Yesterday I went for a riverside walk on my own, craving some Blue Health. I took my stuff to dip, but I kind of knew this wouldn't happen. My social feeds had been full of raging torrents and fast flowing brown waters, and whilst some people have been swooshing along quite happily, (and most I know are doing it safely I might add), I had a feeling this particular stretch of river wouldn't be playing with me today. I've added a photo to show the difference, hard to tell, as it's taken from the same spot which was overgrown in summer, but it prompted me to write a post on river safety. With many people unable to access the coast, or their usual swim spots, I'm hearing about people running into problems after not assessing the conditions properly. So, here are a few 'safer swim' nuggets for you.
Legal right to access the water.. who owns the land? can you get in without asking permission first? if there is a right of way through a field for instance, it doesn't always mean a land owner is ok with you veering off course to pop in for a dip.. always best to check if you can.
Take a buddy or a spotter along- I have swum solo, but I don't make a habit of it, and am an experienced outdoor swimmer and coach. Between you and your mate you can assess conditions and make sensible choices. I always say, if in doubt, stay out. I would have probably got in yesterday if I had someone with me, but's it's always ok to back out!
Look at your entry and exit points... In this case of the double photo below the little beach which is a usual entry point, was submerged and as the water wasn't clear I couldn't make sure it was safe to put my feet down...and had no one to consult, so it was a no! Entry may be easy, but if you sink into soft sand or mud, the height to get out can prohibit your exit! I know I have done it!
Look at the flow, the current., eddies, whorls. Take some time to assess the way the water is behaving. If you got in, would you be sure you could get to the side to get out? A brilliant resource for those that are interested in the way water behaves is 'How to Read Water' by Tristran Gooley https://www.naturalnavigator.com/books-and-library/how-to-read-water/
Are there any livestock around? Can you see signs of hoof marks or agricultural use near the water? I could see a bag of fertiliser under the water level on my walk yesterday. If so, there could be levels of farming pollution in the water, if you do get in, cover any cuts and don't put your head in to prevent sickness.
Be aware of the water temperature. In the winter, it can drop down to as little as a few degrees, so wear neoprene layers if you aren't sure if you are acclimatised enough.
if you plan a river flow swim, check if you are passing any registered fishing spots, fisherman have been really affected with all the recent outdoor swimming interest, and they may get annoyed even if you plan to float serenely past. Smile, be polite, and it's best to approach closest to the side they are fishing from, to avoid tangling in their line!
If you get in - after checking all the above, well, blimmin' enjoy it! You've worked hard to make sure you are safe,. so, whoop or holler. Be still, pause a little, enjoy the frogs eye view Roger Deakin admired so much. It is possible to get in rivers safely at this time of year, but lots to think about first!
If you don't get in, consider watching the way water behaves and enjoy it's freedom, it's elemental state, the calming fractals of ripples, splashes and drops, and feel that blue health envelop you. The last video is for you all as a little nature gift! Sound on!
love, Amelia, Swimoga