Phoebe in the Cam
My pink kitchen apart, there was one other thing I thought I'd miss enormously after the move to the new house, and that was swimming outdoors all year round in the the pool in Hampton (never mind the breakfasts afterwards). It was habit that was hard to break. The Parkside Pool in Cambridge is as good as indoor pools get: the glass walls give some illusion of being closer to the outside, you can see trees and movement outside as you swim, the huge wavy wooden roof beams are spectacular, there is no tinny music, and lane etiquette is mostly respected. But there is no steam in winter or sun glinting off the surface in summer, no breeze, rain, snow, fog, or gently falling leaves. No minute but significant changes from swim to swim, and certainly a lot less excitement about the dash on cold days from the changing room to the water.
So this summer we have been particularly happy to swim outdoors in the river. I can't call it 'wild swimming'; to me it's just 'swimming' and anyway I don't think a slow-moving, shallow river by the bucolic, cow-filled Grantchester Meadows counts as wild. Even Pink Floyd couldn't make it rock 'n' roll. Whenever we can, we have jumped on our bikes and cycled to a bend in the river where a pool has formed, and you can either leap in with a big splash or, as I do, slither in down the grassy edge and sink your feet into the soft mud before moving off into the dark green water which is absolutely wonderful on a hot morning, afternoon or evening. There are a few like-minded swimmers, some ducks and dogs, kayaks, paddleboards, and slow-moving punts. The atmosphere is lovely and everyone is friendly, as though the shared immersion in water has removed inhibitions (and clothes - there is a swimming club where 'clothing is optional' a little way by one of the sweetest, prettiest spots on the river).
view from the water
This is where Sidney Chambers in Grantchester swims (the TV series is so much better than the books, and not just because of James Norton...) and where the Rupert Brooke* and the Neo-Pagans** thought they could change society in between dips. Roger Deakin describes it in his typically simple, clear, poetic way, Rose Macaulay, who swam at Grantchester with her father who tutored Brooke, makes the experience highly sensual, and a young Gwen Raverat*** was forbidden by prudish grown-ups from looking at the local, naked boys having a wonderful time in the 'splashing, sparkling river'.
There are other places we could swim. We need to try the heroically long and often seriously cold Jesus Green Lido (give me a softies' heated pool any day), but for outdoor swimming the river is wonderful. It has all we could ask for on warm days, except perhaps the much-missed Hampton tea and toast when we get out.****
*The Grantchester parts of The Great Lover by Jill Dawson, a novel which mixes fact and fiction about the life of Rupert Brooke, are brilliant.
**The Neo-Pagans: Rupert Brooke and the Ordeal of Youth by Paul Delany (1987) made a huge impact on me when I read it years ago. It was their Cambridge swimming/bathing exploits rather than their dodgy philosophy which stayed with me.
***Period Piece is one of the first books I re-read when I moved to Cambridge. It's great guide to a bygone Cambridge but relevant because so much is still there.
****We could go along the river to the famous Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester (the setting for much of Jill Dawson's novel) for tea and scones while sitting in deckchairs under apple trees, but I'd pass out with hunger while waiting to be served.