Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Silk Dresses and Wild Swims

On the June weekend that I finished my first year of university I hopped on the train to Bristol. The Sunday afternoon found me at a quarry-turned-swimming-spot called Henleaze - gaining access via a friend of a friend (the waiting list for joining as a member stretches for years). The initial hit of cold as I slipped into the water was a jolting thrill. Once the shock ebbed, contentment rose; I took stroke after stroke out into the middle. With each stretch of arms and flick of legs I sluiced off the term just passed - rinsing away the exams, the late nights, the intensity. It was a glorious gateway into summer.

I've had several similarly satisfying swims since. In an early summer blessed with the shock of actual sunshine, this meant many forays out and about for further toe-numbing plunges. My dad is the one with the insatiable love for the chill of rivers and lakes. I don't dare Welsh waterfalls in January, but I am more than happy to join in when the days are longer and the temperatures not quite as unforgiving.

Unlike him, I prefer a proper swim rather than a short, sharp dip with added noise on the side. Once I'm in, I don't want to get out. I'll happily kick my way up and down (if there's enough depth to the river), turning on my back to half float, half paddle with my legs crossed at the ankle and my hands to propel. It's a unique pleasure, with nothing to dwell on other than the feel of water and the eye-level view of all that's around.

I think swimming outdoors (or to give its current label 'wild swimming' - one I object to on the grounds that it's actually much more natural than a swimming pool - but understand from a perspective of needing to name the activity concisely) is one of those things where the anticipation and the experience can be very different. It's so easy to say, "oh, not today. I don't want to get changed, get my hair wet, get cold...more excuses etc..." But whenever it's fully committed to, it is always magnificent.

It's also an activity harder to put into words than it first seems. There's a limited vocabulary - only so many synonyms for 'water', 'rivers' and 'swimming' that won't make you sound like a pretentious sixth-former trying to sound soulful ('glistening liquid' anyone? Or 'shimmering expanse like satin'?) One ends up reaching for ever more abstract similes and metaphors to convey the experience. A rare few are master crafters of this delicate art. Roger Deakin's Waterlog is so sensuous in its imagery, so alive in the feelings described - the act of slipping in and out of currents and waves and muddy waters becomes not only ritualistic, but also tangible: a mixture of sight and sensation.

One of my favourite proper swims took place back in July, in the river seen in these photos. With a huge bridge behind and a taut stretch of water in front, it was oh so easy to drift my way along absorbed in the sky and grassy bank. Less pleasant was the sharp shelving of the riverbed, meaning I bashed into a huge rock that left an impressively large lump. But it was an ideal day, composed of reading outside, swimming, food and bookshops. Just what holidays are meant to allow for, and just what I'll recall with pleasure when I'm wearing woolly coats once more. 

Everything I'm wearing is, surprise surprise, second hand. I bought the silk dress in a charity shop, thinking it was the perfect 'summer must-have' for swishing around in. I wasn't wrong. These photos were taken by my dad - and you can see me swimming, sans sunglasses (but keeping the lipstick), below. 



AVY said...

Night swimming is the best, especially while high.


Faye said...

What an absolutely beautiful location! I've never swam in a river or lake before but it seems like such a lovely thing to do, I should look and see if there's anywhere near me that does it. I don't enjoy swimming in pools so much, it all feels so overly sterile. I do love swimming in the sea when the opportunity presents itself though, I love the feel of the waves and the tide.


Oh wow, has it been a year already?
I did enjoy a good swim this summer, sadly it has come to an end. What a beautiful printed silk dress, and it's gorgeous on you too. Enjoy the rest of your week.

Spashionista Alicia Searcy said...

Ophelia's got nothing on you, darling! Stunning dress on a radiant girl in perfect photos. What more could you ask for? ;-)


Vix said...

I just love that last photo, so joyful!
What a wonderful location and an amazingly freeing pastime. Your Dad is a brave man! xxx

Ivana Split said...

What a marvelous location! I did a quick sketch of the first photo before scrolling down and as soon as I have some free time I would really love to draw this! The silk dress is so perfect on you... you are a vision of elegance in this photographs (ever taken ballet classes perhaps?)

I love what you have written about swimming. As it happens something similar was my dream last night... swimming in a lake. I still remember it so clearly, being taken in by the mountains while I swam...

Swimming in a lake...I did it two years ago with a friend in vicinity of Livno, which is a sort of border area between Bosnia and Herzegovina ( two regions in a country that is named Bosnia and Herzegovina but which everyone insist on calling Bosnia because journalist are getting too lazy to pronounce words) This lovely area is the only place in Europe that has a large population of wild horses (or so they say, I hope that isn't true... perhaps there are some other places with plenty of wild horses, it is somehow sad that should be only one such place.)

Anyhow, it was such a wonderful experience, no wonder I remembered it in my dreams! I do plan to swim more as soon as my immune systems gets better (though it must be getting better because I just spend few day taking care of my family, being the only one that hasn't been infected by that dreadful stomach virus that has been around)

I do really like the last photo! Sometimes when I don't have energy to put on make up, I only put on lipstick and it makes me feel better....

... and thank you for your comment on my last post. That photograph is special to me and I really like how you described it:)

Jean at said...

You took me back to my earlier years, the joy of jumping into cold water, be it a river, pond, or lake. My parents took their five children camping because it was economical and they loved the outdoors.

I'm the only one in my family who hasn't embraced it in my adulthood, preferring the clamor of a city and a comfortable bed. However, I still dream about that moment of astonishment when hitting the water. It was always unexpected, whether colder or warmer. The wetness, the alternate reality, was always shocking.

I could feel the water on your feet in this post and I'm inspired to revisit the rivers here in the South that masquerade as refreshing. They're more languid than the Northern rivers of my youth, but they still count.

Enjoy your break. I'm excited to be (vicariously) going back to school. I love Autumn for that reason. XXOO

Mandy Bajwa said...

Lovely pictures and cute outfit!

Melanie said...

What I love about these photos is not only how fetching you are in your second-hand silk, but that you spend this charmed day with your dad who took your photos. I think that most adults don't swim much - why is that? It is glorious, as you've put into words so well.

Anova said...

Amazing pictures! I love this dress!

Izzy DM said...

I love the photos with the pop of yellow in them, but all the colors are really extraordinary. Trying to think of the writer famous for writing about water... Iris something. Judi Dench, or was it Kate Winslet was in a biopic film about her, or was it both of them? Oh dear, I should google the subject at this point!

Well, off to read your Vogue piece. Congratulations on completing one year and starting another already. Time flies when you're fabulous :). Go Roz!!

Lally said...

Oh that dress is SO beautiful, what a find! I love the sound of your swimming in lakes and rivers. I sadly can't swim (!) I was always terribly phobic of water as a child and then it just never occurred to me to learn. However, I recently thought how wonderful it would be to swim in ponds and the sea and have decided to learn! Who knows if I'll manage, I do hope to, if I do I'm sure I'll also be keeping my lippy on! XX

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