25/7/2018 Apparently Suffolk is the hottest part of the country at the moment. It certainly feels like it. I am in the Beccles area for two days and I sweated my way through four glorious church visits yesterday. Unusually, no relief was to be found inside any of them: lack of breeze and increased humidity only made the sweat flow more freely. Before the end of our rehearsal at Westhall church in the afternoon I asked my cellist friend Will if he knew anywhere in or around Beccles where I could take a dip in the Waveney, but he didn’t, and neither did I.
By early evening, the sky had clouded over enough for me to consider a walk before supper instead of after. I took the Angles Way footpath eastbound from Beccles. A short way out of town, I passed two boys who had just got out of the river on a concrete slope probably meant for launching kayaks and canoes, but clearly just as convenient for launching humans. I was tempted to get in then and there. Logic soon kicked in, however, and I decided that getting wet on my way back was a better idea: a soggy walk might not be so pleasant (I had no towel or swimwear, so wet underwear and squelchy sandals would be the result) and I’d only get sweaty again from walking.
The swimmers and fishers had gone home by the time I returned and I had the river to myself. I felt as though I had been waiting many weeks for this moment; somehow I hadn’t even managed a swim in the reservoir at home yet this year. This seems inconceivable, sitting here in Beccles, thoroughly in the holiday spirit despite the briefness of my trip; but on reflection, I can see it was the result of a combination of factors. Luckily, this year I have a second chance, and I am still in time to put things right when I get home.
The reservoir, much as I love it, is nevertheless second best; a question of making do with what I have close to home. My favourite of all places for wild swimming are small rivers. And because I don’t live particularly near one, there are not so many convenient opportunities to indulge my love, even in a year like this one.
The water was blissful. Not a single boat passed while I was in the river. But there was only a small area with enough weed-free depth to enable easy swimming, so after a few strokes this way and that, and dunking my head a few times, I stopped and got out. After a few seconds, however, I found I couldn’t tear myself away from the water just yet. So I got back in, and lay on my back.
The world was transformed in an instant. I thought I would just stare at the sky for a while, but soon found myself watching swirling clouds of swallows. I couldn’t hear their chattering; I couldn’t even hear the noisy A146 nearby. I could hear only my breathing and, more dimly, my heartbeat. My eyes were fixated on the silent display of aerial magic, while every inch of my skin worshipped the delicious, liquid coolness that enveloped it.
I floated perhaps little more than a minute. But it was a precious, eternal minute.
Header photo: View across the River Waveney from St Michael’s churchyard, Beccles