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Wild Swimming 2016

At this time in early January, we love to discuss our resolutions, goals and plans for the year ahead. We avoid talking about the failed attempts of this time last year.. But we do feel a certain pride when something we set ourselves a year ago was achieved. I love wild swimming, in lakes, rivers and the sea. I was excited at the beginning of 2016 for the weather to warm and the season for optimum swimming opportunities to begin again. I wanted to explore many new swimming spots, including areas around the new city I was living in, Leeds. Over the year I took a lot of dips across England and further afield, which when I look at on a map I feel quite proud of, as I made special efforts to take part in an activity that makes me happy. Here are all of the ‘wild’ swims I did in 2016.

Hathersage Swimming Pool 

The wild swimming year began at the same time as the year itself for me, as some crazy people at Hathersage lido in the Peak District had organised a ‘new years dip’. Whilst all my friends were suffering from deathly hangovers in bed, I awoke fresh faced and ready for the blitzing cold that awaited us. Even though the pool temperature was 7° and the air temperature was barely above freezing, me and my friend braved the cold and shocked our bodies jumping into the cold water. With no wetsuits it was certainly a plunge experience for me, though I did manage to swim a few lengths. Plunging your body into cold water like that brings some kind of thrill, and even though it took us a hot shower, a good few hours, a lot of car heater and a fast paced walk on the hills to warm up; it was worth it for our brief ridiculous moment.

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January 1st 2016: water temperature 7 degrees.

Porth Beach

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This was my first sea swim of the year. It was early April and though the weather looks beautiful here, the water was freezing, which badly affected certain friends testicles… Porth beach is along the Newquay coastline in Cornwall. Newquay has a north-facing coastline which is a rougher sea than the southern coastline. Excellent for surfing, but not so great for us swimmers. Porth however, I would say is the best beach around Newquay for swimming. Its long headland shelters it from larger waves, and when the tide is in the water is calm, and you can swim to different rocky or sandy areas on either side of the beach. Thats on maybe a warmer day though. When we swam we couldn’t endure much more than a few minutes in the cold Atlantic ocean.

Carolines Lake, RSPB St Aidans

Now this swimming experience is a story in itself. When I first moved to Leeds I looked up close by wild swimming locations, and was waiting for the season to come about so I could visit a place that I’d been aware of since September 2015, Carolines Lake. It had a few reviews on wildswim.com so I knew it was legit, I even looked up the location on instagram to confirm that others had swum there, which they had. What I didn’t take note of was the dates of these posts…

I told my friends for my birthday I wanted to go swimming. I thought it would be really fun for everyone to do something unusual, since we spent most of our time playing pool or down the pub, (of course, the plan was to go to the pub afterwards – I didn’t want to go crazy with the unusual activities!). When we arrived at the lake however, we were greeted with this lovely message.

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This sign was swiftly torn from the gate it was weakly attached to and hidden from the rest of the group, not by myself I must add. No, we did inform everyone what the noticed had warned, but we took it as more of a ‘rumour’, than a serious message. People had swam here before right? It must be safe. I called up the RSPB st aidens (the nature reserve where the lake was located) and was greeted by an extemely confused lady at the other end of the phone.

“I’m at Carolines lake” I said. “Carolines who?” the woman responded. “The lake! Your lake Carolines lake”. “My mate who??”.

The lady did seem to say no swimming, but it was more for the reason of ‘why on earth do they want to do that’ than with any toxicity issues. After attempting to explain our predicament I came to the conclusion that I was going down a blind alley and we should just brave the waters, avoid the algae and not put our heads in the water. Plan. Its my birthday, everyone is in a good mood. If we get ill, thats a problem for tomorrow to handle.

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Spiritual

Aside from quite a generous helping of floating pond slime (possibly toxic algae), the water was quite nice. Most of the group went in, one with his iPhone still in his trunks. It was cold, but we had an adventure. And we really did deserve those pub drinks later.

Oh yes, I should also mention that though we didn’t necessarily make the most sensible decision, all my fellow lake swimmers and I suffered no health issues after out dip in the toxic lake.

