For the next few months, we will follow a happy tribe of Millican wanderers as they explore what it means to adventure everyday and a little closer to home. This Spring, Ruth Allen set out to discover a new way to unwind, a moment of peace and quiet to sit back and float, never too far from her front door-step.
Words & Photography by Ruth Allen | @whitepeakruth
Whenever I can now, I go to the river to swim. You won’t find my swim place on the Best Of lists, or the Wild Guides or even on the hashtags, in fact I barely dipped my toe myself before lockdown began preferring to venture further afield for my swimventures. But back in the spring when the country was asked to stay indoors and stay local for exercise, I began exploring my local waterway for opportunities to cool down and relax, in lieu of having any coast, lakes or tarns nearby.
Companion on the trail
Nick the Messenger Bag 13L
"I have a lot of bags for a lot of purposes but my Millican messenger is my swim go-to. Everything slots in where I can see it, nothing gets buried at the bottom which is essential with wet hands, and it slings across my body perfectly on the bike leaving my back free to air when I’m river-damp and cycling back up the hill to home."
At first I started swimming in the stretches of water recommended by others who live locally. Areas a forty-minute cycle away, but where I could grow my confidence in the river by myself, wading over flood-debris, between half-submerged hay bales stranded in the water since last winter. Something about rivers has always scared me. The swift water. The enclosed space. The brown depths containing who-knows-what. But in late spring, I watched a Kingfisher fly low against the current, and grey wagtails feeding their babies on mayflies. It was bucolic, gentle, invigorating. And as summer approached, my confidence grew, and I decided to branch out and find entry points to the river less of a distance from my front door. As 2020 has worn on, and we have all grown tired of the restrictions, it was taking more effort to go further afield after a long day at work – I needed something that asked for minimal effort.
So now I have tried the river along several stretches within two miles of home and have found several gaps in the hedging to pull in my bike when no one is looking; places to pick my way through nettles and bramble to emerge onto a tiny silt beach just big enough to hold my gear. As the year has progressed, my bag has taken up summer residence in the hallway, ready with a towel, swimsuit, essential neoprene swimsocks, a few snacks, a packing cube for wet gear, my camera and a flask waiting to be filled. When I finish my final session for the day, I simply grab my bag off the hook, fill the flask and pull my bike from the shed to make speed downhill to the river. On a good day, my ‘Ride to River’ sessions can see me in the water within 15 minutes of shutting the front door. I have a lot of bags for a lot of purposes but my Millican messenger is my swim go-to. Everything slots in where I can see it, nothing gets buried at the bottom which is essential with wet hands, and it slings across my body perfectly on the bike leaving my back free to air when I’m river-damp and cycling back up the hill to home.
I don’t consider myself much of a swimmer. I don’t like to put my head underwater if I can avoid it, and I have appalling technique, but if I’m honest it barely matters when I do so little swimming. Wild swimming for me is less stroke, more floating. More sculling in the water up to my neck enjoying the out-of-the-way quiet, the slick cool water and the evening light shimmering on the backs of leaves, and the surface of the water. It is a chance to wash everything away, and begin again. Another day done. Another tomorrow. To get in a British river, so managed and maligned at times, feels transgressive. In England, it seems we are so curtailed, in our water adventures that to step-in feelings like stepping up for my rebellious self. I don’t entirely know what lies beneath, but I choose not to worry. I just get in, forget about the world above my eye level for a while, and enjoy the moment of presence with my local wildlife.