Writing

A lake of one’s own

Our weekend editor Anna-Marie Crowhurst on the joys of swimming free

Last week I had one of those moments that you recall when you’re trying to get to sleep and will yourself into pleasant dreams. I was by a lake. It was a hot day, hot enough for a bikini and factor 50, and the water was clear, with only the slightest ripple of current moving across its surface. I waded in, wincing at the stones that dug into my feet, and pushed myself away from the shore with a soft ‘whoosh’, twisting my body around in to float on my back. I let my arms and legs drift outwards into a star shape. My head fell backwards. I stared up at the sky, the bath-warm water lapping over me.

I’m in heaven,’ I called to my friends, swallowing some of the lake water, which was ok, because it tasted of tap, rather than salt or chemicals.

I don’t know if I’m as adventurous as the term “wild swimmer” implies, but I never feel so relaxed and blissful as when I’m in the water under a wide open sky. In Britain my outdoor immersion is limited for weather-based reasons (I’m not hardcore enough to have a wetsuit), and is mainly limited a bit of countryside Thames paddling, and the lido. I like the lido the best on rainy days, or colder ones, at the beginning of spring, and autumn. Then the hordes sunbathing around its concrete edges disappear, and it’s only the serious swimmers left, cutting through the floating brown leaves and feeling the rain patter on the bits poking out of our no-nonsense high-necked Speedos. Nothing lifts a murky mood better than the shock of getting out of the water and letting the chill of the air seep into your costume, before sticking your head under a hot shower, but that’s outdoor too, so afterwards you feel like a red-cheeked, stingy-skinned champion.

Last year I holidayed in in France, on the banks of the Gardon de Mialet river. A mountain goat leap from the mud-beach at the bottom of a long windy path, and I was in. I went there every day, moving slowly through the brown river water, fronds of hanging trees brushing the tops of my head, knocking my knees against submerged boulders and standing in the shallows to watch blade-like fish flicking around my feet.

The year before I’d made a pilgrimage to Italy to find the freshwater rock pools of Rochetta Nervina, carved out of a mountain and filled with bright warm water. I floated there, sunlight glinting off the water into my eyes, before grazing my knuckles across rocks to get out. But still, it was heaven.

Last week my lake was in Massachusetts. The East Coast is dappled all over with huge bodies of water: you’ll be driving on the highway, and one will rise up from nowhere, gleaming in the distance. I’d never been in an American lake before, but my friends Mike and Tara knew a secret, beautiful one, and took me there in their truck. After swimming, we kayaked across it, endlessly, sometimes bumping together in our little brightly-coloured boats, sometimes drifting apart. Dragonflies swooped around, dipping into the water globules on the front of my kayak. I let the oar rest, trailing my fingers in the water, making minuscule ripples, and feeling that, for this moment, everything was good.

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