Ilkley – River Wharfe, Illey Pool and Lido

I drove some friends up to Ilkley in the early part of the summer to go swimming. They have a pool and lido with a backdrop of the hills of Ilkley moor which looked like an ideal place to spend a summers day. There was also a river swim extremely close by, on a bend of the river Wharfe. I wanted to try both places while we were making the journey, so we started off at the river, then planned to head to the lido for another swim and shower after. The river ended up being our favourite. The day wasn’t quite as warm as we’d hoped, it even began to drizzle with cold rain as we walked to the spot, so we weren’t expecting a luxurious experience in the river. The water was a pleasant surprise though. It was quite shallow, enough to make it a manageable temperature, and after getting through a current part of the river (which was strong enough to stop a labrador from moving) there was a deep area to swim, between two shingle banks, like little river beaches. The river ended up being such a nice experience that it outdid the lido. Don’t get me wrong, the lido was fun, we had a beachball, we did penguin dives, and the lifeguard forgave me for going on the slide meant for children because I shouted ‘I don’t pay taxes I’m not a real adult!’. But its depth and size meant it was very cold, and as students, we all of course prefer a free experience, which the river of course was. I will definitely be returning there this summer for another river swim.

Scheveningen Beach, The Hague

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Seeing paragliders and clouds while walking along the beach

During a roadtrip we coined ‘Euro 2k16’, visiting various places in Belgium and The Netherlands, we took a detour en route from Amsterdam to Bruges in The Hague. We knew there was a beach, so we had a little investigate. The beach was massive, long and flat, so it was windy. This meant the sea was cold and the waves were big, so not ideal for swimming, but a worthy experience to have swam somewhere other than in England. I think we enjoyed sandcastle building more than the swimming, but again, braving the cold gives me a proud feeling, kind of like I just conquered a fear. Scheveningen reminded me of cross between how I imagine Los Angeles, and Skegness. I hope thats not taken as an insult though… I thought this place was extremely peaceful, and enjoyed seeing all the paragliders – maybe I should return and try paragliding next.

Cley next the Sea

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Blakeney estuary

I went on a weekend holiday to Blakeney in Norfolk with my family, during which the weather was amazing. This, combined with the sea air, made me want to go swimming so badly, but the estuary in Blakeney was just too shallow for a swim. Instead, one afternoon some of us drove to the nearest official beach, Cley next the sea, for a swim, while the others stayed in the hotel to watch the Wimbledon final. The beach was shingle like others in the area in Norfolk, which meant the water was quite clear for the English sea. Small waves made the water good for swimming, and the long flat beach seemed like it went on for miles. While staring into the distance of the coastline, we spotted a looming grey raincloud, which sure enough was over our heads just at the point we were getting out. In typical British weather fashion, the sky over the hotel about 2 miles down the road was crystal clear, blue, with not a spot of rain in sight.

The Latitude lake

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In potentially the hottest temperatures of the year, swimming in the lake at Latitude festival was the most refreshing feeling. To get in the water you had to jump off a platform, but that was just what we needed. I think they were holding swimming lessons too.

Loch Ness

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Check out my wingspan duuude

Okay.. I just dipped a toe. But the intentions were there and it was awesome to see. I believe its worth noting because seeing Loch Ness was part of my first ever visit to Scotland. Loch Ness is so deep you could fit the empire state building in it, lengthways. Learnt that from a real scotsman I did; accent and all.

Whipsiderry Beach

After spending a long weekend volunteering with Oxfam at Boardmasters festival in Newquay, we were all feeling a bit groggy. It was hot, I was annoyed at having to do everyones washing up. But the thing that would make me feel better was right outside the flat we were staying in. The cool ocean of Whipsiderry Beach, another one of Newquays finest beaches. Again, the boys who accompanied were not happy about the temperature of the water, so they went to do some on-land cave exploring while I did some water based exploring of my own. I came across a couple of jellyfish, but on the whole that swim was lovely. And I was out for ages, so felt like a badass for enduring the cold.

RaceHub at Six Hills

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Sunset and friends

Six Hills golf club is a spot in Leicestershire I first visited the year before. Its purposely used for triathlon training, so you don’t get any funny looks for swimming. Everyones really nice, they have facilities, and its also a really beautiful place. The lake is designed to be swum in circuits around the central island, but we just lazed around in the water for the most part, followed by watching a beautiful sunset over the lake.

