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Good water: the River Thames
I first remember swimming in the Thames as a child with my parents about 30 years ago, writes Michael Worthington. Today there are definitely more people enjoying being in the river which is why I decided to write I love the Thames. It is a series of preparatory notes for 75 swims covering the entire non-tidal stretch of the river.
I think the old attitudes about swimming in the Thames are really starting to disappear. The river is actually much cleaner now, and events like the Great River Swim and the Great London Swim are also having an effect on its popularity. Personally I’ve always thought that the Thames’s reputation for being a bit murky is really to do with the tides churning up sediment from the river bottom. The silt is getting sloshed backwards and forwards twice a day, so it’s no wonder the water isn’t clear.
For me, the joy of swimming in the Thames is that it’s so varied. For example, up near the river’s source at Lechlade in Gloucestershire it’s narrow, winding and quite fast flowing. You can whistle around its many corners discovering wildlife and impressive country houses as you go. The water is pretty quiet and all around is green, leafy countryside. You’ll see grebes, swans and ducks and if you swim in the evening or at night you’ll see bats swooping over the river looking for insects.
In what I call the middle section, south of Oxford, there’s a long stretch where it flows south to get round the Chilterns and it’s also very beautiful. The river is wider here and gets more languorous, but you’ve still got trees and countryside all around.
When you get beyond Reading, in the Henley/Marlow area you will find lots more boats, anglers and rowers. You’ll see boat clubs and gardens on the banks. It is a lot more built up here, but the river is wide and there really is room for everyone. You’ll also find a great sense of camaraderie amongst river users here that is built on a kind of mutual curiosity and respect.
I would encourage everyone to try river swimming. I have tried lakes, of course, but I think they are the hardest work for swimmers as you have to make all the running yourself. The sea is great because of the buoyancy and clarity of the salt water, but in a river you get that wonderful sense of getting a lift. The current is always going and that gives you a kind of “heroic swimmer” feeling even though you know you are going much faster than you could under your own steam.
If you feel like trying the Thames (or any other river) my advice would be to always make sure you know where you can get out. It’s easy to jump down a little grassy bank, but when you’re in the river getting out up that bank may be a very different proposition. Once I’ve checked my exit point, I’ll get changed there. Then I walk up the riverbank passing my route to where I want to start. That way I can see any obstacles in the water before I set out and adjust the plan accordingly.
© Michael Worthington
For more information check out I Love the Thames by Michael Worthington. Available now at the OSS Shop For advice on swimming outdoors check out the “swimming tips” at www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com