On Chislet Marshes

by MLP

by MLP

As a child I always wanted to be a ‘naturalist.’ I pictured myself heading out for long days in the field with a net over my shoulder to catch all things which swam or flew and a hand lens on a strap around my neck to identify rare plants.

Surveying ditches for the Internal Drainage Board might not sound like such a thrilling occupation to some but it allows me to live my childhood dream. So yes, I get odd looks tramping through the undergrowth in a floppy hat and binoculars. So, yes, I am bored of hearing “Going fishing darling?” from ‘funny man’ dog walkers. Yes, yes, I have days where I spend hours fighting my way through thistle jungles and swaying from heat stroke but I also get to places that few other people are allowed to see, field edges, hidden copses, tangly brooks. I see private glimpses of wildlife, a hovering kingfisher, a cormorant, silver bubbled, slipping underwater in search of fish, sky dancing marsh harriers, wildlife with it’s back turned, not expecting to encounter a person out here where few are ever seen.

This is not a gentle stroll along a footpath, they are, as a friend recently said, ‘hard miles.’ but I love being out all day in the countryside, seeing no one and having a purpose. It is a privilege and I never forget it.

On Wednesday I was out on Chislet Marshes, a vast sea of wheat fields winding their way in from the sea, watched over by the eye of Reculver Towers ever present on the horizon. I had walked many miles along the reed fringed Shuart Dyke, testing the water quality, noting the diversity of plants, searching for water voles.

At lunch time I lay with my head on my bag on a wooden bridge covered with lichens and watched the clouds build and swell . Swallows skimmed inches above the water, almost grazing my chest as they crossed the bridge. I contemplated a skinny dip, fancying the prospect of baking myself dry on the sun warmed timbers beneath me, but the water had high nitrate content (I had tested it) and looked none to inviting. I knew from experience that even the loveliest looking streams could hold nasty surprises, having lowed myself into a brook last year I emerged with a leach stuck to my foot merrily sucking my blood.

Besides, I had already been caught  in a compromising position once that day. I go slightly feral on the marshes in the summer and forget what normal behaviour is. With no one to be seen for miles I had been having a wee quite out in the open when the seaside train to Whitstable had flashed past. I had quite forgotten about the railway line, hidden in a dip. The driver, and passengers got a vision which might scar them for life. Maybe I was becoming more of a naturist than a naturalist.




Book Review – Waterlog ( a swimmer’s journey through Britain) Roger Deakin


In Waterlog Roger Deakin sets out to swim his way across Britain taking us on a summer’s journey through leafy backwaters, plunge pools in the hills, across the mouth of estuaries and through a series of outdoor swimming pools. On the way he argues with officious river ‘owners’ and challenges the Environment Agencies insistence that our rivers are nowadays dangerous, polluted waterways likely to drag you into there depths or poison you with all manner of chemicals and mysterious sounding diseases.

Roger is seemingly oblivious to social conventions which, in Britain at least, dictate that, nowadays, stripping down to your trunks or beyond and going for a swim in the local river is simply not on. He reminds us that it was not that many years ago when most people learnt to swim outdoors. With every stroke you want to cheer this man on. He liberates us from the chlorine filled crowded halls of our local swimming baths, he invites us to reclaim our rivers, lakes and forbidden waters, he encourages us to ignore what others might think of us.

This has been the perfect read for a winter in which rivers have been rarely out of the news. Usually because they have burst their bank,s like a convict escaping from jail. Waterlog reminds us that our rivers are also a national treasure which should be kept as wild as possible and not trained into concrete sewers.

Reading this beautifully written book I wanted  to head out and take back my local river by plummeting into it, but it is winter and the river’s are flooded and spreading across the land. Instead I am going to head to my local baths and learn to swim with the same elegance and economy as Roger so I will be able to sample their delights come summer.

Roger Deakin died before he ever had a chance to publish another book (although two further books were posthumously published) but Waterlog is a beautiful testimony to a fine writer and I like to think that, as the final line of the book tells us, at the moment of death he simply ‘turned and swam on into the quiet waves.’

Water on the brain

Fancy a wild swim?

Fancy a wild swim?

Have been thoroughly immersed in reading Waterlog by Roger Deakin for the last few weeks. A book dedicated to the many joys to be had by wild swimming. Roger set out to swim his way through the British Isles, venturing into moats, rivers, lidos and sea with a reckless abandon which you want to stand up and applaud. He argues with officious river ‘owners’ and challenges the Environment Agencies insistence that our rivers are nowadays dangerous, polluted waterways likely to drag you into there depths or poison you with all manner of chemicals and mysterious sounding diseases.

Feeling keen to follow Roger’s example I poured over the map for village names which sounded like they might have once been the place for some waterbourne fun, but can find nothing so exciting as the fabulous Water-Cum-Jolly which Roger discovered near the Peak District. Undeterred I turn to the internet and swiftly find some wonderful maps detailing all the outdoor swimming locations in my area. Some are well known to me but others show swims in rivers and gravel pits. I am tempted but then I remember that wild swimming and I have not exactly worked that well in the past.

Following a hot day last summer surveying out on the marshes, I had flopped down beside a wide weedy pool where rudd and sticklebacks swam lazily in the black depths, it was too inviting. I stripped off and sunk to my waist, balancing on a shelf. I knew all the reasons not to jump in, the danger, the isolation, the mobile phone left on the bank but what is a life in which you never dare to take a risk. I belly flopped in, scaring the fishes, thrashing around on top of the Canadian pondweed, giving myself a scare, whaling back to the bank and clinging breathless to the grass before hauling myself out with life protecting super strength.

At this moment wild swimming did not seem the blissful, ‘one with nature’ tranquil experience that Roger Deakin would have me believe but at least I had tried.

I lay on the bank, duckweed sticking to places it never wanted to be, the sun warming my body revealing its newly earthy watery fragrance. A naughty 21st century forbidden delight of being naked outdoors. A bi-plane buzzed overhead, I vaguely hoped it was not Google Earth photographing the land. Would my white form be forever immortalised on world maps? Puzzling generations of viewers over what it might be.

A cormorant swam underwater, easily, nimbly, hunting for fish, it surfaced beneath me, nothing I could do to prevent it getting the fright of it’s life, it dived again and I watched the silver sheen of air washing over it’s feathers.

Maybe I should learn my lesson, leave the pools and rivers to the fish and the cormorants and to those more naturally adapted to there delights. At this time of year, when it is wet and windy and frankly horrid outside then it is easy to think sensible thoughts, but, as I plummet back into the delights of Waterlog, I know that, come summer, it will all be too too tempting once again.