River swimming

I came across an article today, linked on twitter. Written by the Irish Times it tells “Why Irish rivers urgently require more swimmers in them” and it cheered me up in a day full of less positive articles. The gist is that anything that has “bathing site status” has to get regularly tested and this can reduce pollution.

It may seem a little paradoxical to suggest that what Irish rivers urgently require is more humans in them. We have, after all, a persistent habit of treating them as little more than dumping grounds for our toxic waste. The last thing they need, God forbid, is more of us.

Irish Times, Why Irish rivers urgently require more swimmers in them Jul 24th by Ella McSweeney

This does come after depressing statistics from the EPA about water quality but the article states that “Nearly all of our designated sites meet minimum EU standards, and 75 per cent of them are classified as excellent. Two bathing sites that scored “poor” in 2019 are now showing improvements.”

It continues later (regarding river quality) “If we want to get back to our historically high standards – and why wouldn’t we? – it’s time to pay attention to the alarming pace of deterioration of rivers, particularly those in the south and southeast. Perhaps the most tragic of all is the apparent fate of our Three Sisters: the Nore, Barrow and Suir, which have recorded high declines in water quality in the past few years, and continue to take a battering from nutrient pollution.”

It seems sad to say that we need to say “humans want to swim here” to get decent water quality but if it gives river life a fighting chance at recovery I find I’m okay with that. And I have to confess I am a life long river paddler/wader/swimmer and I’m good with being able to continue with that too. Anything that makes authorities have to actually do something instead of sadly shrugging and carrying on with something else instead, because ultimately who cares, is good.

This coincides nicely with my own Sunday trip to Cadamstown, through which the Silver River flows. The Silver has an amazing personality over the seasons, you get exciting and frothy, languid but sparkling, focused and sharp and always bright. I can spend hours watching the floating sun disks, dapple born, cast by the trees and all the things they highlight beneath. I didn’t take pictures, this time, these ones are old, and anything I’ve ever taken never does it justice.

Suffice it to say there is more than these shallow parts. In this incredibly hot (ugh for me) weather the river is a wee slip of a thing, baring its rock shoulders out from under usually thundery tresses. I could clamber down the rocks and find the pools, now merely chest height in the narrow channel under the fall. The water was delicious; true there were initial, involuntary gasps and quiet(ish) shrieks, but once in and adjusted pure bliss, like I stopped feeling I was a melting, muggy blob creature. Cold water, just cold to make you conscious of it, makes me wonder what it must be like to be a fish darting in a current, sleek and sharply defined in temperature and motion.

There is a whole line of conversation about “Wild Swimming” and it comes with plenty of advice both pro and con and obviously the much needed water safety notices (here’s some spots if you’d like to and some more with rivers too ) I admit I’m not overly familiar with it, most of what I do is just fail, utterly, to resist at least sticking my feet in water from April to October. There are pebbles and occasionally bits of pottery in there, and they need to be seen. Stones need balancing, sticks need racing, leaves and petals need to be constructed into tiny boats, seams of water eroded rock require examination, all while my feet get to be gloriously cool and unrestricted. And then to sit, again, and watch the folding currents seek to meld together shadow and bubble and glistening speck under roots and rocks.

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