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Lakes Norfolk Swims

Sparham Pools, May 2020

Heading inland again after a string of swims on the Suffolk coast, at Sparham we found a gorgeous lake on a beautiful cloudless morning in the Wensum Valley – complete with cuckoos and a floating sofa.

Matt got a tip for Sparham from a friend, suggesting it was somewhere we should check out – but cautioned “I’ve only been twice and never seen swimmers, but I assume it’s OK to swim”. Sparham doesn’t get a mention on the Wild Swimming site (but then they only have three spots in the whole of Norfolk) and it’s not somewhere I’d ever heard of before. Inland open water is invariably the exclusive preserve of anglers, but since Sparham Pools is managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and popular with birdwatchers on account of the waders and waterfowl it attracts, I was confident that a run in with some twitchers would be a far more civilised affair than it would be with fishermen.

Given the reference to pools I was expecting an intimate swim, perhaps with the cascade of a gentle waterfall or two. In fact Sparham – a flooded former gravel pit – is a big lake surrounded by mature trees. A circular walk takes you around the lake from the car park (just off the Lyng road near the bridge over the Wensum – not signposted and easily missed). We followed the woodwind call of a cuckoo – my first of the year (last year’s visitor to Hempnall didn’t return). The path starts high above the water, and for a while I thought a swim might have to be preceded by an epic dive or steep kamikaze roll through the thick undergrowth. But about a third of the way round a path off to the right lead us steadily down to a small jetty, the lake opening out before us.

The deep water was cold, and the surface coated with a film made from whatever falls from the massive trees surrounding it. But the swim was fantastic. We’ve both come to the conclusion quite quickly that the sea is our preferred type of open water, but there is something very appealing about mincing around in still water – no swells or undercurrents to catch you out, and a peaceful tranquility you’ll never quite get at the coast, no matter how calm.

Matt in the water at Sparham Pools
Matt relaxing

On our walk above the lake we’d seen out in the water what looked like the most improbable of things to find in a nature reserve, a sofa. Most likely a pontoon of some kind, but without binoculars to get a closer look my brain just became convinced this was indeed a sofa in the middle of the lake. Maybe an act of extreme flytipping, or somewhere for hardy birdwatchers to get closer to the geese?

Thinking it must be just around the corner from where we’d got in, I set off to find it – thinking a photo of a wesuited man sat crosslegged on a sofa in a lake would at the very least make a good progressive rock album cover. I had to turn back almost immediately on account of the weed which at first started to feel its way around my legs, but soon started appearing near the surface. Weed is not something I would ever be prepared to take on, so I quickly retreated.

Heading off in search of a sofa

We headed back to the car with the cuckoo still calling regularly. A belief about cuckoos is this: “Whatever you are doing when you hear a cuckoo, you should repeat throughout the year as the call was a sign that the particular activity will be beneficial”. Fine by me.

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