King Lears lake, Watermead country park

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Happy place

The problem with Six Hills is that its only open for swimming at certain times on certain days of the week. One day it was boiling hot and I was lying in the garden thinking I just had to find a place to swim. Honestly I thought I would’t find anywhere spontaneously because where I live I usually have to travel for a while to get to a good spot, but I got lucky finding this place. In Leicestershire again, this lake is in Watermead country park, close to Six Hills. Going there on a sunny afternoon alone was so peaceful. There were other swimmers in the water, the water was calm and warm enough to stay in a long time, I swam from the jetty area to the statue of King Lear and back again. The next week I took my mum, who also liked it. Also here is the place I swam with ducks. They are so much faster than they look. I couldn’t keep up. I think this spot is one of my new favourite places, even took the lilo out for a spin.

Szechenyi Thermal Baths, Budapest

After years of wanting to go to Budapest, I finally persuaded someone to go with me. We visited these baths on a winter holiday, which made the thermal aspect all the most luxurious. Szechenyi were the ones we chose to visit because of the huge range of pools and the outdoor area, which had jacuzzi jets and fountains amidst the almost freezing outdoor temperatures. It was a brilliant end to the wild swimming year – on a much more relaxing note than how it started. Hungary is famed for its natural thermal waters, theres a whole load of interesting history about it, which we unfortunately did not pay enough attention to on the boat tour we went on the previous day. Too busy drinking cheap beer and living the life.

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I often find places to swim on wildswim.com, so massive shoutout to the people who run that site – I wouldn’t have found half these places without the wildswim map. The concept behind the site is basically a community of swimmers who plot places to swim on a map and describe their experiences in these places, with warnings and other advice. These descriptions are so useful, so hopefully me writing my experiences with some of the spots I have swam in will be of use in helping others who love wild swimming find cool swim spots too. I’ve had a lot of fun dragging my friends to these weird and wonderful places in 2016 and I look forward to more of the same this year.

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Challenge Norway 2014

So last summer I went on an expedition to Norway with school and it was amazing and things.  I wrote this ‘article’ for the school magazine and I thought I would also post it on here, but it’s VERY long so I wouldn’t bother reading it if I were you, read one of my other posts!

I’m not sure if the feeling was mutual throughout the whole group but on build up day on the 20th of July I was extremely nervous about the trip ahead. It was scary to leave behind everything which seems so normal to us like our phones and internet and of course our parents to embark on this adventure which for most of us would be the longest we had ever been away from home, and not being able to know at all what was going on.  However, we were all feeling much more comfortable about this prospect after a hefty BBQ including a lot of grilled halloumi cheese.

Travelling to Norway was extremely exciting (apart from a long and anticipating wait for our cases to come off the conveyor belt in Oslo airport). The plane journey was insane.  Most people around me were fast asleep but I couldn’t look away from the window as we were flying over the country.  From this high above I could already tell how beautiful Norway was and how different it would be to the environments we were used to in England.  There was so much water everywhere in rivers, streams and huge lakes, and so little built up areas.  And on the coach journey from the airport all we could see were fir trees and lakes and hardly anything was unnatural or manmade, on the road we were traveling on we barely met any other cars.

We stayed for a few nights in Haugastøl hotel which acted as our base for sorting out all the gear we had and preparing for the different parts of the trip ahead.  This was also the home of possibly the best pizza in the world, definitely the best when we had it again at the end of the expedition.  One of our sorting and planning days before we properly set off into the unknown we spent some time walking round a lake.  This was on a day when the weather was good and we went swimming in this huge lake up from Haugastøl.  Unfortunately on this walk Emma Hinchley tripped and sprained her ankle.  Emma was in a lot of pain and was taken to see a doctor while the rest of us worried she might not be able to take part in parts, or perhaps all of the expedition.  It is so typical and ironic for a major accident (the most major of the whole trip) to happen like that at the very beginning, on the simplest of walks compared to what we would be doing in the following days.  Luckily, Emma returned to us just in time for dinner that evening.  She had a bad sprain, but she was going to be fine and would be able to re-join the team for most of the activities we took part in.

The first chunk of Challenge Norway was mountain biking.  This took place over 2 days, with one day in the middle for the Ice Cap Trek.  The mountain bikes had pedal breaks and were hardy to help us tackle the terrain which was at times (especially on the second day) very rocky and difficult to manoeuvre.  We carried the gear we would need in panniers on the bikes for the entire distance of the cycle route from Haugastøl to the campsite where we began kayaking, Flam.  This was 80km in total on the Rallarvegen bike route descending 1000m.  The first day was so hot so we had a lot of ‘fill up stops’ where we could get water from any running source around, which there always was.  The views on this day were amazing especially with the weather being so nice the sky was so blue and clear. We saw lakes, rapids, mountains, some of which were topped with snow and so much more, while getting some pretty awful tan lines from the blazing sun.

