Many dogs seem to have a natural affinity with water, and I believe that all dogs can swim, even if some prefer not to. When I was a child our dog used to love to swim in the Thames. We would throw sticks into the river for her to fetch but if we accidentally threw them too far, where the current was too strong, she always knew when to give up and turn round. She knew the limits of how far out she could swim and still get back to the bank. She never got it wrong, and never seemed to be in any kind of danger no matter how fast the river was flowing. At the time I took this for granted and never gave it a second thought but now it seems quite remarkable.
The photo here is not of my dog but of a dear friend’s dog Pintga happily swimming in a river in France where she lives.
One of the lovely things about swimming outside is that you are submerged in the natural world. It doesn’t even have to be in a lake or river. Once when I went to Parliament Hill Lido I found myself at eye level with a pair of ducks swimming along beside me. I think in our increasingly technological and connected age time spent alone, away from the phones and machines, is important.
When I learned to scuba dive the instructor said to us,
‘The thing most people are afraid of is the marine life, the fish, sharks and jelly fish but in fact these are the least dangerous aspect of diving’.
It is the same for swimming outdoors. When I tell people I swim in the wild lakes of Sweden they often say things like ‘What about the fish?.’
I believe this says more about our fears of hidden depths and monsters lurking waiting to get us than any real danger. At least I think this is true. Some of the pike you can catch in those Swedish lakes are quite enormous and they do have lots of very sharp teeth but I don’t think a pike has ever bitten a person. I have never heard of that anyway. Have you?
A beautiful film made by photographer Mark Tipple. Click here to watch the video.
Once when I was visiting Devon staying near to the river Dart I was desperate to swim in the river but I was a bit nervous to swim alone. I was not frightened of the current or the cold, but I was worried about looking foolish by not swimming in the right place or not knowing where to get in. I decided to be brave and so I put my swimming costume on under my dress and set off towards the river. I was staying at the top of a hill and the river was in the valley below. I could see the river from the road as I walked down but it was at the bottom of a steep field and I had seen cows in the field earlier. I am a bit afraid of cows so I did not want to cross the field. I walked to the bottom of the hill and I saw there was a path looping back towards the river. I followed the path a little way until I came across a group of women and children who splashing about in the shallow water.
I asked them if they would mind if I swam here as I did not want to swim alone. They said that they didn’t mind. I took off my dress and left it on the bank with my bag and my towel.
The water was completely clear and the river bed was all stones, no squishy mud or reeds. The water was fresh but not cold. I swam upstream. The current was not too strong and the swimming was easy. I swam for about ten minutes then turned to swim back downstream. As I was swimming back I heard a the sound of a steam train coming along the track that ran parallel to the river but high up above it.
It was close enough that I could clearly see the driver the and as the train passed he looked down at me and waved then tooted the whistle sending two puffs of steam into the air. I waved back as the carriages rattled past and several of the passengers also waved down at me. it was a beautiful sunny day and perhaps they were thinking that they too would like to be swimming in the river.
When I reached the women and children and my dress and towel I climbed out and sat in the sun to dry.
As I sat there two older, white haired women came walking along.
Was that you we saw swimming just now? They asked me.
I said it was.
You looked so elegant and so happy. They said.
I thanked them for saying I was elegant and told them that I had felt very happy at that moment, that I had been a bit nervous about swimming alone but that I had wanted to swim so much that I made myself be brave. They told me that they had often swum in the river as children and that people used to swim further up where there were deeper pools and no cows churning up the water but that people did not swim there so much now.
When I got back to where I was staying friends were amazed that I had gone swimming by myself in the river but it occurred to me I had not been alone at all.
“When you swim it doesn’t matter what shape or size you are but somehow in the water you feel beautiful and melting and just the beautiful feeling of weightlessness and ease and you really become at one with nature.”
Ruth Corney talking on BBC Radio about swimming at Hampstead Ladies Pond – June 2013