The glen is shrouded and shady; dripping green and damp. The water bubbles – deep black coffee; swirls of white bubbles draw sinuous curved lines. The water has a sonic resonance, bubbling from depth, it plunges with a dull roar, occasionally curving back on itself, translucent black treacle, slick and fast. The sides of the glen are vertiginous, disorientating, cool even shade dominates, but the walls of effulgent moss and dripping ferns generate their own glow above the slickly twisting rope of the river.
I look for a swimming section-the river narrows and flattens, blackly deep here, only five feet wide. This is where, alone, I would get in – thrilling thought. I have no idea how deep the water would be here, perhaps very, very deep-the glen perpetuates thoughts like these: extreme ideas of lightless depths. But the children want to swim with me and I am forced to note it for another day. Walking on narrow paths some ten feet or so above the river’s edge, I search for the place where we can join the flow. For a series of impossibly drawn out moments, I experience the giddying symbiosis of walking at exactly the same speed as the flowing water – harmonic stride and flow: disorientating, compelling, connecting. For a moment I am in the portal, a head-swirling confirmation of place and moment.
As I move on down the river bank, the urge to get into the water dominates my thoughts. When we do find the place I walk easily in and sink into the black, peaty coolness – deep immediately, but not cold at all. I find a place to swim against the current and move quickly into full strokes. The vitality of the water is urgent and compelling; on my left the current is too strong to resist and it snags at me, drawing me in; it would love to fling me downstream, but I feel for some reason that I have to resist, I don’t want to be carried off even though I would not go far; I am limited (trapped perhaps) by a desire to retain something of my own control. It is conservative and lacking in a commitment I am not quite sure I understand. And I won’t give in: the children plunge, squeal and swim hard; I anchor them on the edge of the flow-a fleeting moment in the penumbra – the real thing, playful though it seems, is too dark altogether.