Midsummer

Midsummer in a year like no other. In the still and silence of the early morning I sunk into the river, the sweet stream that packs a punch that has come to symbolise this time of exile from most things that are familiar and normal. We found this place, or maybe it found us, half an hour from home and every inch the secret river. So much has gone, snatched away in what feels like seconds. Quietly we’ve made this place something new, somewhere we’d never have otherwise come.

It’s deserted by the ancient-sainted church, which looks Norman, and is. Round the corner a path leads to a small gateway onto common land which slopes down to the river plain. I’ve always been here alone but the place is filled with spirits. As it seems to be every week the cloud was high and layered, a little misty but pointing the way down to the water’s edge, and an easy put in. There’s not much else easy about the swim here. The current is stronger than it looks, giving a good workout up to a willow tree and a sunken branch that’s good to aim for, and then a float back down.

There’s a family of coots here, a few ducks and the odd jogger or morning dog walker, but mostly just me, no locked doors, no lifeguards, a different sense of being an outsider.

Go on, you say it, because I’ve thought it, I like it better.

There’s a bridge to swim down to and then after this week’s rain a bit of a fight to get back upstream. And then a clamber out and a few shivers, even after all the heat. I walked back to the car turning full revolutions, the village away to the east, the row of handsome poplars further upstream, woods at one o’clock. 

The journey back passed gabled houses and medieval stonework in the town centre, and then off, home again, Tony Blackburn’s bad jokes for company. Coming here points to the past and to the future and new things.

The solstice tilts the year forwards and downhill, to a summer to speed through and an uncertain autumn, with the chill of winter far away and absent from mind. So much of this river is unknown, too, where it comes from, where its springs and rills turn into the intentional stream that bends round the corner and under the bridge.

A worry: what happens when eventually it can’t carry on being perfect every week? But it doesn’t have to be perfect – it just has to be here. I’ll take what I can get. There’s no dancing with friends under late-night blue sky this midsummer, with sunbeams making things the sweetest dark yellow, but there’s cold swimming and comfort in the river, and the clouds, and the morning.

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