Swimming in the River Cam; Grantchester Meadows

Saturday, August 4, 2018

I've never been to Cambridge before and as we hop off the train and meander through the streets everything was pretty much as I was expecting: impressive old buildings, cobbled streets and an air of old fashioned, concrete and brick glamour.
This isn't our destination however and we implement the use of Google maps to point ourselves in the right direction. As we slowly make our way out of the city I find myself increasingly taken by surprise. This was not what I was expecting: everything is green and grassy and we walk down dappled sunny paths overlooked by scruffy waving trees. Then we come out by the river and it's like a scene from Wind in the Willows with perfect grassy banks and arm-like fronds of green draping in to the lazy river.

The river Cam is slow moving in the summer months.
It's a hot day and this has brought the locals out in full force. There are groups of teenagers, students and whole extended families swimming and playing in the river. Punts are gliding by loaded up with tourists and day trippers. A little further and we walk past a boat full of ladies parked under a willow tree, sipping wine and giggling in the shade.
We choose a spot and snigger as a group of fully grown lads erupt in to shrieks as they tiptoe in to the water. When it's our turn to get in I feel a bit ashamed of myself as we snootily glide on by them with an air of 'oh it's cold? I hadn't noticed'. In all honesty though, the water is cool and silky and very welcome after our hot walk from the station.

Bit of a struggle getting out!
Further on we find a rope swing and amuse ourselves for a while competing with the local children to see who can swing the furthest in to the river. They win of course.
"Would you like to borrow our kayaks?" one of the Mums asks me. I stare at her in shock; I am a Londoner (by location) and I'm not sure I could find somebody who would lend me a pair of arm bands down my local lido.

But that's what makes this spot great. It's all rope swings, sandwiches, shrieking kids and flasks of tea; a cute riverside community where Cambridge folks have been swimming for hundreds of years and hopefully will for many more.

The only downside was when we finally left, all swimmed-out, a biffa vans worth of rubbish had been dumped on the side of the river bank. Horrified we picked up as much as we could carry but there was still plenty more that we had to leave behind. Fun spot but pick up your rubbish folks!

Month: June
Temperature: 20 degrees
Overall mark: 7/10
Mud factor: 6/10
Weed factor: 5/10 (must get quite weedy later in the summer though)
Atmosphere: Busy
Good for: Longer swims, rope swing, diving from banks (test water depth first), cycling, walking, picnics, boats.
Top tips: If you are prepared and don't mind dodging the punts, it is possible to swim for a long stretch up or down stream. Alternatively hire a punt and paddle up river to find a spot that's not quite so busy.
Getting Here: Train to Cambridge station and walk, bike or punt along the river. Alternatively change for Grantchester station. Alternatively about 1 - 2 hours drive from London with easy parking around Grantchester.

Georgia's Lake

My Mum and my sister are fed up of me, there is no doubt about that. It's April but Cornwall is still cold, mostly due to the freezing wind that is blowing over from heck knows where and the fact that, well, this is Cornwall after all. But nonetheless I have dragged them to Nancledra - a tiny village between Penzance and St Ives that I don't really know at all, other than it being the midway stop on the 17A bus route.

I was surprised to discover that Nancledra was hiding a secret wild swimming gem. An old china clay pit known as Bakers Pit on the wild swimming blogs and forums but, as I was rather haughtily informed by a Nancledra local, known locally as 'Georgia's Lake'.

In any case I'd persuaded my Mum and my sister to check it out with me, and like any wild swimming spot worth its merit it's not exactly easy to find, and several dirt tracks later, a few anxious car scrapes and one complete u turn I decided that this MUST (probably) be the spot and park my car half way in to a bush. I'm still optimistic but I couldn't say the same for the fam who clearly think I am leading them on a wild goose chase and are itching to go home and have a cup of tea.
But instead I drag them down a typically Cornish path, complete with gorse ridden hedgerows and tumbledown granite mines, a walk which I am enjoying but is causing my sister to fold her arms  and glower, then eventually we do spot some water in the distance and oh - my - dear -lord it is worth it.

The lake is like a deep bowl of silvery metal lined by tangled hedgerows and newly leafed trees that reflect in mirror like perfection around the edges. There is an entry point that is fairly well trodden and a cursory sign which says 'Beware Deep Water'. 'Are you coming in?' I ask my sister. She just gives me an Are You Stupid look and plonks herself down on a rock. 'I'll just take some pictures' she says in response.
My Mum however seems more keen and together we shiver our way out of our clothes and in to our swimming gear. I'm wearing a long sleeved 2 mm swim suit but my Mother shuns millimetres and instead wears a rash vest paired with some shoes and gloves that she swears by for winter swimming.

I'm a wimp. The 'danger' sign is getting to me, and as I wade in and try to ignore the stabbing pains in my calves, I spot a few toads swimming around my ankles and I freeze mid thigh. My Mum tuts and pushes me out of the way, 'I'll go in first shall I' she says. And put to complete shame by my nearing 60 year old Mother she majestically glides off in to the lake without so much as a gasp. Now I just feel stupid so I hop on in after her and the cold takes my breath away. I breathe through it and before I know it I'm stroking my way through the glassy surface and watching a patch of mist swirl itself around the hills that line the other side of the lake.

I'm grinning and laughing, slightly hysterical. But this is cold water swimming all over. That rush of adrenaline and that moment when you are focusing on nothing else but the here and now and the fact that you are COLD COLD COLD. It was so beautiful that I stayed in longer than was probably wise and by the time I got out my legs and arms were so numb that getting changed was nigh impossible. But we managed it and to my sister's relief we were home within half an hour and having a much needed cup of tea.
All in all a decent swim spot that is mostly forgotten in a county more known for its beaches and sea water swimming than fresh water spots.

Type: Lake  (ex clay pit)
Month: March
Temperature: 9 degrees
Overall: 7/10
Mud factor: 3/10 
Weed factor: 2/10
Atmosphere: Silent
Top tips: In the summer season this place gets busier with swimmers and teenagers mucking around in the water.

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