one thing, the course was being changed.

The truth became known at the briefing. We would now be doing two loops, starting off against the current. I felt slightly cheated by this. I would have much preferred an out and back rather than loops. The rationale was that it would help the weaker swimmers complete the course. I had to reluctantly agree, not that I had a choice.

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Somewhere to hide from the wind

The water felt warm to me but others felt that it was nearly arctic. Water temperature is such a subjective thing. We all bobbed around in the water trying to find the idea starting position. I wanted the shortest route but I didn’t want to be caught up in the fast swimmer’s melee.

All of a sudden, we were off. I didn’t here a gun or hooter, there was just a fast surge forward. The swim was on. I started pushing against the current and climbing the waves. This was fun. This is what sea swimming is all about. Every now and then I looked up for the buoy and corrected my tendency to veer to the left. It took a while to get there but eventually I rounded the yellow blob. The sea conditions changed instantly. Now the current was pushing from the side but I was still climbing waves. The next buoy and the next turn came quickly. Now everything was pushing me down the beach. It made things far to easy. I felt relaxed and cruised down to the next buoy ready for the next lap.

The folly of my pre-race nutrition regime hit home a little way into the second loop. One moment I was happily fighting the current and climbing the waves, the next I had the taste of hot chocolate in my mouth. More worryingly I could feel little bit of walnuts as well. I had no desire to make this the first time I’d thrown up in the sea so I swallowed hard and concentrated on making progress. I now had the taste of salty hot chocolate and walnuts in my mouth. The harder a swam the more the feeling rose. It all disappeared as I rounded to buoy. The feeling passed, I felt relieved

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The finish, a good place to end.

The final leg went well, the weakening current pushed me all the way to the finish where the only hard decision to make was where to stop swimming and get to my feet. Despite the feeling of rising nausea I really enjoyed the swim. Hopefully the rest in the series will be just as enjoyable.

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Moonlight (3)

Henley Beach at dusk

It seemed like a simple idea: gather at dusk on a full moon and then have a short swim around the Jetty before retiring for refreshments. I couldn’t believe that no one in my new group of swimmers had done it before. There were objections, some said that the fish with large teeth feed at dusk, others just felt intimated by the whole thing. There was intrigue as well, this was something new, something slightly out of the ordinary and more than that it was a chance for a little get together afterwards. With a bit of persistence and persuasion I managed to amass a small group to make the inaugural (and potentially only) Henley moonlight swim.

A moonlight swim needs to be done with moonlight and the brightest moonlight is on the full moon. I was lucky as the next full moon was on a Friday. It is always easier to pursued people to do something silly on a Friday. The next problem was that despite the moonlight It is still quite dark. This was solved by a visit to a superstore to acquire glow sticks. I left the store feeling like a teenager going to a rave.

Moonlight

Be safe, be seen

We gathered outside the surf club as dusk fell. I’d checked the moonrise time and it was about now. What I had failed to consider was that the hills in the east would obscure the moon for quite a while after the moonrise. Undeterred I renamed the event a twilight swim and we all carried on regardless.

Julianne had also thought about lighting, she had placed a lamp into her yellow tow float to produce an eerie floating orb. The rest of us were decked in glow sticks.

Moonlight (1)

Preparing the celebration of the golden orb

We wandered down to the sea ready to start our swim under the eyes of a few curious passers-by on the jetty. We must have looked like some weird cult following a golden orb into the sea. The water was cool but not cold, it didn’t take much getting used to. The sea was calm and still and so very pleasant to swim in. Heading out to sea was a beautiful and surreal experience. Every now and again I would see a glow stick rise and fall. Away in the distance the glowing yellow orb showed the way.

Moonlight (2)

The orb leads, the others follow

 

As we rounded the jetty the lights from the shore illuminated our way back to the beach. We could all feel the current pulling us slowly towards the Jetty. One of us actually swam into it. We all gathered on the beach. Some felt that they had had enough whist others felt that it was so good they wanted to go around again.

