Posts Tagged ‘open water swimming’

3 rivers (3)

Don’t you just love a friendly welcome

I have a frequent day dream that I’ll open a letter from an unknown source after a chance encounter and that would lead to a life of adventure. These days of course it would be by e-mail but that doesn’t detract from the dream. The invitation came from Helen via Facebook and was due to an encounter in Estonia, it was for a day of adventure in three different rivers, Cate had been invited as well so we headed north with a tin full of cake and a car full of towels ready for a day of wild swimming.

3 rivers (5)

A killer Swan in the first bloom of youth

We met up with Helen and a few others in a car park by the River Great Ouse. The “No Swimming” sign looked a little ominous but a few of the gathered crowd were decidedly scathing about this addition to the riverside. More worrying was the adolescent swan that was very keen on protecting his patch of the river from anything that moved. He hissed at ducks, dogs and would be swimmers in equal parts. Eventually he bowed to the pressure of numbers and went downstream to terrorise smaller prey.

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So nice, so tranquil, so swim!

We slipped into the water by the bridge. This is the bit I never like. I try to explain to people that I don’t like getting wet but I’m happy being wet; no one seems to really understand this concept, either that or I’m unique in this regard. The water was pleasantly cold. It was cold enough to know it river water but not so cold to require a rapid and instant exit. We headed up-stream against the gentle current past one or two boats and a campsite. A few Swans watched our progress ready to pounce if we got too close. I was loving it, being in a river is so different to being in the clean, clinical environment of a pool. I could taste when the mud was disturbed, I could feel the flow of the river and I could see the ever changing scenery of the river bank. I felt that I could carry on swimming upstream for ever. Eventually though we had to turn round and head back. What seemed like a gentle current on the way up was now giving me a massive push on the way back. I took long strokes and waved at a few passing walkers feeling invincible whilst swimming with the flow. It was almost a shame to get out.

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Cate: dressed for a warm spring day

Wild swimming is a breakfast and cake sport. It should be either preceded or succeeded by one of these. In this respect it’s a lot like cycling. There was a café a stone’s throw away that served a proper breakfast: Fried slice, fried egg, sausage, bacon and beans. This is exactly what is needed after a swim like that; Muesli just wouldn’t enhance the experience.

3 rivers (6)

The River Cam and not a punt in sight

Our next stop involved an encounter with naturists and the River Cam. We got changed for the second swim on a private area by the side of the river. One side was inhabited by naked people and the other by swimmers struggling under dry robes with swimming costumes. It was an amusing juxtaposition of naked men watching people getting changed without exposing themselves.

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Helen, who organised the day, rising majestically from the Cam

There where steps into the water that made the whole getting wet with slightly more civilised but no more pleasurable. Everyone was saying that the water was colder than the last river but I couldn’t feel it myself. They may be more attuned to the minor variations or this may be part of the wild swimming rituals that I’m yet to be initiated into; I just don’t know.

3 rivers (8)

River beasts

We swam up stream past fields of picnickers enjoying the warm spring day. Every now and again we passed punts and canoes being inexpertly guided down the river, All they had to do was keep the boat in the wet bit but a lot of them felt compelled to hug the bank. We turned at the three willows after a bit of debate as to whether one had been chopped down. The way back was litter with Saturday punt traffic. I did wonder if the young couple appreciated moving through a bevy of swimmers, it rather shattered the pre Raphaelite splendour of the scene. A bit further down we came across some juggernaut punts. They were huge and carried many tourists, some of which wanted to ask us questions like “What are you doing in there?” I enjoyed this swim but felt a little chilly as I got changed under the watchful eyes of the naturists. We idled on the grass for a while to warm in the sun. The day could have ended there and I would have been content.

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A small reach of the River Nene

Our third river was the Nene, we arrived mid-afternoon and made our way down to the river past a chocolate box church. A small crowd of safari swimmers had gathered on the bank next to the platform ready for some aquatic fun. Some jumped in, I really don’t know how they do that, I have to slip into the water slowly, making as much fuss as possible. Three of us headed up stream in search for a bridge that we didn’t find. The current was stronger here and that made to going harder but much more satisfying. The gentle push of flowing water heading is a constant gentle reminder that this is living water and not a sterilised indoor puddle. The fast return swim was a joy, one stroke seemed to last for ages and the river bank flew by in a blur. I could get used to this. It was almost a shame to get out, but if I hadn’t I would have missed out on the fabulous chocolate cake that someone was handing out.

