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In the swim

I do hope you’ll forgive me for writing about rivers twice in two columns.

12 August 2009

12:00 AM

12 August 2009

12:00 AM

I do hope you’ll forgive me for writing about rivers twice in two columns.

I do hope you’ll forgive me for writing about rivers twice in two columns. It’s just that when I got back from Wales, turned on a TV for the first time in a fortnight, and saw Griff Rhys Jones voyaging down the Wye and the Severn I found myself instantly transfixed. This is what happens when you’ve been cast out of paradise (aka been on holiday): you want to prolong the experience for as long as possible, even if only by artificial means.

Rivers. If I see one — unless it’s totally crocodile-infested or it’s below zero — I pretty much have to swim in it. My recent-ish conquests include the Nether Rhine (research trip to Arnhem, obviously), the Usk, the Derwent (tombstoning off the bridge by Kirkham Priory), the Wye (Pen-doll Rocks in Builth; The Warren, near Hay) and at the end of August I’ll be swimming as I always do in the Dee, catching a chill and engendering an annoying, low-level, strep-throaty type thing which will make me miserable for several weeks. That’s how much I like river swimming. Even what I said about crocodiles isn’t quite true. I definitely wouldn’t do it in, say, northern Australia where the salties are truly evil. But I’ve done it in the Congo and the Nile (both Blue and White), all in places where I could easily have been crocked, but where I got away with just bilharzia instead.


Why am I telling you this? Because one, maybe two, of you will be nodding your head beneficently and thinking, ‘Hey. He’s just like me!’ And, as for the rest of you, tough. I’ve decided from now on to adopt a total no-prisoners policy when it comes to readers who don’t like what I do. Don’t read me then. Losers! See if I care.

Anyway, I found Rhys Jones’s programme delightful and upsetting in equal measure. Delightful because, well obviously, it had lots of sumptuous shots of two of my favourite rivers, plus Rhys Jones is an agreeable presenter, happy to put himself through the mill (bog snorkling, riding the Severn Bore, diving into a freezing Scottish river in mid-November) and not sound too twee or smug (though I have to say his correct pronounciation of Welsh names was pushing it, even if he is called Rhys Jones).

The upsetting part, as ever with this type of programme, was being reminded how much we stand to lose and how much we have lost already. In the latter category, I would include ‘freedom from the creeping tendrils of the ’Elf-’n’-Safety industry’. You could detect its malign influence in the scene where Rhys Jones re-enacted a stunt pulled in 1730 by John ‘Iron Mad’ Wilkinson, who stunned the people of Ironbridge by demonstrating that a boat made wholly of iron could yet float. Rhys Jones was compelled to perform this scene looking ridiculous in a life jacket. Why?

As for the stand-to-lose category, in two words: wind farms. Every time we saw another heartstoppingly beautiful shot of hills fading blue and grey into the distance, I felt a stab in my gut. ‘Will it be those hilltops the eco-fascists choose to despoil for generations with their pointless, worthless gesture-politicking?’ I kept asking myself. ‘Or those ones? Or those? Or perhaps even the whole ruddy lot of them?’ Quite possibly I bang on about wind farms even more than I bang on about rivers. But there’s a reason for that. Wind farms are so wrong in so many ways and such an imminent and terrible threat to the unrivalled splendours of the British landscape that I believe they may well be the most important issue of our time. It’s about time someone in the public eye had the guts to speak out against them. Griff?


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