 

Nearly everyone asked when will we be doing it again, I count this as a success.

Murray View

We are going to swim across there

A lot of the border between Victoria and New South Wales is marked by the River Murray, that’s why it’s such a wiggly line on the map. The idea of swimming to another state appealed to me and that was the main reason that I was in Mildura. I was there with a group of masters’ swimmers who were taking part in a swimming gala. They had a tradition of swimming across the river to mark the end of the event and the start of the party.

We started by slipping into the water from the back of the houseboat. For those that had been in a swimming pool all weekend the water was freezing. For those of us who had been standing on the pool deck guiding swimmers to the start and eating junk food it was refreshingly cool.

Murray Setting off

Setting off

The water wasn’t particularly clear, it tasted slightly of mud and dirt. I tried not to think about how much the pelicans had added to the organic matter in the water. We wanted to land on the small bank opposite the house boat so someone did some complicated maths with white boards and rulers to work out that we needed to head slightly upstream, to a clump of trees about ten meters from our landing point. It all seemed to make sense.

Have I mentioned that I’ve not swum for a while and that I’d spent the weekend eating and drinking? Well this was the point where the chickens (or possibly pelicans) came home to roost. For the first few strokes I thought it was just getting used to the water; for the next few I was sure it was something to do with my lack of fitness. Then came the acid indigestion. It felt like lava rising from my stomach and burning in my throat. I was struggling.

Murray Other Side

For a crossing to count you must wave at the photographer

I know when things as going wrong and they were going wrong now. I was lifting my head too high. I was pulling on the water to no effect. I was in the middle of a river, I was crossing a state line. Eventually I reached the other side and stepped into the soft mud. It oozed between my toes and generally felt unpleasant. As this was a crossing we had to follow official crossing rules and touch the other bank. I now faced a quandary. Should I take the four kilometre walk back to the boat by land wearing nothing but a pair of trunks or should I swim the one hundred and fifty meters across the river. I opted for the swim.

Murray Coming Back

Coming back to hot showers and tea

What should have been a pleasant swim back was made hard by complete lack of physical conditioning. This should have been an easy swim but it turned out to be a bit of a mare. I was so thankful to reach the back of the boat, get a hot shower and be handed a cup of tea.

Would you like to see a video of the crossing

 

cuck 1

Birling Gap Beach, looking west to Cuckmere Haven

This is a serious swim, this is a committing swim, this is a swim that I have wanted to do for a very long time. It starts at Cuckmere Haven and follows the coastline to Birling Gap. On one side, the Seven Sisters rear up and on the other side is the English Channel. Once you start there is no going back and there is no getting out. The cliffs plunge directly into the sea for the two-mile length. At low tide, there may be a small beach but the swim has to be done on a rising tide in the three hours before high water. This allows the water to cover the chalk bar and ensures that the current is running with you.

We had studied the tide tables and identified a suitable day. We needed time to get there and to sort ourselves out, so we looked for high tides in the afternoon. There were only a few weekends that met our requirements. The first possible weekend had been called off for various reasons and that left just one weekend when the tides were right and everyone was available. Plans were made and times set

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Five swimmers to take on the Seven Sisters

It started badly, Amy missed her train and then missed the next one by being on the wrong platform. That ate into the contingency I’d allowed. Three of us headed down to Birling Gap and hoped that Cate and Amy would drive like the wind to meet us there. We sat in the café and fortified ourselves with tea and cake. We’d taken a look at the sea and it had looked a little lumpy. Cate arrived ten minutes later. I’m sure that speed limits were used as targets on her journey down. We all piled into her car and headed over to Cuckmere Haven

Three of us were already changed but Cate and Amy needed to do the changing dance in the public car park for the amusement of the passers-by. Once ready we started the walk to the coast. We must have looked a little odd dressed only in swimming clothes as we joined the Gore-Tex clad walkers and Sunday strollers. Time was ticking on and high water was getting closer. I had no desire to swim against the current.

