Between Eynsham lock and Swinford bridge is our year-round playground. Beyond the bridge, adventure waits until currents have slowed and temperatures lifted. It is a record-breaking warm late spring when we can finally return to the river after a long Covid-induced break. The water levels have receded dramatically since our last cool dip in March and the temperature is now well into double figures. For our first long swim in months, Louisa and I tug on wetsuits and head off upstream, uncertain how far we will manage.

Emerging from under the bridge, the moored boats and the red buoys are the first to greet us back, and then the tree, not visited since last autumn, that reaches out across the river, opposite the island. We’ve been told that breeding otters are resident nearby, perhaps on the island, but we are not graced with a sight of them. Otters can roam up to thirty miles in a day but normally only go a couple of miles. This seems a sensible distance to us and as no chill keeps us from venturing further, we continue our journey, beside meandering banks of reeds and nettles trimmed with lacy white umbrellifers and shot with yellow: here a shaggy dandelion, there a proud iris, and everywhere sprinkles of merry buttercups.

Two green buoys intrude on the watery rural idyll to signal a sand bank. Sure enough, before long, my hand catches on the bottom and I adjust my stroke until, defeated, I rise to my knees then stand to wade through ankle-deep water. Now I can lift my gaze to scan more a more distant horizon where fields roll up to a copse-topped hill; a few errant bushy trees have broken free from the arboreal gathering as if to tumble gleefully down the sunny hillside. Darting past, a cormorant threads landscape and riverscape into one stunning tapestry.

We swim on. A spur of leafy reeds juts out within banks of leafy reeds disguising our path and as I look up more frequently to check my route, a supercilious swan and her silvery-soft cygnets sail smoothly through. A heron monitors the river from his office in the reeds. I picture him adjusting his wire-rimmed spectacles with a finger-tip of wing feather and ostentatiously clearing his long grey throat to command the attention of lesser mortals. Did you know that herons will eat coots or moles?

On the bank, tall thin grasses reach up from the reeds and appear as if the bristles of an upturned brush; on their tips, dark fluffy tufts that they have combed from the sky so that the glossy blue tresses of river that we swim along are the perfect reflection of a perfect morning. There is nothing that a cuckoo should do but sing; no greater act that a tern can perform than swoop. With a clink of spoon on mug, a waking boat opens its eyes to the day and curls a scent of wood smoke and bacon through the early morning air.

Onwards, to the boatyard, where in cool dark shadows, bruised and bruising behemoths squat by the bank. Restrained by ropes, their bullying menace in silent abeyance, a dusky odour leeches from their rotting hulls and lingers low on the air. Willow seeds drift snow-like over the surface of the darkened river and sinister thoughts tease my soul. When dappled light promises the return of summer, I relax and within forty strokes, the trees have released their grip on the bright day.

We have swum through Pink Hill lock in the other direction for an event and run across land to it. We know it’s getting close and each bend and curve that doesn’t reveal the anticipated landmark is a surprise. Until it is there, and we scramble out to mark our arrival with a photograph. A small dog seems absurdly pleased to see us and two signs, one in English, one in Polish, instruct us not to fish for carp.

A gentle current nudges us home and each feature that marks our route appears sooner than I expect. A family of ducks is unperturbed by our arrival back at the bridge. The day has shrugged off its early morning chill and on the bank, other swimmers are drying themselves so we exchange words of shared delight at the glory of starting the day with a ramble through the river.

  • Darrin Roles

The longest day of the year when the sun is at its highest position in the sky. In the northern hemisphere, the earth’s pole has its maximum tilt towards the sun. As the Lockdown draws on, there is but a glimmer of hope. Slightly larger groups are allowed to assemble at a safe distance.

The Lock to Lock 4K swim series is cancelled, June 21st, Father’s Day. The day has now become completely empty, with no jobs or organisation for all the wonderful wild swimmers, who make their way downstream in the upper reaches of the Thames. The Swim Oxford Open event has been called the “UK’s best kept swim secret”.

Midsummer’s delights

Most swimmers have seen their usual swimming opportunities and training sessions vanish.

We are all in this together. With flippers, goggles and swim hats at hand, we dream of the water; it calls to us at night from the subconscious depths of longing. Dreaming of water symbolizes the unconscious. As with bodies of water, we often see the surface, but cannot easily see into the depths. Also, the vastness of the ocean symbolizes the vastness of the unconscious mind. Jung observed long ago that the unconscious mind was much vaster than the conscious portion.

The River

One of the most frequently encountered of water symbols in dreams is the river. Perhaps the most impressive characteristic of a river is the power of water flowing in a definite direction.

The river as symbol embodies the flow of life: the “teleology”, as Jungian therapy says, or goal-directedness of the psyche. It also embodies the fatefully powerful direction of that flow — the flow of our lives.

Above some extracts from Brain Collison. (Jungian Therapy)

The Tao by Lao Tzu always brings our attentions to the constant ebb and flow of water.

“One never swims in the same river twice”.

My unconscious longings still crave the cool waters with my dear swim pod friends.

A small group of Swim Oxford’s friends and staff gather on the banks on this fine midsummer morning, with rays of joyful sunbeams warming our hearts. Social distance rules applied and respected, we ready ourselves for a gentle reconnection with a primal and visceral harmony with water.

Once in the water, we are amazed at the high temperature. Most of us are in skins. Some of us are from the winter swimming group, when the temperature goes down to 5c, for a short screech…. Others are in wetsuits, ready for an upstream swim under the medieval stone arched bridge; we have all come to love this shape and the light that bounces off the underside curves, only visible from our river position.

