One of my biggest joys in life is swimming, which I learnt to do as a boy in the chilly North Sea in Filey, that delightful resort just south of Scarborough.
It constantly regenerates itself. Even though I am not a very strong or brave swimmer, I enjoy the sport immensely. I am constantly on the lookout for a body of water in which to take a refreshing dip, whether it be a lake, river, beach, or brook, and I would gladly take a dip in any of these.
From where I study in the West Country, it is only a short walk to the Bristol Channel, where I can dive in and swim to Wales.
It’s not often that I get to experience such elation, what with the English temperature, the dramatic tide pattern, and the afflicting stones of the shingle shore, but the very possibility fills me with joy.
On sunny evenings, I hobble across the pebbles, swim rapidly for 10 minutes, and then float for a while, viewing the steep, wooded hills and appreciating the sun’s glint off the heather and bracken. Very few people agree with me. Typically, the ocean is all mine.
It’s Even More Enjoyable to Go Swimming in Clean Water.
I can say I have swum in rivers all throughout the British Isles. When I was in elementary school, my class went on a field trip near York to pick blackberries, but the weather in September was so nice that we all ended up swimming without clothes on.
I also recall swimming in a river in Norfolk with a buddy while half-naked (I believe we kept our pants on), much to the shame of our offspring, and noticing that a bunch of village boys were watching us from a small stone bridge.
The boys were not as taken aback as our kids were. They looked at us like what we were doing was the most normal thing in the world and smiled rather than laughed at us. Innocent as swimming may be, that afternoon felt endless. It was like we’d walked into a river from centuries ago.
In addition to being avid divers, Iris Murdoch and her husband, John Bayley, were also enthusiastic swimmers. Once, I met John at a brunch for award judges, and he could only eat scrambled eggs because of dietary restrictions.
The man said his missing teeth were sunk to the bottom of Lake Como. Despite the mishap, he said he still liked his shower. The bright expression on his face when he said this has stuck with me all these years.
It’s Relaxing to Swim With the Fishes, Yet You Can Get Scared.
It was in Eskdale that I had my first terrifying encounter with a massive, ancient, battle-scarred salmon that swam up between my white thighs with such armoured menace that I shouted, panicked, and jumped out of the water.
Little fish are not so frightening, though they sometimes nibble. While I appreciate the vivid colours of exotic fish, I find the brown, silver, and bronze-green fish native to England to be more graceful and nuanced. Similarly, I find the white stars on bright green waterweeds floating in chalk streams to be more aesthetically pleasing than their far-flung Asian counterparts.
Previously, my favourite location to swim was in Hampstead ladies’ bathing pond, where I could enjoy the company of moorhens and water lilies while taking a dip.
The jacuzzi is a pool in a river in the Doone Valley that features a small, rushing waterfall. The aquatic performances of Moby Dick and Salar the Salmon are my daughter’s forte, and her nieces and nephews adore them.
Sometimes I’ll go there by myself to get in touch with my spiritual side, but it’s tough to find a meditative state in the midst of a brisk downpour. Calmer water may be found in the lovely Victorian sea-bathing pool in Ilfracombe.
You’ll want to plan your visit so that you’re there when the tide is coming in and making its way over the stone walls and into the pool, creating a magical scene.
There is something invigorating about swimming on this bold oncoming surge. Every time I hear this, Keats’s “the running rivers at their priestlike job of clean purification round earth’s human borders” comes to me. Swimming with nature is healthy for the spirit.
Glen Brittle, Skye; Fairy Pools
The fairy pools cast a spell because they look as though they must be warm, with the kind of bright blue water associated with the Maldives, but in reality, they are ice cold, having descended directly from the Black Cuillins. A swimmer from the area cautions us that the water temperature is in the typical Scottish range of “cold, bastard cold, or freezing.”
We travel there in the late fall, emerging from a large, smooth glacier basin. Each successively more alluring azure blue pool we pass adds to the mounting tension. The two pools at the top of the glen, though, are today’s prize.
The first one is turbulent because to the waterfall and current, whereas the second one is calm because of the underwater arch separating them. The clarity of the ocean allows one to make out individual rocks and shorelines. Some of the rocks around it are flat, making them ideal for lounging in the sun, while others provide a good jumping off point.
We disrobe in the afternoon light after climbing down. A grass-lined recess in the rock provides a convenient place to store apparel.
Maybe it’s the fairies’ pranks that make us forget our wetsuits and plunge into water that will slap you in the face. The river is at the perfect height for us to haul ourselves out on to the granite buttress and plunge in again and again, then swim under the arch. Floating along a river like this is one of life’s most enchanted experiences.
Gentle Waves is the Moderate Swim Level. Requires some clambering in and out.
Details To park, go to the Glenbrittle parking lot. To get to the pools, there is a well-defined path that may require hiking boots due to the streams, stepping stones, and muddy areas along the way.