Tuesday, 31 July 2012

BLDSA Ullswater Championships 2012

When I joined the BLDSA, it was the Ullswater Swim that grabbed my attention round the scruff of the neck and I was desperate to have a crack at swimming its 3 beautiful reaches. Trouble was the swim filled up quickly in 2011 and I couldn't get in. Therefore made sure in 2012 my name was the first one on the list.

The 3 reaches are different and interesting in their own right. The first one at the Glenridding end of the lake is cold as it is fed from the mountains of Helvellyn and High Street. This 1-mile reach is filled with 5-ish islands and bays with crags which drop down into the clear water which looks intensely inviting.

The second reach is ca. 3 miles long and more remote on the right bank and is filled with little bays which seem untouched for centuries.

After Howtown, one enters the final 3-mile reach which is more populated with sailing the order of the day and much more accessible to the day trippers from Penrith etc. This reach is also more exposed to the elements and when we saw the lake for the first time on Saturday morning with my canoeist (and uncle) John, we remarked that whitecaps were countless and this was going to be a battle for the Canadian canoe that I had just bought and just to get to the end of this reach in one piece with the kayaker not capsizing would be a battle in itself.

And so, it was with an element of uncertainty that we checked in for the swim on Sunday. We had practised paddling the Canadian canoe on the Saturday afternoon and even turned it upside down - thank god I had riveted in some buoyancy tanks otherwise recovery would have been a right old battle. After turning the boat turtle in the middle of the first reach we managed to swim it to the waters edge and get the water out!!!

At 8.30am, I was set off with the 2 other 'leisurely swimmers' as we had put slower 1-mile times on our entry forms than most of the other 'elite' punters.
Just before entering the water, Janet Wilson (the swim secretary for Loch Lomond) put her hand in the water and said to me that the temperature would be perfect training for what Loch Lomond was going to offer. It felt no more than 11 or 12 but manageable. We soon got going and I was out in front of the group of 3 and round the corner of the first reach and hugged the rocks closely as the came down sheer into the water - to my left at the end of the 1st reach was the beautiful Norfolk island and it really felt like a privilege to have all the safety cover in place to have this terrific opportunity to swim in such a place with relative safety. My canoeist and I felt relieved to have a canoeist out for the day in Pete Fellows not that far away who gave my man some confidence as Uncle John only had 1 hour of paddling under his belt.....(Pete Fellows is a legend btw...)

We rounded the first bend and it was shallow as I hugged the bank and could see massive majestic rocks underneath me. The lake opened up and our view was unobstructed the way it usually is with other swimmers and I was aware to take this 2nd reach with caution as it is at 3 miles long and no walk in the park. I didn't get ahead of myself and literally took it tree by tree. The water felt comfortable now and I feasted on a double strength dose of maxim and half a banana. We made good progress towards the end of the second large bay in that reach which took us to an awesome craggy outcrop at the end. It looked absolutely magical. We then crossed over to the other side to make for the final reach. The wind now started to howl (25-30mph was the forecast) and we were not disappointed!! Half way across to the final 3 mile reach I took a feed and looked behind me all the way back down the 2nd reach that i had just swum and was honoured to see one of the greatest sights a swimmer will ever experience from a lake in Britain - the peaks of the Helvellyn range from the water - this has to be the selling picture for the BLDSA!!. I said to Pete Fellows and Uncle John 'wow - look at that' and the feeling was so intense - just reminded myself why I took this on in the first place...

We rounded the corner into the last reach and passed some cute boathouses and could see multiple yachts in the distance screaming around effortlessly in the strong winds that were capable of making any of them capsize. We plodded on until I asked for a gel to keep me going but it was so choppy my canoeist felt uncomfortable even to pass that over so I said don't worry, I'll just swim to the end and that's what we did. I was expecting the elites to catch us but they didn't....the joy of small victories!!

After a while the rest of the swimmers finished in various shapes and sizes. There were 2 retirements. The lady who set off with me at 8.30am finished in under 5 hours which was immensely impressive given this was her longest swim since Conniston the year before and she had travelled up with her husband who rowed for her and he had only recently had a tripple heart bypass.

After a while we got to the pub and the presentation was soon underway. The winner, Mark Gardner, not only got the trophy but we were told of a story that he saved a child's life in open water recently - truly amazing (and must hear the details of this again). They then read out the bronze medal prize for the men's that went to none other than boy Sheridan who finished in a time of 4hrs 5 mins. Very surprised and chuffed.... So much for a leisurely swim! Uncle John and I then barrelled back into the Canadian canoe and enjoyed the lake for another three hours with a paddle against the wind and waves all the way back to Glenridding where we plonked the boat back on the Monster truck - no sooner had we done so, we were greeted with a symbolic rainbow - the most intense one I had ever seen (very surreal experience):

To conclude, if you like Open Water swimming, this swim is the most picturesque swim in Britain by a country mile.......Also, as an aside, met some incredible people again. Shook the hand of a remarkable man who saved a girl's life recently. Also met a very brave woman who challenged herself to the limit (in her 60s?) to swim these 7 miles accompanied by her husband rowin' after a tripple heart bypass....You never meet a dull open water swimmer or their crew for that matter!!!!

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