3 rivers (11)

Here Be Cake, all hail the Cake!

We finished the day back on the Great Ouse. The river bank was dangerously close to a pub and the will to swim was sorely tested by the proximity of beer. In the end I thought that I’d just have a small swim, maybe though one arch of the bridge and back by another. Once I’d done that my enthusiasm was renewed so I headed off up steam leaving the rest of the party behind. Soon I was happily moving through still water watching the dabbled evening sunlight through the river side trees. I was in a personal heaven. It was everything I loved, solitude, scenery and swimming all in one beautiful moment, this is why I swim.

3 rivers (1)

Not a ripple in sight

 

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This was the first time in nearly fifty years that there had been swimming in the Port River. At some point in the sixties swimming had been banned because of the pollution, since then the port has fallen into decline but as a consequence the water has become cleaner. As part of the redevelopment of the area recreation has been emphasised and North Haven Surf Club had taken up the challenge.

We arrived early as everything was being set up and were the first to register. We had a wander around the impressive array of stalls in the start area and wearily watched the approaching dark clouds. Half an hour before the start the rain came down dampening the parched ground. The rain finished as quickly as it started and in time for the race briefing.

Soon after we were all gingerly stepping into the water ready for the start. The water wasn’t cold but it definitely wasn’t warm. I was so wrong slightly at the start but that went as soon as the hooter went to start us all off.

The first part of the course was across to the opposite shore. Bearing in mind that the previous day I’d flown half way round the world and I’d only had six hours of sleep I was amazed that I was keeping up with everyone around me. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a swim and not a race.

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We turned at the buoy and headed up the Port Adelaide river. It was heavy going. Either the current or the tide or both were against us. However, my thoughts were more occupied with the wall to wall jellyfish that I was swimming through. The water was thick with these translucent slimy blobs. At times, I felt that I could probably get up and walk on them. Everyone and again the water would be clear of them but they would inevitably reappear.

It seemed to take ages to get to the next buoy. I had hoped that this was the turning point but when I got there I realised that the route went under the Birkenhead Bridge. The water under there tasted of diesel fumes and was distinctly unpleasant but at least the next buoy was in sight.

At the buoy the route crossed to the opposite bank and headed back down stream. The swimming got distinctly easier but I was definitely going slower. I could see lots to people in front but whenever I took a sneaky glance behind there was no one. This didn’t surprise me. I passed under the bridge once more only this time I tried to hold my breath to avoid the fumes.

I’m not good at swimming in a straight line at the beat of times but my route to the last buoy was distinctly wobbly. For most of the way I was shadowed by one of the water cover people on a paddle board. This convinced me that I was at the back of the swim and inspired me to swim even more slowly. I was quite surprised when someone passed me as I rounded the last buoy.

After the swim, we feasted on pork sandwiches and nearly hot tea and reflected on being the first people in a very long time to swim in the Port River.

 

 

B2B (1)

Just in case you didn’t know what you were doing

Silly o’clock is not my favourite time on a Sunday morning but sometimes the rewards far outweigh the short term pain of dragging my body from the safety and comfort of the duvet and into a harsh cold world. Today’s reason was to swim the Thames Marathon (or the bridge to bridge as everyone but the organisers know it). I’d packed the night before and followed the satnav so getting to the event required very little thinking. This was good.

The swimmers gathered in the grounds of the Leander club, on the banks of the Thames in Henley. The bacon rolls and tea diverted my attention from being nervous for a little while, then people watching took over. There were all sorts of people gathered. Some were looking confident, some were looking quietly nervous and one woman with a loud voice and east European accent was being very loud.

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Pre-race nutrition

When I was young my next door neighbour built a bird table that collapsed if a cat jumped on it. He really didn’t like cats. I have a feeling that he had a hand in the design of the start pontoon. Once the critical number of swimmers had been reached it tipped over and deposited then into the water. This is great for people who like jumping into water but for those of us with a totally irrational fear of jumping into water it was a little unnerving.

The first problem was knowing which way we were meant to be going. I’ve not done this event before and just assumed that we would go under the bridge. I really couldn’t feel the current so I had no idea if the bridge was up stream or downstream. Eventually I gave up guessing and asked. They pointed me down stream. We wouldn’t be going underneath the bridge.