We stood at the end of the beach and shed our outer layers. Cate and I had brought tow floats to carry a few clothes and shoes to the end of the swim. I stuffed mine full of discarded clothes, sealed it and headed for the water.

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Strolling down to the beach trying to look inconspicuous

Getting in was fun, the waves were rearing up onto the beach making my usual practice of getting progressively wetter redundant. It was just a case of plunging in and getting on with it. Once we were all in we started heading East. The swimming was fantastic, once my body got used to the temperature I just relaxed into the stroke and enjoyed the surroundings. On one side, the cliffs dominated the sky line. Every now and again I would spot a small dot on top of the cliff that was a person looking down; on the other was just endless rolling sea. I’m sure that I had a huge smile on my face. Every now and then Sue and Pam would stop and take photographs. They seemed to be enjoying it.

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Starting the Swim

We had to make sure that we kept away from the cliff, the waves got quite large as the water got shallower. It was wonderful to only see a wall of water at one point and then be on top of our wet world the next. Amy was loving the waves, I could see the big grin on her face every time she got to the top of the wave. This is what makes sea swimming. I was not so sure that Sue was enjoying it as much.

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Swimming on top of a wave

It started to go wrong for Sue after about a mile or so. She was not used to swimming this distance in water of this temperature and she had recently lost some weight. She had started to get cold. Once the cold starts to get a grip it is very hard to shake it off. The colder she got the more worried she became. The more worried she became the colder she got. She had started on the vicious circle of hypothermia. She was getting slower, Pam stayed with her and tried to let the rest of us know that Sue was suffering but to no avail. It didn’t help that the swim was taking a lot longer than we had estimated and the chances were getting quite high that we would soon be swimming against the current.

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Bobbing along quite happily

From sea level, the Seven Sisters look remarkably similar if you are not familiar with then. Sue had convinced herself that she was not making any progress. She was in a bad way. We tried reassuring her that the we were getting closer to the end, at this point we could see the steps down to the beach in the far distance, but she didn’t believe us. The coastguard helicopter passed overhead, I’d forgotten to inform them that we were doing the swim so I have no doubt that someone had reported five idiots in the water. I half expected Sue to start waving for help.

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Up close and personal with the Seven Sisters

The beach starts long before the steps that give access to the cliffs, despite this we all felt that the official end of the swim would be the steps. I have a feeling that Sue hadn’t realised we were close to the beach and an escape from her torment. I was at the top of a wave when I spotted the start of the beach. It was directly below a big yellow spot on the cliff. This gave us a target and gave Sue something to aim for.

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Marching Sue to the car at the end of the swim

I made it to the beach first. The plan was for me to get sorted out so that we could deal with Sue as quickly as possible. Pam escorted Sue in a few minutes later. We had her wrapped in warm clothes in an instant and marched her off the beach in double quick time. Having the car sol close to the beach was a wonderful thing.

There was only one thing to do after an epic swim and that was to sit in a warm pub.

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Waiting for hot coffee and cold beer

Lee Valley (3)

I jumped at the opportunity of a club session on the Lee Valley Velodrome, who wouldn’t? The chance to fly round the Olympic track was far too hard to resist. The only track that I’ve ridden on is Herne Hill: a four-hundred-and-fifty-meter outdoor track. Lee Valley is a completely different proposition: a two-hundred-and-fifty-meter indoor wooden track. The straights looked short and the banks looked tall. The whole thing looked very intimidating from the centre of the track but I was itching to get on the bike and have a go

After going through the formalities of finding a pair of shoes and bicycle that fitted me we were all gathered together by the coach for the initial safety talk. We all sat through it waiting to be unleashed on the track. Even during the safety talk there were differences. The main one being that slowing down to a halt should take two laps: one on the blue and another on the inside track.

