Swim 14 – March 12th 2016   2017


I can’t stay at Kestle Barton without going to Frenchmen’s creek in the mornings. I run before breakfast; north until the road runs out, then following the track as it curves majestically and extravagantly, following the long curve of the hill crest down to the mouth of the creek. Here the path becomes confused by trees, seeping water and sudden gradients. It loses its purpose and meanders. To run you must hop about - which is my favourite style of running. Running over rocks and roots focuses body and mind to what’s beneath your feet. You move too fast to really think about it - you just engage; tapping out the rhythm set by the path as a pianist does a score.

I used to love to ski – which I feel a bit ashamed of now. I used to love the extreme pleasures of skiing off-piste among the rocks and away from people. I still love it underneath, but Cornwall is a bad place to live if you like to ski. The enormous drain on my resources (time, energy, cash) that skiing demands isn’t justified. Still, living here has brought me to replacements for the ribbon-like flow with landscape and time that I first found skiing.

Firstly there’s cliff-running. I used to run in Oxford, which has straight well-beaten paths. I used to run over the water meadows, or along the Cherwell behind Christchurch, or follow the poplars lining the straight road of Binsey Lane, or along the rivers that thread the fields around St Catherine’s. All beautiful and well-maintained and well-used, with no need to seek out a footing as you run. Always assured of a secure landing. Cliff running asserts the same requirement as off-piste skiing of intense physical focus. A clear laughing sort of physical delight wells up in me as I do it.

The other replacement is motorbike riding; on the small roads and the not-quite roads which need to be driven by a 4wheel drive or a bike. There’s not as much physical engagement – after all my feet are not on the ground – but there’s speed to make up for it. Speed which sometimes almost tears the grips out of my hands as the wind pushes me in the chest. As with pedal cycling in London, I never ride out only for pleasure. I use it to do something I need to do, getting myself in various ways to where I want to be. I know that most people ride for pleasure and when I see strings of guys in black leather mowing their way along some road or other I think to myself ‘fools!’ because we all know that the most pleasure is found to the side of whatever you have designated the main event.

So, I’m flitting and bobbing along the creek, when I am arrested by the high tide’s offer of a perfect mud-free entry to the water. I stop and contemplate this place. Maybe I analyse it. It’s where a stream joins the creek, water falling over mossy stones into a flat area of shingle and mud, sheltered by branches, now flooded by the tide. A tree is growing somehow out in what’s now the river. The light on the water beyond the intense green shade of the leaves is sparkling, but the body of the water is dark.

It’s absolutely quiet. I look at the bramble growing over the little stream and decide it’s negligible. I do what I have to do, which is to take off my clothes, pile them carefully on my shoes to keep them from the wet path, and lower myself into the river.