B2B (3)

From this bridge…

I was, for some inexplicable reason, in the fast group. I knew that I would be at the back of that group so I hung back a little. My race plan was the same as usual, start slow and maintain the pace. The hooter sounded, I found myself a patch of water and started with the long slow strokes. I tried successfully to relax into the swim. I wasn’t in any hurry. The speedy people had disappeared into the distance, I didn’t look behind. Slowly the field thinned out until there were just a handful of people around me, Now I felt like this was a real expedition.

It felt like I’d finished the first section really quickly. I’m sure the current had something to do with that. I was helped out of the water and ushered to the table of sticky delights. I did think briefly about staying here and stuffing by body with all of the goodies on offer but that would have been unfair to those behind. Reluctantly I walked on past the lock and started on the longest of the sections.

There was a lot of scenery to gaze at on the way down the river. Boat clubs mingles with massive riverside properties. I looked at them each time my head broke the surface to breath. It is an odd way of seeing the world. First stroke: look into the grey brown depths, second stroke: look into the grey brown depths, third stroke: admire some passing scenery on the left hand side, fourth stroke: look into the grey brown depths, fifth stroke: look into the grey brown depths: six stroke look at the scenery on the right hand side. When I wasn’t sightseeing I was thinking about my stroke or I was just drifting off into a world of my own; a place where spurious thoughts meet. I could smell roast meat, it was a very strong and mouth-watering smell. I had no idea where it was coming from. It lasted far too long for it to be someone’s breakfast.

I had no internal map of the river so gauging distances was beyond me. I could have spent hours poring over maps and pictures but there would have been no fun in that. Instead I had decided to start at the beginning and take long slow steady strokes until the end came into view. The end of the section appeared more quickly that I had imagined. A man helped me out of the water and had a little chat. He was either being friendly or assessing me for hypothermia, I’m not sure which. The tables of unearthly delights were laden with tasty morsels to replenish my energy stores. I didn’t feel that hungry but as I was here I indulged in chocolate and malt loaf. A tasty yet unusual combination that I wouldn’t recommend due to the malt loaf’s ability to stick to my teeth.

B2B (4)

Swimmers being chased by orange jellyfish

The bulk of the swim was now behind me, there were just two sections to go and the next was the shortest. It started with a quick swim across the lock and then a walk through some trees to the river’s edge. The marshal reassured me that there would be more food at the next stop. He didn’t see me trip over in the shallow in my eagerness to get to the last of the treats. This time we had to swim on the left hand side and past boats of all shapes and sizes. I swear I went past an ice cream boat (think ice cream van on water, complete with a large ice cream cone mounted in the top). It didn’t take long to get to the next stop.

The final section was just a cruise downstream. At this point there was no doubt I was going to finish and the field had thinned out enough that there were very few people around me. Very few to share the experience of the boat passing and turning the water black. One moment it was clear and clean, the next it was as if black out curtains had been pulled over my goggles. It was quite disconcerting. It only lasted a few strokes but that was enough. Further on down I passed a beautiful church. Just after the church the riverbank was decorated with a wonderful balustrade style wall. At regular intervals there was a pot of brightly coloured flowers on top.

All too soon I could see a bridge in the distance, this meant the end of a beautiful swim.

B2B (5)

…to this bridge

twilight 2

Waiting for the sun to go down

 Normally we swim until the sun gets loo low in the sky, tonight we started at sunset and swam into the twilight. The reservoir where I swim hosted their first moonlight swim. We started gathering as the sun slowly sank in the sky. The normal small buoys had been replaced with big yellow monsters that had been draped in fairy lights. Before we dipped into the water each of us had a small balloon tied to us. Inside the balloon was a small light that gave off a pale blue glow.

 

The water was warm, rumour had it it was nineteen degrees. I was glad that I had made the decision to wear neoprene shorts. There is a local bye law that states users of the reservoir must wear a wetsuit. Neoprene shorts are pushing the boundaries of what a wetsuit actually is but at least I was conforming to the letter of the law. Most others were wearing suits, I guess it comes down to what you are used to.

 

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If you squint you can see the swim course

The buoys marked out a seven hundred meter course and there were kayaks on the far corners to make sure that we could be helped if we got into trouble. The lights on the buoys were almost invisible at the start of the swim but as the sun set they became brighter and brighter making sighting so much easier.

