norvic ultra aquam.
The bee-drones of council landscape mowers float across the park, the breeze carrying that greatest hit of smells, Cut Grass. Orange-jacketed men with mufflers on, riding dodgems over Anderson's Meadow. Springtime in early October. Our seasons are all out of joint now anyway; proper autumn doesn’t set in until the week before Halloween. It’s been hot all September, hot and damp and restless. I’m excited by the idea of walking for its own sake, daily life as a form of research.
Entering the Meadow, glancing towards the sunken path where the addicts like to wave their needles about to assure me NR3 isn’t fully gentrified, I spot a wig at the foot of an oak tree, sitting there like some abandoned exotic pet. This is a good start to my walk: authentic Wyrd Norwich, this. It almost looks like the aftermath of a Greek myth: somebody turned into an oak tree as punishment for their vanity, leaving their wig behind.
On the other side of the river, not surprising for such a mild day, I see two giggly women in swimsuits enjoying a dip in the Wensum, clambering down the steps where the kids congregate in the summer. My friend had a panic attack in the reeds here and nearly drowned. He hadn’t swum for years and wasn’t expecting the current to be so strong and swift along this meandering riverbank. I tried to help him but it wasn’t much use — I love wild swimming but I’m a shit swimmer — so a passerby (swimmer-by?) helped me haul him to the shallows on the north bank to catch his breath.
These two swimmers have no such trouble with the River Wensum. They look overjoyed, and it’s no wonder—immersion in icy river-water activates the stress-response hormone cortisol, and yet is perversely relaxing, which results in an overall improved stress response and lasting mental wellbeing, both in and out of the water. Wild swimming is as close to meditation as you can get without a zafu pillow, incense or one of those singing Tibetan bowls. These ladies have no thoughts, just a frogs-eye view and neon gloves to stave off frostbite in their fingers. I’ve often thought of swimming the route I’m about to walk, but I’d need a wetsuit, probably gloves and swimming shoes as well. No idea what’s below the surface—although I’ve swum in a filthy canal before and never had a problem.