First off, a quick apology to the blog for having neglected it for so long! So many things have popped up – we’re turning a back wasteland into a proper garden, I’ve started a new job after eight years of working at the same place, there has been honey to harvest from our bees, and I took up running (and then subsequently got an ankle injury).
But where I’ve idled away the most time, when I could have been writing, is at this beautiful spot above – the Great Ouse river in Olney, Buckinghamshire. It’s different from my former swim spot, the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond in Hampstead, London. Kenwood has its own character, through a sense of bohemian ideas, and a strong identity through the women who swim there. It’s unashamedly London – alternative, feisty and bold. When I moved away from London in May 2016, I didn’t know what I’d do without it. Luckily, a tip from the Open Water Swimming Society pointed me to a bend in the river, behind a rugby club, 10 miles up the road from my new home.
Olney is striking in one particular way, which is the diversity of people who go to swim there. Next to the ‘swimming is not recommended’ sign (hey, that means it’s legal, right?) and specially carved out steps leading to the water’s edge, are groups of teenagers daring each other to jump into the deep drop near the riverbank, small children paddling on the bottom step where the water just about reaches, families in blow-up boats with swimming dogs in tow, elderly couples reading on the benches under the willow trees… In short, everyone is here. It’s a spot that belongs to the whole village and is intertwined with their everyday lives. Until I found it, I didn’t know that still existed, and it makes me so happy.
The water here is great to swim in, clean and full of little fish. You get in at the steps, and swim up a narrow section through a gentle current. On turning the corner, the river widens out, with banks gently sloping up one side, and a huge sky of swifts gliding a across a huge open expanse to the other. If you’re lucky, you might see the kingfisher hiding amongst the tree cover.
So I’m sure you can understand my neglect of the blog, but as the nights start to draw in, hopefully we can start spending some more time together again. Although…winter swimming has its appeal too…