Lee Valley (2)

My steed for the evening

Finally, we were let loose on the track to warm up. The more experienced started higher up the track but I wasn’t ready for that. I stayed down on the blue line until I felt ready to tackle the banking. Slowly I worked up the lines and slowly my confidence grew. By the end of the warm up I was quite happily going to the top of the banking and swooping down at great speed. This track was so different to Herne Hill and it took a while to get used to.

Lee Valley (9)

The medal winning GB sprint team was ‘ere

After the warm up the coach gathered us together and explained the next exercise. We were to set off in a long line and, at the end of each lap, the one at the front would peel off up the banking and re-join the end of the line. It seemed very easy in theory but in practice it was a lot harder. The main obstacle was a lack of consistency in the speed of the line. After a few laps, it started to become obvious that some wanted to force the pace and some didn’t. Whenever a fast one hit the front the line would stretch out and then on the next lap someone else would slow the pace down. This made life difficult in the line as one lap we were chasing all out and then the next we were trying not peddle into the cyclist in front.

Lee Valley (8)

Mark Cavendish was ‘ere as well

As I came off I mentioned to the coach that I’d only ever been to Herne Hill and how different this was. He was very disparaging about Herne Hill, saying that it was not really a track it was more like a ring road. I didn’t share his opinion but didn’t feel the need to argue.

The next exercise was all about gaining a lap. We all set off in a line and on a signal the rider at the front would drop down to the sprinters line and go hell for leather to gain the back of the line. Again, it sounded easy in theory but was hard work in practice. The inconsistency of the speed of the line struck again. One moment I thought I was gaining and then the line would speed up. The coach had noticed. He wanted a consistent fast pace. He was concerned that if it went too slow someone would fall off the track. It took me ages to gain a lap and then, in what seemed like an instant, I was at the front of the line being instructed to gain another lap. I feel that I earned my mouth full of Haribo and slurp of water at the end of the exercise.

Lee Valley (7)

Chris Froome was ‘ere too

Each exercise got progressively harder but it all remained fun. Slowly the fatigue kicked in and the rests became longer. I took to finishing each exercise early as the volume of track work took its toll. I was quite relieved when the coach announced that the next ten minutes were for warming down. Some took this as meaning rocketing round the track at high speed whilst others took this to dawdle. I took a path between the two extremes.

Eventually it had to happen. All through the session the coach had warned us not to go to slow. Up ahead two cyclists were dawdling round, half way up the track. Suddenly the one at the front lost traction and fell off the track, taking the cyclist behind with him. It looked messy and spectacular at the same time. Both lay on the track for a few minutes before gathering themselves together and being escorted to the centre to fill out forms and be assessed for concussion. At least we all know now that we shouldn’t go too slow.

Lee Valley (1)

So was Danny Mackaskill

Despite being unfit due to weeks of inactivity and eating I thoroughly enjoyed the session. It left me with the feeling that I wanted to do more, much more track work. I made a mental note to deal with this.

BobMMM (1)

The obligatory post cake selfie

There are days when there is nothing better than leaping out of bed ready to take on a lovely ride in the spring sunshine on Gracie the trike. Today was not one of those days. I was feeling tired and lethargic and I wanted to stay in bed. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d lured Keith to come on the ride with promises of eating his body weight in cake I would have probably stayed in bed for another few hours.

I met Keith in the car park of the leisure centre where we signed on, chatted to all and sundry and indulged in some preliminary cake eating. Keith seemed happy that the early cake quota on this ride had exceeded his expectations.

We left the car park at the head of the pack and instantly found the first obstacle. Men in fluorescent jackets had been busy closing one of the roads in town by erecting all kinds of barriers and signs. The road we had been instructed to take on the route sheet was very closed to traffic, luckily it was not closed to pedestrians. If we were being law abiding citizens, we would have taken the diversion or pushed our bikes along the pavement. It was, however, early on a Sunday morning so we took the most obvious course of action.