The first and one of my personal favourite campsites was Finse.  We had a small pool which we could swim in, an area to have a fire, a patch of snow for some reason, mountains to go to the toilet, stream to collect running water and even a large rock for Jess to stand on and sing 80s music…  We returned to Finse as our final campsite and it had changed so much due to heavy rain and snowmelt.  We couldn’t return to the spot we pitched our tents before because it was now a marsh.  Because of the hot weather and the presence of so much water, Finse camp the first time round was the home of a mass mosquito attack.  These pests definitely were prone to some favouritism.  Some of us got away with no mozzy bites at all but Lydia was slightly less lucky, and woke up on ice cap day with 87.

In between the two biking days we trekked up onto the famous Hardangerjøkulen ice cap.  We wore harnesses for this with a rope thread through so we were all attached together.  We also used cramp-ons on our boots to allow us to be secure in the hard ice.  We looked down looming crevasses and into blue water holes while being roped together.  The crevasses looked so deep and endless, so jumping over them was scary especially when there was a wide gap to jump.  We learned about the ice cap from Carl and Uda who had come from Haugastøl to show us round the ice.  Unfortunately we learned that year on year the ice cap is shrinking due to pollution, which we saw evidence of when we were trekking with Uda.

After this we mountain biked ‘all downhill’ for a day.  At least this is what we were told would happen on the second day of biking, but in reality we had some big climbs for at least half the day then a huge and scary descent all the way to Flam.  I say scary because it really was.  Underfoot (or wheel) there were huge angular stones which would jerk your tyres about and send you flinging around in random directions, there were plenty of falls including myself where somehow I ended up with a handlebar-in-bra situation and Freya the queen of falls who mastered 2 almost full body flips.  The steepest and most frightening part of this downhill was around 23 hairpin bends which to me seemed impossible to even attempt without getting off the bike.  We biked 50k in that day, and we were rewarded with a REAL CAMPSITE with REAL TOILETS.  The night we spent in Flam was set up to be the night of luxury in preparation for the kayaking day ahead, but it ended up being the night of the electric storm.

The first day of kayaking ended as soon as it began.  We paddled 5k before we found a campsite to stay at, this wasn’t the campsite we had planned to originally stay, but we had set off late, the rain was so heavy and the sky was getting darker so we couldn’t carry on to the next site.  This was a miserable point.  It was pouring with rain, we were soaking wet and cold, the paddle jackets we had borrowed for kayaking were deceiving in their looks as they were so far from waterproof it was untrue.  Somehow we managed to pitch tents in these conditions with a lot of teamwork holding up the outer layer while other people scrambled around trying to put poles in the inner without getting it wet.  At this point I was extremely thankful for the dry bags that my clothes and other belongings were safe inside.  After the weather and we had calmed, we sat under a tarp and talked with our kayak tour leaders Ervin and Britt-Marie.

Kayaking through the Fjords was a wonderful way to experience such interesting landscapes.  Our guides were so friendly and knowledgeable about the history of the fjord and it was so interesting to get to know such passionate people that loved the country so much.  In breaks from paddling we would raft up – hold on to each other’s kayaks side by side so we could stay together as a unit without drifting.  We played games when we had breaks such as ‘there’s a triangle’ and where Emma Stewart and Allie climbed over all the kayaks without falling in the water.  The second campsite on the fjord had the best views and a waterfall that stretched up to the top of the fjord which Alice, Maya and I had a shower under.

On the third day we ended up in Gudvangen.  We had a lot to do on this day, arrive, sort out all the kayaks, collect our trekking kit and food and dump our kayaking gear and other things we didn’t need for the Duke of Edinburgh section.  Then say goodbye to our guides to get on a public bus with our DofE rucksacks packed with 7 days’ worth of stuff, much to the annoyance of the other bus members, and embark on a steep uphill trek in the rain to find a suitable campsite for the night.  In the midst of all of this it was Hannah’s birthday, but luckily we did manage to fit in time for cake courtesy of Britt-Marie and Ervin.  The campsite on that day was so far from looking like a campsite when we found it.  We had to remove some serious rocks and boulders from the ground before we could put up the tents, but it ended up being another truly beautiful campsite, with views from the ascent we had just climbed all the way down to the fjord we had left earlier that day.

