As the swimming pools are closed due to the co-vid lock down and a lot of my swimming friends have some more time due to being furloughed I’m making it a mission to try and swim in a different place each week. There are some amazing places to swim that aren’t too far away and I’ve discovered some super spots.
This week I met up with friend, swimmer and fellow coach Susan Cheshire. We found a spot more or less equal distance from each of our houses and planned an adventure down the Thames!
We planned an 8km trip down the Thames from Buscot Lock (SN7 8DA) to Radcot Bridge (OX18 2SX) in the Cotswolds.
We’d researched the swim with other swimmers via social media, on the internet and with some of the wild swim guide books. This meant we knew it was safe and swimmable, we had some good solid information about where to get in and out. And most importantly we knew that the swimmers itch wasn’t yet a problem.
We parked a car at each end of the swim and spent a bit of time at each end making sure there was a safe place to get in and out.
There is a car park at Radcot Bridge close to the river which is mainly used as an overflow for the pub or for the camping. Of course during lock down everything is closed so the car park was empty and easy to park in for the day.
There are some boats parked at Radcot Bridge so in between the boats it’s easy to find a ledge or some steps to climb out from.
If you’re parking a car at either end of a swim then it’s a good idea to have to 2 sets of clothes for each car. (Susan only had 1 pair of trousers and her dry bag leaked! So she had to drive home in her knickers and a towel).
Also have a think about what sort of things you need to drive your car at the end of the swim back to the other car because it could be easy to make some tricky mistakes. The driver after the swim needs to make sure they take the car key in the tow float and also shoes and spectacles for driving!
Buscot is a beautiful Cotswold village with a village shop. At Buscot there is a public car park which would normally be about £4 per day but during the co-vid lock down was free. It’s a few minutes walk from the car park to the river.
At Buscot we had a little walk around to check out the river flow, orientate ourselves and look at entry points. We got in the pool below the weir. The bank was a bit muddy and a little steep but perfectly accessible. As always just be mindful of the swans and then swim into the far right corner through the trees to the main river. The other option is to walk over the lock and get in on the other side but it’s a bit further to walk in your cossie.
We had planned our swim so we knew how far it was (8km) in total and the distances between each section. I had this written on my hand in marker pen so I couldn’t get mixed up and in combination with my Garmin watch we had a great idea how far we were between each section which really helped us.
We wanted to start off without our wetsuits on to feel the fun and freedom of the water but weren’t sure we could swim the whole 8km without them. In hindsight we would have been better to put them on first! Because as soon as we got in it felt cold and after 20min we realised we could be in a bit of trouble. This is where a thermometer might have helped us to gauge what we would be able to cope with.
It was then quite difficult to find a spot to get out the river to put them on. We eventually climbed up the bank and shivered and shook and struggled to put our wetsuits on as our hands were so numb. We got there in the end and it was definitely more enjoyable with them on.
In our tow floats we had flap jacks, Cliff Shot Bloks (sweets) and drink. Spare goggles (for me as I’m blind as a bat), glasses case, car key, phone, credit card and £10 all double bagged in another water proof case. Susan’s tow float has a pocket on the outside for a drink (hot sugary coffee) which is a really useful feature as it saves having to open your tow float to find food and drink. I would look at adapting mine with some elastic bungie cords next time. We also had our Gopros tied to our tow floats for pictures and video.
Although we had a phone and money we didn’t have any other plan should we have needed to get out the river, or any other clothes to put on apart from our wetsuits. Next time I would put some emergency clothes and shoes in a bag in case we needed to get out and walk back.
It was pretty cold at Buscot and the water was noticeably warmer as we swam downstream. A few swimmers have said since that it’s often colder in that area. We saw a couple of boats and a kayaker but otherwise on a mid-week rainy day in June it was super quiet. I can imagine on a beautiful summers day there might be more river traffic so be sure to wear a hat and take a tow float for visibility.
The first section of river there aren’t many places to get out and the banks are covered in woods and trees. As you swim downstream it opens up and it’s lovely to see the farm fields and the cows eating by the side of the river. There are some spectacular houses and properties as you swim further downstream and look out for the World War Two pillar boxes which prompted an interesting conversation between us about history.
You have to get out at Grafton Lock using the ladder and walk round the lock otherwise it’s a straight swim all the way down.
When we swam there was a little bit of flow to help but not a lot and the river was weed free and deep enough to swim all the way! It was a bit murky and a rather rainy day, but otherwise was a beautiful, peaceful swim.