July 27th 2014
Sometimes beauty can be found right under your nose…
I have parked by the bridge at Denham on scores of occasions and as I’ve said before – (Introducing Denham, July 8th 2014) – the Tavy here is my ‘local’ … my favourite watering hole.
This bridge is where I leave the car, put a lead on Marley Bone, receive a cold “Really?” stare in return, then get dragged along the mercifully short lane that leads to the woods. Here I usually unshackle the beast, this wild hairy bundle of kinetic energy, and attempt to regain some degree of equilibrium and composure before taking the leaf-shaded path to my riverbank sanctuary.
But last night I decided that the time had come to sample a swim at the bridge itself.
Knowing that the river here would doubtless morph into an horrendous honeypot on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I chose to beat the paddlers, rope swingers and tomb stoners.
I would swim at dawn…
So stupid o’clock found me up with the larks, brilliant light already streaming over the moors and in through my bedroom window. The light was even more intense as I entered the kitchen. Marley Bone opened one eye and I swear he raised a brow. His ‘all-seeing eye’ followed my every movement, silently swivelling in its socket.
Do you recall those war films in which depth charges shower down on a hapless submarine?
Claxons sound, lights flash, everywhere there is a frantic rush to ‘action stations’.
Well, the very same thing happens within Marley’s head whenever he sees our swimming towels being packed into my knapsack. He really believes that racing around the kitchen island thirty times will bring the river closer!
Today, this canine commotion was clearly too much for the sun – by the time I had quaffed a coffee and buried a banana, it had pulled a comfortable cumulus duvet over its face and drifted back to sleep…
I began to wonder if my dawn departure was such an intelligent idea?
After a sticky, fan-filled night there was a slight chill in the air as I softly closed the front door. 16 degrees according to the car, two degrees below the river temperature at this time of year.
Arriving at the Tavy, we parked by the ‘abandon all hope ye who enter here’ type sign.
The water was dark in the shallow ravine, straddled by this ancient packhorse bridge which links the Bere peninsula to the civilised world (or vice versa, depending on your point of view.) Beneath the first span the slate has been roughly hewn to create a perfectly hidden changing room.
Within seconds, I had slipped off my clothes, was in mid air and eagerly anticipating the delicious grasp of the water.
And it really was delicious. Enveloping. Consuming.
Rising towards the diffused green light of the surface, I could see MB paddling around erratically above me, frantically searching for his lost ‘master’ – the way he always does, bless him!
I swam slowly, circumnavigationg the quiet stillness of the pool, paddling and probing, assessing its delights and hidden hazards. The watery equivalent of getting the lie of the land.
Heading upstream, the flow quickened as I approached a shallow waterfall. Turning to drift down, the ancient arches framed a composition worthy of John Constable and I mused that he was famed for paintings of Dedham Vale, so close to this place in name and nature.
For the best part of an hour I climbed and dived, dabbled and drifted, saw shimmering light on rockface and riverbed. Standing in the shallows where the water was crystalline, I watched salmon fingerlings straining against the flow to maintain a steady position. Occasionally they lost strength or concentration and were whisked sideways downstream. Soon they were struggling back, as if unwitting players in some giant aquatic game of snakes and ladders. These juveniles swam in small gangs and flexed their newly-formed fins, whilst others lurked in the lea of the granite pebbles that littered the sandy river bed.
And then a first for me – two kingfishers flying side by side.
Denham is a good place to see kingfishers, but usually their flight is low and fast – an electric spark discharging across the water.
This was different. Two together – and flying with less urgency. I had time to savour the moment, a joy intensified when both alighted on a nearby branch. Aquamarine and orange. Irridescent. Spellbinding.
Mindful that work duties would prevent my evening trip to church, I chose this place to make my prayers.
For this was my cathedral. The kingfishers were stained glass, the overarching oaks a mighty vaulted ceiling, the long aisle of the river stretched ahead and their Creator was all around.
This was my daily bread …