Steve came into our tents the night before DofE to say good luck to us because he, Miss Lynn and Carolyn wouldn’t be there to help us anymore; we were going to be walking in our group of 7 without immediate guidance.  However Miss Lynn would of course be watching us while hiding in the hills.  At one point we saw them walking behind us on the other side of a valley.  They must have been half a mile away but when we shouted ‘Good morning TO YOU’ we sure enough got a reply.  When Steve came to wish us luck he gave us some advice which sounded so stupid that we just laughed.  He said ‘if you’re lost and fed up girls, don’t worry, just put up a tent’.

Crossing rivers and snowfields was a nightmare, and at times really scary.  Everyone’s feet got wet and cold but there was no alternative as the route led straight through some rivers with no bridge or crossing at all.  It was true wilderness and there was no sign of this trail being a real path except for red painted T’s on every other boulder.

The DofE trek was 4 days long and on the second day the weather had turned on us.  We had headed into the mountains and remained high.  It completely clouded over and got to the point where we couldn’t see the next red T in front of us.  It was freezing, slippy underfoot; my hands had swelled up to twice the size because of the icy wind and the altitude.  We were getting tired and confused about where the path was taking us, the more we climbed the colder and cloudier it was getting and we had no idea where the summit was.  To our pleasant surprise, the leaders appeared behind us and caught up to give us a much needed prep talk including similar content to ‘you’re all just flippin’ amazing’.  At this point we were over the moon that we’d found the leaders, but we had no clue where the other group was.  The last we had seen of them was Olivia walking across the snow into the unknown, away from the rest of her group.  We walked on into the icy cloud trusting the path Miss Lynn and Carolyn were taking us on and sure enough as we walked further, we heard a faint whistle.  Cathy and Miss Lynn whistled back and in the distance we saw the faint silhouette of Olivia leaping up blowing the whistle.  As we got closer towards them we couldn’t believe what we saw.  They had become so lost from not being able to see the next T that they had actually put up a tent.  When we finally got to them Izzy got out of the tent and she was crying hysterically because she was so happy that we had found them and that she wasn’t going to die.  The sight of that was priceless, there was nothing else to do but laugh.

Miss Lynn said she would be happy to sign off our Gold DofE awards right there because of what we had achieved, but we needed to get off the mountain.  We spent a cold night camped up there before we could descend, then we were finally back at a more normal altitude, in normal conditions, on the good old Rallarvegen cycle path.  The others managed to walk 30k in that day all the way back to the end point at Finse, even with Georgie possibly having the biggest blister in Norway.  We decided to pitch our tents near a waffle house that we had stopped at on one of the biking days.  We returned to Finse a day later, and it was the happiest and most achieving feeling.  As soon as we stopped tiredness hit us like the electric storm had in Flam.  All we wanted to do was get back to the hotel, get clean, and eat that beautiful pizza again.  Luckily we did just that the day after, and it was so worth the wait.

Norway wasn’t just a 17 day expedition it was much more than that.  Training had been going on throughout year 12 and over the course of it all we had really bonded as a group and we had learned so many things.  Challenge Norway was one of the biggest opportunities that have ever come my way and I don’t regret taking it for a second.  I’ve learnt so many things and if I’m honest I never expected to enjoy the trip as much as I did.  It was incredible, a true challenge but a true adventure.  Carolyn Bailey was brilliant, there couldn’t have been anyone better chosen to lead us.  I feel so much more knowledgeable about adventuring now.  I know how to make a ‘leave no trace’ fire, how to pick a successful spot for wild camping and how to be cope with feeling so far away from comfortable and normal things.  We travelled, by different means, from Haugastøl to Finse up to the Hardangerjøkulen ice cap and down again, to Flam to Gudvangen to Upsette to Hallingskeid back to the cycle route to Finse then to Haugastøl again to finish.  We embraced this whole area and managed to do and see so many things that I will maybe never have the chance to experience again.  We had a group talk with Miss Lynn, Carolyn and Steve after the expedition where we talked about our highs and lows of the trip and what we feel we’ve learned.  One question asked to us was ‘what’s next?’ and for me the answer would be to take part in more adventures and explore more beautiful places like Norway.  I’m sure I can speak for all 14 of us when I say that the skills and experiences we have learned and shared will continue to inspire us to do many similar things, and Norway is the beginning of many more adventures to come.

Norway

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