I sat on the edge of the little jetty. The rowing boats for hire to the right and the small motor boats to the left jostled quietly on their mooring ropes. The sloping beach of the old ferry landing place opposite was empty now; the dogs, horses, bikes,children and their parents had gone home at the end of a long hot afternoon.
I could see the gravelly bottom with one largish rock maybe a metre under my feet. It looked alright to land on but I wished I was wearing some reef sandals. I was a bit nervous about pushing off and sliding in as I hadn’t done that for years and years and hoped I wouldn’t scrape my back.
Right! It’s time to do it!
Aah! My feet touched bottom, the water came to just above my waist,the gravel was a bit slimy but alright and I was IN. The water was soft and cool, not even ‘bracing’, and I whooshed out away from shore past the undulating waterweed to the right. With feet off the bottom, I was weightless, floating and bobbing and all the heat and humidity of the day vanished in that moment. I rolled onto my back, kicked and paddled, then ducked under to feel the water on my scalp. A swim is not a proper swim if I don’t feel the cool water all over my head and feel my hair floating.
I did hold my nose to do this, as I wasn’t entirely sure of the cleanliness of the river. People had been swimming opposite and the water didn’t smell so I thought it would be clean enough despite its rather solid greenness. When I looked at it closely, the water seemed to be packed with vitamized greenery like a very thin breakfast drink of kale and other green leafy vegetables. And then a blob of swan poo floated past at eye level. ‘Well’, I thought, ‘there’s a lot of water to dilute that’, and swam out further towards the middle.
And here was the living river. It pushed against the whole length of my body, no teasing bits of isolated current, but a strong, steady pressure which definitely got my attention. It was time to concentrate on swimming as I was already down past the motor boats. It felt good to head back upstream against it- a whole ten metres- and move in out of the current and enjoy the experience of actually swimming in the Thames.
I’d always wanted to be in a house on the banks of the Thames, in its freshwater state, to see what it would be like to be so close to the water all the time. The descriptions of an English river in The Wind in the Willows and the adventures of Ratty, Mole and Toad had had an astonishing dream like quality to a Australian child with no familiarity with fresh, flowing water or soft, green plants. So when I found a National Trust cottage, Ferry Cottage, on the towpath beside the Thames, on the Cliveden Estate,, it seemed a perfect opportunity to satisfy that dream. And it did.
I will remember floating in the water,looking across that famous and beautiful river stretching at eye level to the banks with their huge soft green trees leaning right down to almost touch the water. I’ll remember sharing the water with the two swans (I have to fight not to say ‘white’ swans in England) who lived on that stretch of water and would occasionally regally visit and with the flocks of Canada geese whose raucousness at night rivalled sulphur crested cockatoos.
Mostly, I’ll remember my astonishment and delight at finding myself swimming in the Thames.