Once we were reunited with ridable road we bowled along at a nice rate chatting about the trivia of life. I slowly became aware that we were way out in front. There was no one coming up behind us. This was strange. I’m much more used to people flying by me at this stage as the fast-paced ones disappear up the road never to be seen again. It doesn’t matter how much I like to kid myself that I’m in that group, I’m not and when riding Gracie I never will be. I was certain that someone would come past when the road went vaguely upwards. The extra weight of a Trike and my inability to go up hills almost assures this. It didn’t happen; I was starting to get suspicious now. I wondered if I’d printed of the correct route sheet or maybe I’d missed an instruction. I even wondered if the rest of the field had been wiped out by a stray asteroid.

Reality intruded on my revelry, the left side of Gracie started to feel a bit soggy. I tried to ignore it but it was followed by a little metallic bumpiness. I slowed and someone behind me told me I had a puncture. The tyres on Gracie are quite a tight fit, I bought them for the colour, everything else was a minor consideration. Keith and I spent a strenuous five minutes of so deploying the full range of tools and swear words to prise the tyre from the rim. If we’d had grappling hooks and crowbars we would have used time. Everybody came past us as we cursed and swore. At least that confirmed we were on the right route. Eventually we won the fight and got Gracie reinflated but that didn’t stop me fretting quietly that the tyre was going down, I’m never that confident with my puncture repairs, I’ve had far too many failures.

BobMMM (3)

Eating cake to the memory of Bob

We could have tried to catch up with everybody or we could have continued at a leisurely pace admiring the spring scenery as we passed though the countryside. It was too nice a day to rush so we took the easy and more enjoyable option. Had the pubs been open we would have been very tempted for a spot of refreshment. We passed some very nice looking (but closed) pubs.

I’ve often wondered if two people on two wheels is faster than one person on three wheels, today the answer was trike overtakes tandem. This is a useful bit of knowledge for when I’m playing cycle top trumps.

Somewhere outside of Ditchling Keith started to smell the cake and slowly speeded up. I watched as he slowly got smaller. I wasn’t going to chase him, there would have been no point. I guess that a couple of hours riding alongside a Trike can make someone a little stir crazy. I caught him up at the cemetery that was acting as a control. This was the whole point of the ride, to visit Bob. We ate some cake to his memory.

BobMMM (2)

Bikes hiding behind a hedge so the South Downs don’t see them

Keith confessed that he had never been up the Beacon and as we were crossing the bottom of it, it seemed rude not to. I had no intention of taking Gracie up there; it was not something we relish. Luckily there was a group of Rovers who were going up so he would be in good company. I said I would ride slowly so he would catch me up somewhere on the way back.

I spent the rest of the ride spinning gently through the countryside in a world of my own making waiting for Keith to affect the catch, just like the sprinters teams do to the lone breakaway in the Tour de France. The closer I got to the finish the more convinced I became that Keith and the Rovers were bearing down on me. I was being the plucky breakaway rider soloing home and they were the big teams hunting from another victory. They never caught me and I got the pick of the cake.

In hindsight, I’m glad I got up this morning, even if my only motivation was to not let a mate down

3 rivers (3)

Don’t you just love a friendly welcome

I have a frequent day dream that I’ll open a letter from an unknown source after a chance encounter and that would lead to a life of adventure. These days of course it would be by e-mail but that doesn’t detract from the dream. The invitation came from Helen via Facebook and was due to an encounter in Estonia, it was for a day of adventure in three different rivers, Cate had been invited as well so we headed north with a tin full of cake and a car full of towels ready for a day of wild swimming.

3 rivers (5)

A killer Swan in the first bloom of youth

We met up with Helen and a few others in a car park by the River Great Ouse. The “No Swimming” sign looked a little ominous but a few of the gathered crowd were decidedly scathing about this addition to the riverside. More worrying was the adolescent swan that was very keen on protecting his patch of the river from anything that moved. He hissed at ducks, dogs and would be swimmers in equal parts. Eventually he bowed to the pressure of numbers and went downstream to terrorise smaller prey.

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So nice, so tranquil, so swim!

