Paying the Consequences of Swimming in the River Wild

riverwild_sizedMy family and I have just moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Bradford-on-Avon, England, for a year. Our mission: try out life at a slower pace. In my new series Brooklyn to England, I’ll write about the weekly adventures of living in the English countryside with my British husband, our three-year-old daughter, and my baby-bump (I’m due in September!). Come with me as I go from strollers to prams, diapers to nappies, and whatever else it takes to raise a family abroad.

 In a country known for its unrelenting rainfall, I swear it was clear blue skies for practically the entire summer. Days were hot, nights were warm, and the sun didn’t go down until nearly 10 p.m. for all of June and July.


One of the coolest things to do in weather like this is go for a lazy dip in the river. So a few weeks ago we grabbed our swimming kit (that’s Brit for gear, I think) and hit one of the local swimming holes. Having grown up in drought-pummeled New Mexico, I find wild swimming to be utterly utopian, and the rivers in the English countryside are no exception — full of crazy old men in speedos, beer-guzzling footballers, wholesome families with hibachi grills, and, oh, once I saw a 6-year-old ginger kid with the best mullet-and-rat-tail combo I’ve ever laid eyes on. Everyone comes to the weir, and I mean everyone. Bring a picnic, bring inflatable toys, bring a few coins for the ice cream van, and lick a Mr. Whippy (seriously, that’s what soft-serve ice cream is called), while you splash around in the ice-cold water. The whole thing is bliss. We’re like a bunch of hobbitses chillin’ in the Shire.

So there we were, hobbiting it up one sunny Saturday afternoon. The boldest kids dropped off rope swings into the deeper water, bikini-clad teens flirted under the trees, but we kept it pretty tame in the shallow area, collecting pebbles for Trixie’s ever-growing rock collection. It was a blast, but a few days later, Trixie started acting strange. We went to the playground—the world’s best playground in Bath — and she flopped lethargically on the picnic blanket. In the afternoon, at her swimming lesson, she looked miserable — as if she were swimming to a mundane office job in the suburbs. My inner mommy-siren wailed. What was wrong with my little baby? Well, the answer was regurgitated — chunky and liquid — in a bedside-bucket that night. It wasn’t long before I got a call from my sister-in-law who’d been swimming with us the day before. One of her kids had the same tummy bug, as did her husband. What could have happened to affect just those three people?

Well, if you guessed “swallowed the water at the weir,” you’re right. Trixie didn’t remember swallowing any water, but she’s in a pretty dedicated hand-licking phase, and her grubby mitts had been all over the water. Turns out, our blissful Shire-like paradise comes with a bold-red warning on their website: the water can get a little stagnant both when there’s heavy rainfall and also when the water’s not steadily flowing into the weir.

On the upside, Trixie was a real trooper with her tummy bug. Having not seen her throw up (outside of car sickness) since her first birthday, I was impressed that she could warn me when she needed to puke — and had 100 percent accuracy with every hurl! It’s been a while since we’ve had a new milestone, so I guess I’ll make lemonade out of festering river water, and chalk up her sickness to a new experience.

The problem is, now I’m left with a decision to make. Should we let one tummy bug stop us, or cannonball back in and enjoy the dwindling days of summer? Well, the answer is as murky as the water, but watching my sweet girl vomit for 24-hours straight, it’s a risk I’d rather not take. We’ll stick to the pool if we need to get wet, and there’s plenty of other places to find Mr. Whippy with a chocolate flake.