Wild swimming in Romania
Deep in the heart of the Carpathians, Kate and I parked our van. We were in a field on the edge of some woodlands, basking in glorious sunshine, the shade of the trees beckoning us into their cool, musical light.
We had travelled there in search of Lacul Sfânta Ana (Saint Anne Lake), Romania’s only volcanic crater lake. Nobody had recommended it and we knew nothing of it apart from the fact that it looked inviting on the map and was on our route through Transylvania to Maramureş.
Heading for the lake, through the woods, guessing our way down and round some vague paths, we thought we were following our instinct – but almost inevitably it became clear we were being guided by sound.
Chatter, children playing, water splashing. We were not alone.
The lake, it would seem, was a popular destination.
Picking our way past campfires and litter, we stayed a while, riding our disappointment and taking in the sites. Then we headed back to our quieter, more secluded spot, our home for the night.
Not wanting to be chased away from such a potentially beautiful location – and not to mention, photographic opportunity – we decided to return the next morning. Early.
This time it really was our instinct guiding us. Memories of where to go counted for little in the near darkness of dawn and the only sounds second time around were the owls. And they could have been anywhere, in front, behind or above us, by the water or high in the hills.
But we found it.
And as we did, so did the sun.
It rose over the surrounding hills, warming the water just enough for a mist to rise, forming a smoky, magical curtain for us to wade through as we tentatively entered the water.
The subtle smell of sulphur disappeared from our minds as our main concerns became the cold, the fear of what may be below us and the feeling of exultation as the mist simultaneously parted and then enveloped us.
Losing all sense of direction, I swam. Losing all sense of self, I swam. Losing all sense of what I was doing, I swam.
I was. I existed. I exalted in the now.
And I was bloody cold.
The eternal challenge for me as a photographer is to find that balance between the moment, the here and now, taking it all in on a personal level, while at the same time being able to be sufficiently detached in order to photograph the hell out of it.
Right there and then, deep in the heart of the Carpathian mountains, as I sat on a rock, shivering, drying in the rising sun, I believe I achieved that perfect balance.
And yes, at that very moment, that delicate, ethereal, finely balanced moment, I took a picture.
To this day I use that photograph as a summary, a full stop to any collection of my landscapes. It is an anomaly, a glimpse of where I am and what I feel when I am working.
My wet leg, towel wrapped around it, bottom of frame, drying off in the rising sun, mist floating over the water I had just been in.