We slipped into the water by the bridge. This is the bit I never like. I try to explain to people that I don’t like getting wet but I’m happy being wet; no one seems to really understand this concept, either that or I’m unique in this regard. The water was pleasantly cold. It was cold enough to know it river water but not so cold to require a rapid and instant exit. We headed up-stream against the gentle current past one or two boats and a campsite. A few Swans watched our progress ready to pounce if we got too close. I was loving it, being in a river is so different to being in the clean, clinical environment of a pool. I could taste when the mud was disturbed, I could feel the flow of the river and I could see the ever changing scenery of the river bank. I felt that I could carry on swimming upstream for ever. Eventually though we had to turn round and head back. What seemed like a gentle current on the way up was now giving me a massive push on the way back. I took long strokes and waved at a few passing walkers feeling invincible whilst swimming with the flow. It was almost a shame to get out.

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Cate: dressed for a warm spring day

Wild swimming is a breakfast and cake sport. It should be either preceded or succeeded by one of these. In this respect it’s a lot like cycling. There was a café a stone’s throw away that served a proper breakfast: Fried slice, fried egg, sausage, bacon and beans. This is exactly what is needed after a swim like that; Muesli just wouldn’t enhance the experience.

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The River Cam and not a punt in sight

Our next stop involved an encounter with naturists and the River Cam. We got changed for the second swim on a private area by the side of the river. One side was inhabited by naked people and the other by swimmers struggling under dry robes with swimming costumes. It was an amusing juxtaposition of naked men watching people getting changed without exposing themselves.

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Helen, who organised the day, rising majestically from the Cam

There where steps into the water that made the whole getting wet with slightly more civilised but no more pleasurable. Everyone was saying that the water was colder than the last river but I couldn’t feel it myself. They may be more attuned to the minor variations or this may be part of the wild swimming rituals that I’m yet to be initiated into; I just don’t know.

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River beasts

We swam up stream past fields of picnickers enjoying the warm spring day. Every now and again we passed punts and canoes being inexpertly guided down the river, All they had to do was keep the boat in the wet bit but a lot of them felt compelled to hug the bank. We turned at the three willows after a bit of debate as to whether one had been chopped down. The way back was litter with Saturday punt traffic. I did wonder if the young couple appreciated moving through a bevy of swimmers, it rather shattered the pre Raphaelite splendour of the scene. A bit further down we came across some juggernaut punts. They were huge and carried many tourists, some of which wanted to ask us questions like “What are you doing in there?” I enjoyed this swim but felt a little chilly as I got changed under the watchful eyes of the naturists. We idled on the grass for a while to warm in the sun. The day could have ended there and I would have been content.

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A small reach of the River Nene

Our third river was the Nene, we arrived mid-afternoon and made our way down to the river past a chocolate box church. A small crowd of safari swimmers had gathered on the bank next to the platform ready for some aquatic fun. Some jumped in, I really don’t know how they do that, I have to slip into the water slowly, making as much fuss as possible. Three of us headed up stream in search for a bridge that we didn’t find. The current was stronger here and that made to going harder but much more satisfying. The gentle push of flowing water heading is a constant gentle reminder that this is living water and not a sterilised indoor puddle. The fast return swim was a joy, one stroke seemed to last for ages and the river bank flew by in a blur. I could get used to this. It was almost a shame to get out, but if I hadn’t I would have missed out on the fabulous chocolate cake that someone was handing out.

3 rivers (11)

Here Be Cake, all hail the Cake!

We finished the day back on the Great Ouse. The river bank was dangerously close to a pub and the will to swim was sorely tested by the proximity of beer. In the end I thought that I’d just have a small swim, maybe though one arch of the bridge and back by another. Once I’d done that my enthusiasm was renewed so I headed off up steam leaving the rest of the party behind. Soon I was happily moving through still water watching the dabbled evening sunlight through the river side trees. I was in a personal heaven. It was everything I loved, solitude, scenery and swimming all in one beautiful moment, this is why I swim.

3 rivers (1)

Not a ripple in sight