The kayak waits, seeing us all through the arches safely, upstream towards the meandering banks and darting swifts and flycatchers swoop. The perspective from the water’s surface as a swimmer is a unique position; very seldom does one have the opportunity to witness the natural habitat being 90% submerged in it. Firstly, most things look very daunting, like the size of a male swam with wings on full display.

After a short moment we all became very relaxed and slowed down to glide through the water, catching a glimpse of a fellow swimmer as you take a breath.

It became strongly apparent how swimming in a pod is an incredible shared experience. With limited sight and no real communication, it is remarkable how connected you feel. On this particular morning, my youngest son, 14 years old, swam with us. He made a point of talking about this amazing feeling of swimming in a group, with swimmers in front to the sides and behind. All doing similar but very different things. I was intrigued to hear his first-time experience of this. The feeling was very much like being in a dolphin pod he reported. “I had no idea it would feel like that”.

There are many elements to swimming in groups; whilst in the water a shared kinship and appreciations of open water wild swimming. This includes looking out for fellow swimmers who may be behind, to the side or in the distance ahead of you. Ready to flag any issues or report amazing spectacles like herons flying just over-head. It always feels comforting to sight and spot a swimmer in the distance, marking the meandering turns of the river.

Midsummer celebrations have been deep in our history, knowing the change of seasons the coming of longer days and warmer weather. The relationship with the natural world, with its own rhythm and a pulse easily missed from a distance. The connection to our natural landscape, the rivers, woodlands and open fields. We felt this on our way back towards the start point of our swim. The kinship, the wellbeing, we did appreciate this open swimming joy; very grateful for the opportunity to once again feel the joy of swimming in a pod.

Running in a wetsuit and swimming in shoes…

Sounds like fun right!? But how do you go about training for entering the eccentric world of swimrun?

This is the first question I asked myself when Stuart, my twin brother, asked if I wanted to take on the Lock2Lock Swimrun in September. I say asked, but being twins, one of us often makes decisions for the both of us! I didn’t really have much of a say in the matter, but I like a good challenge so was ready to take on something that actually, I didn’t really know a lot about! We have been invited to take on our first swimrun adventure by Darrin Roles, race director over at Swim Oxford. Being our first ever swimrun, alongside the excitement, there is definitely also a slight sense of apprehension, I have a feeling this isn’t the type of event where I can just ‘wing it’ on the day!

Training for a swimrun is not a solo endeavour

I’m really lucky when taking on an event like this. I never have to worry about who fancies joining me, what their capability is, or any of the other problems people have when choosing a parter to compete with. I guess this is one of the benefits of having a twin brother. It also helps that we have the kind of relationship where we just tell each other they’re doing something. He tells me we’re learning to kite-surf, 6 years later and we’re both pretty good! I tell him we’re doing a triathlon, and now we have a few under our belt. It really helps cut out the excuses.

Having similar experience and strengths really helps

Our experience is evidently matched, having acquired skills growing up together, typically matching training plans and taking on the events together. In fact the only time we haven’t done the same event was when I was lucky enough to get a place in the London Marathon. I didn’t let Stu off the hook though, and still insisted on him joining me on all the events I used for training, including the Wokingham half and a few others.

In terms of strengths, we’re also pretty similar. We would probably both agree Stuart is slightly faster when it comes to swimming and the transitions, whereas I’m generally stronger on the runs.

I’d also say that we typically take the same view when it comes to training. Sometimes we just wing it and other times we realise we’re in over our head and need to dedicate some real time to our training. I’ll always remember our first triathlon, a sprint distance. We did no training and hadn’t properly swam in a few years. We bought new bikes and didn’t test any of our gear. We decided to ride our bikes to the race and half way there, Stuart’s pedal sheared off having cross threaded it when building the bike! Having missed our wave, we luckily managed to join a later one. Finally in the water and a few strokes in, my googles filled with water and I couldn’t see a thing. I ended up ripping them off and swam without them! Let’s just say the whole race was a disaster (entirely our own fault!), but it did teach us the value of proper training.

For our second Triathlon, this time an olympic distance, we learned from our mistakes. I decided to really work on my swimming technique and took some coaching sessions with Ray at Swim Canary Wharf, giving me some invaluable tips for improving my strokes. We both worked on our running, as well as getting out on our bikes, and testing all our gear properly! Race day was a much more pleasant experience to say the least.

Where to start training for a swim run?

So like with anything new, I’ve done some research and gained some useful knowledge from the wild open swim blog along with reading up on swim runs and what to expect. I felt pretty comfortable and more at ease after reading Alan Scott’s experience of the Lock2Lock swim run, see his earlier article on this blog.

Due to the current situation with Covid-19, we won’t be able to train together, but by using Strava and incentivising each other with a bit of friendly competition, we hope to be able to beep the motivation going. Stuart lives in Portugal and is lucky enough to have the coast on his door step, so has already been working on his swimming (or at least that’s what he tells me…). He is currently hitting the water 2-3 times a week for some open water swimming in between the odd surfing session. I’m however in landlocked Hertfordshire, so have had to take a slightly different approach by enjoying the countryside runs along with getting out on the bike a few times a week to give my knees some much needed rest in-between the runs.

It will be interesting to see when we finally do get to meet up as to how we compare in each discipline. Hopefully we’re not a million miles apart, but either way I’ll be sure to fill you in on my next update.

Jason is part of the founding team of EtchRock and is passionate about helping our event and charity partners as well as driving the brand forward. Want to speak to him directly?

Lock2Lock Swimrun is a solo entry and pairs entry event.

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