 

The swimming was fantastic, at times there was a vast expanse of clear water ahead and it felt like I had the whole lake to myself.  At other times I was surrounded by people all going in the same direction. Every now and again I would look up and wonder why so many people were wearing blue hats. It slowly dawned on me that they were the balloons.

 

twilight 1

The business end of the reserviour

As it got darker the little glow worms got brighter. I just kept on swimming. I lost count of the number of times I went round but it wasn’t enough to not be disappointed when they said that the time was up. I had hoped that we could have swum into the inky blackness of night but that was not to be, we left the water in the last of the dusky light. Ten minutes later the inky blackness descended.

 

The whole evening was rounded off with bread and soup and demands from every one about when the next twilight swim would be.

twilight 3

A man at one with his neoprene shorts

 

 

 

Arun River Swim (3)

The Gathering

I’ve swum the Arun River Swim a number of times before but it keeps dragging me back for more. It’s a 3.8km swim from Ford to Littlehampton and due to the tidal range and timing it can only be described as downhill.

I arrived a little bit earlier than I’d intended but I made some rough calculations and concluded that I only needed a four hour ticket in the pay and display car park. It’s always a tricky thing knowing how much to feed a parking machine when you are not sure how long you are going to be and you have no chance of coming back to make amends for any shortfall. The registration was in the harbour area across from a partially nice café. It seemed to be the done thing to pop in there to partake of some pre-race hydration and nutrition. I couldn’t resist the hot chocolate with extra cream and a flake, making it look more like an ice cream that a hot chocolate. I accompanied it with a very tasty Eccles Cake. Once the sustenance and chatting to people I knew had been done it was time to get to the serious business of putting on the wetsuit. The water, we were told, was 15 degrees, far too cold for mere mortals to bathe in without the protection of neoprene so wetsuits were obligatory. Once the rubber covered my legs it was a short walk to the bus that took us to the start.

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Ford Church

The start was by Ford Church; we all gathered in the car park and took care of the last minute details. I took the chance to visit the church whilst I was there. I doubt I’d visit it any other time and you never know when you need guidance from on high. After a short briefing we walked bare foot to the river, taking care to avoid things that dogs had left behind. We filtered into the warm and brackish water and made our way to the start line. It was then it became obvious that the water was flowing in the wrong direction. There were lumps of seaweed going upstream and we had to swim gently just to maintain our position on the line. I’d chosen a spot away from the fast ones. I had no desire to be caught in the melee of a furious swim start.

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We ignored this sign

The horn went and we were off. Suddenly there were bodies everywhere all determined to be in the little bit of space that I occupied. The current had slackened off, which was a relief. I didn’t fancy swimming against it all the way down the river. Plus I had my four hour parking to consider. I was hoping that the field would spread out a bit so that I could swim in clear water but that didn’t seem to happen. Whenever I looked round there were people about.

I know that I have an inability to swim in a straight line but I was amazed at the number of people who swam across me in the on the journey downstream. Normally if I felt someone behind I would stop kicking for a while so as not to kick them and if someone loomed up ahead I would try to go round them or avoid them. Mostly I was successful but there are some that I just couldn’t get away from.

Arun River Swim (2)

The finish line

The first real marker is the bridge at three kilometres. By the time I got there I could feel that the tide had turned and that I was being pulled downstream. Long relaxed strokes were taking me a very long way. It had nothing to do with my technique. Just beyond the bridge someone tried to swim over me. I wasn’t too happy about that as they grabbed my calf and I nearly came to a halt. It didn’t feel accidental. I did what I assume anyone would do in this situation. I kicked just a little faster and made sure that my heels made contact. That seemed to do the trick, just to make sure I put in a few minutes of a harder effort to get me clear of the over-swimmer.

Arun River Swim (1)

All along the water front

I love the last section of the swim with boats on one side and waterfront apartments on the other. It gives a real sense of swimming down a waterway. The end though was in sight. I could see the edge of the way and knew that just beyond was the slip way. I was feeling warm and comfortable and as if I could do the whole thing again. However unlike the people I got changed with I was not doing a channel relay, so instead of heading down the coast for another swim I was persuaded into a local pub to stuff my face with Fish and Chips. It was a good end to a nice swim.

Arun River Swim (6)

Whale and chips sir?

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Looking out across Feringersee

There was a storm coming. It had been hot all day but now dark clouds started gathering in the south. It had been forecast but now standing on the platform of Ostbahnhof the reality was here. This was a minor setback but it wasn’t going to change my plans. I am going for a swim, I am going to swim outside, and I am going to swim in a lake.

