One of the pleasures my old home town has to offer, one I discovered for the first time this year for various reasons, is running by the river.
The river runs below the old town, through the park and through and between a few more modern areas of houses. The most easily accessible bit for most people runs from one edge of the town to not quite the other, from an open bend in the river which was transformed into a natural swimming pool every summer, from the fifties to around the early seventies. I don’t remember it, but I have seen photos, and I know it was still there when I was a young boy. It has since been used by a rowing club, and for the last few years by a gym. A road bridge crosses it just at that point and at water level, in the brickwork, were the old changing rooms which have also served the later businesses which set up home there.
It runs from there, as I say, through an area now built on but until a couple of years ago green and quiet, among reeds and rushes with willows dangling their branches in the water. Swans still nest there, and in summer glide up and down in formation with the cygnets between them, looking for anything edible and displaying themselves for the benefit of any casual photographer who happens to be passing.
Then it enters the park, near where the rye gate was in the Roman wall. At that point there’s a dam, which served a mill that was the last of a line that stretched back to Roman times. In the park the path is overhung by more willows, and runs past the cricket ground. The combination of these things produces a view which, at the right season and time of day, would have caused Orwell and Wodehouse to write poetry about the timeless joy of being English, and Evelyn Waugh to emigrate.
Thence it continues, flanked by meadows, used by ducks and moorfowl and coots and more swans, to another mill, by a lock below the east gate, that is used to control the level of water in the old port. The whole length from pool to lock is about two miles, and, although you can keep walking at either end for some miles, this section is the heart of the river to most people.
I have walked there many times, hundreds of times in fact, but I’d never run there until this year. It’s completely flat, which, after a week of walking in the mountains, was a great relief, and you get all of the lazy, natural beauty at a different pace. Every year I realize there are still new things to discover about the old place.