This weekend I got to return to somewhere that feels like home to me. Somewhere I used to spend every Thursday evening and Saturday morning from May to September. Somewhere I’d only briefly been into since July 2019. Toddbrook Sailing Club.
It was where I helped to run our happy, friendly, welcoming open water swimming sessions. Every week I laughed there. Mopped out changing rooms. Ate too many biscuits. Chatted to so many lovely folks. Really, really felt the swim love.
But since 1st August 2019 when the Toddbrook Reservoir dam wall partially collapsed it’s been largely out of bounds. No water, no swimming.
Not long after the incident I wrote about the grief I felt for losing the water (Is it possible to grieve for water?). An odd feeling and acceptance that I was grieving for a “thing” rather than a person. I wrote the entry only six weeks after that fateful Thursday when, without trying to be too dramatic, I felt like my life had been turned upside down.
I knew the grief would last. I knew it would spike again as the warmer open water season arrived. I knew it would feel strange trying to run our sessions at a new venue.
Then something even more strange than any of us could have imagined happened. A global pandemic. A full lockdown of most people’s lives.
I was still missing my local water but come March 2020 it became even more acute. Those times in March, April and May when we weren’t supposed to go far, discouraged from driving unless absolutely necessary, told not to meet with anyone.
My plan for this year was to finally bite the bullet and try to develop an open water swimming business. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, where I was going to find all the water space I knew I’d need or whether I’d have any clients. But I was determined that, after a few years of procrastinating, 2020 would be the year I’d properly go for it. I’d secured indoor teaching space and had a fully booked list. I had a packed March, a slot to speak at a large event in London. Agreements were almost tied up for our new venue location.
And then March progressed. Over the space of a few days the rug was pulled out from under me. Kids at home full time for the foreseeable. It became clear teaching others was out of the question for an unknown period of time. The whole conventional open water season written off for me as far as I was concerned.
God I needed my water then. When everything seemed hard and dark. When a 15 minute walk would have had me wallowing in Toddbrook’s cool embrace. I had fantasies about the walk down. I had dreams about it. I missed it so much……again.
Over winter I’d got used to its loss. We’d found new waters, got into different swim routines. I’d got used to seeing the ugly fixes on the dam wall on our walk to school. But then, when I really needed it the most it still wasn’t there.
My daily walks often took me within sight of it. Over the hill behind our house, looking back to the puddle that remains. The pontoon and pipes visible from afar.
It was the same walk I did many times during that chaotic week in August 2019. Watching the Chinook, seeing Boris’ helicopter take off and whizz him back south after a brief media sojourn. It almost became the trauma walk. In 2019 it was the dam wall disaster walk, in 2020 it was the pandemic walk.
One evening I went a bit off piste on my walk. I was a little naughty and ended up back on the path along the reservoir, at that time out of bounds to the public. I couldn’t help myself. It was late, dusk, I hadn’t seen anyone, and I figured I was far enough away from the security at the other end that I’d get away with it. And I did.
I sat where I used to get in at the top end. Where I’d had so many glorious dips. With others but mostly alone in that spot.
The gap in the trees is the same but where there used to be water is now green with grass. I listened to the birds, watched the light fade, stroked the grass where once there were flowering water plants that I used to swim through in the height of summer. I cried.
I cried for the loss of the water, for the loss of 2020. For what I’d wanted to achieve but couldn’t. For the people I wanted to spend time with but couldn’t. For the swimmers I knew I wouldn’t get to joke with and look after this year. About so many happy memories and experiences in that water. Grief for what is no longer there but was so desperately needed in my dark times this year.
But, and there’s always a but, there are silver linings. I’ve unquestionably missed Toddbrook this year but in amongst it all, the loss of my water and the pandemic have forced other things to happen.
Our early lockdown morning spot treated us to some of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve seen. No school runs and husbands leaving the house for work at set times meant the Short One and I’s early morning dips could be a little more leisurely, lots of chat to balance out the swim. I’ve adventured more locally. I’ve found much needed waterfalls and pools on my doorstep. I’ve swum with great crested grebes and their grebelet, herons, teeny tiny baby pike. I’ve had some stunning, glassy sunset swims and walks. I stopped to breathe it all in. I needed it more than ever this year.
And I’ve been down to see my beloved Toddbrook again whilst it’s once out of bounds path is briefly open between construction tasks. It’s a new lush habitat. I watched a kestrel hover and successfully catch its dinner. There are cormorants, herons, ducks, geese enjoying the pool of water that’s still there undisturbed by errant dogs, sailors, paddle boarders and the odd swimmer. It’s a whole new habitat.
My water will come back…………eventually. The Canal and River Trust are progressing with plans for its restoration. It will take years but it will be back.
And slowly, slowly life has got easier for me in the last few weeks. With children back at school I can think clearly again. I feel like I’ve got me back a little bit. A few school day swims, regular routine, back to a little work again. And finally I felt strong enough to do what I’d meant to do in April. I ran my first introduction to open water workshop.
Three hours of sharing my love for the water. To help those who want to get out but need the knowledge and confidence to do so. And I came home to do it. I delivered it in that happy place at Toddbrook Sailing Club.
When I first walked in it just felt right. I had a lump in my throat and I had a little cry. But it wasn’t a sad cry, the tears of grief I’d had so many times for the water, they were happy tears, to be back somewhere with so many happy memories. To be back in that room, just as it was the last time I was there.
I was nervous about delivering this course but to be in a room I knew so well gave me the confidence to do it. I’m not sure it would have felt right to deliver it for the first time anywhere else.
And you know what, being back there, knowing that work is progressing has worn even more of that grief away.