I got off the train at Unterföring and followed the signs. Feringersee wasn’t hard to find, a twenty minute walk and I was there. It was hidden behind trees and then nestled in parkland. Unsurprisingly given the weather there were very few people around, it was almost as if I had the whole lake to myself. I found a handy tree and prepared for an adventure. As I made my way to the water I did worry briefly about leaving all my clothes, money, cards and passport stuffed into a handy carry away rucksack but only briefly. Sometimes you have to believe and trust that most people are good people.

The water was warm, pleasantly warm. As I stepped into the shallows, walking carefully over the gravel bed the water felt silky smooth. This was such a change to the normal harsh clinically clean chemically treated swimming pool water. As soon as the water was deep enough I started swimming. My vague plan was to follow the shore along to the far end and return along the line of buoys that separated the boating area from the swimmers. I started out with a long lazy crawl; I wanted to savor this, a lake almost to myself. The water tasted of earth, sediment and life. The shallows slipped away quickly and the bottom disappeared into the depths. I swam along the margin between deep and shallow for a while until irrational thoughts of sea monsters subsided. I caught a movement below me, something big. Three big carp lazily headed for the depths completely unimpressed with my swimming technique. Then another couple. I was swimming with the fishes I thought in my best Italian accent.

On the map there was an area marked as FKK. I had no idea what this meant, but judging by the three of four people skinny dipping it must be something German for naturist. I fleetingly thought about casting my trunks aside to enjoy the sensation only to dismiss the idea as I would have to carry my trunks back to shore and it was a lot easier to wear them.

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Almost no one to be seen

I felt cold splashes against my back, the rain had started. The surface of the water had taken on that rippled rain splashed appearance. This was my idea of heaven. As I headed for the line of buoys I realised that this was what all the training was for. The hours of going up and down in the pool. The learning of the correct technique. The skipping lunch in favour of some pool time. It was all so I could enjoy moments like this, swimming on my own, in the rain, with a big grin on my face.

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Brighton Pier as far as the eye can see

I like the idea of swimming round Brighton Pier, it gives and objective to a swim and makes it a little bit more than just swimming along the coast. Swimming round such an iconic landmark gives the swim a little more purpose. I’ve swum round it once before as part of a group of swimmers but I’ve always fancied going round alone.

I was feeling quite nervous, standing on the beach at the start of the swim. The sea was calm and the air warm, idea conditions for a swim. I’d checked the tides so that I knew starting on the east side of the Pier would have me swimming with the current. I didn’t want the added complication of swimming against the current. I was still nervous. Swimming alone is different to swimming in a group and well; sea monsters: I’d dreamt about sea monsters. Nervous is good, it makes me check everything.

Once the water started lapping round my knees the nerves started to go. Soon I was heading steadily to the Pier, dragging a brightly coloured dry bag behind me. I’ve swum off this beach a lot and always thought the water was very cloudy, a sort of hazy green cloud, but today it dawned on me that it was really quite clear and the haze I could see was the bottom. I’m not sure why but that didn’t reassure me too much as the bottom was a long way away.

I passed the buoy that marked the edge of the swimming area, it was too early for the life savers to be out so there was no one to complain. The pier widens at the end so I aimed for the far end. I had no desire to go under the thing; I had no idea how much of the construction consisted of spiky metal bits and I really didn’t like the idea of being impaled.

Deep water has a brooding quality, it feels heavier and less playful than the water in the shallows, this water was starting to feel deep. As I started to round the pier I was assailed by the noise of the amusements and rides from above. It was an intrusion into an otherwise peaceful and rhythmic world.

My big fear was jet-skis, they are renown for being a little less than safety conscious, I wasn’t really prepared for the fishing boat that looked like it was heading toward me. It occurred to me afterwards that my dry bag may have looked like a loose buoy but at the time my thoughts turned to the more practical: get back to the swimming area as soon as possible. That line of yellow buoys would protect me from itinerant seafarers. The boat turned and headed out to sea, that made me happy.

I was now heading down the west side of the Pier, happy that the water was losing the heaviness and happy that I’d rounded the Pier with very little drama. The shingle beach waited for me to make landfall, today’s swim was a good swim.

And no sea monsters.

The world has gone mad I tell you

Rules, regulations and warnings, all safely ignored