Sunday, 13 October 2013

'The Swimmer' returns

After the summer recess (featuring school trips to such delightful spots as Cambridge), at last The Swimmer returned in its classic, London form. Invented by geniuses Will and Jonathan of Tooting Bec Lido and inspired by the John Cheever short story, the basic concept of The Swimmer is an epic swim-run journey from Hampstead NW3 to Brockwell Park SE24. It's a monthly event and I took part through last winter, and basically it's totally totally brilliant!

For the latest installment I had aspiring Brockwell Icicle Marc for travelling companion (at 6am, naturally), making his Swimmer debut with the world's largest backpack and enough kit to supply a company of sherpas for the busy season. Frantic rearrangement of bags-within-bags on the underground only seemed to make the biggest bag bigger...
Totally packed on the tube

Everything to declare
Switching to Northern line who should we encounter on the platform but Brockwell Icicle Peter, sporting some highly questionable footwear which he insisted are the latest in barefoot technology:

Line the gap
Alighting in salubrious Himpstid, we made straight for McDonanlds McMeeting point by the station, there to convene with Will, Jonathan and 20 other participants (a bumper edition!) and to sign away our rights to sue the organisers in the event of injury, death or worse. Bags in the support car, this time kindly driven by Will, and we were off for swim #1 - viz Hampstead men's pond.

The more observant of you will have noticed that I am not a man - indeed, I am a woman! However, with just me and two others (the excellent Ellie and Hannah) representing Team Gal and the ponds pretty deserted at 7.30 of an October morning, we were allowed to access this otherwise exclusive boys club. There's even a small subcompartment within the open-air changing room for such eventualities (which you access, giggling, via the men's section). While it can't compare with the secluded idyll that is the ladies' pond, the men's is still an enchanted spot, and the water looked very tranquil and inviting under the rising sun. There's also a diving board at the end of the jetty where, proudly sporting our white The Swimmer hats, we duly unleashed our testosterone-filled inner egomaniacs.

Today's specials on the board
Here we have a brilliant video from Peter, pictured above, from whose steady hand and post-production skills I can but learn:

The water was a refreshing 13ish degrees, providing a firm but by no means brutal wake-up call that gave way to a glorious little paddle about under some beautiful backlit cloud formations. *sigh of pleasure* What's more weather forecast of torrential rain turned out to be completely off the mark, thank god, and we were blessed with a sunny autumn morning for the whole affair. What luck!

Clothes back on, a few star jumps to get warm and then a short trot to swim #2 - the unique and steely experience that is Parliament Hill lido, where the shimmerings and reflections underwater can make you forget to beathe.

Just time for a fortifying banana in the lido carpark and brief documentation of 3/4 of the Brockwell contingent, including a rare sighting of the lesser-spotted Marcus (Peter was taking the photo):

Now for the first run proper - a 4-mile canter through a who's who of London's scenic spots - among them Primrose hill, for stunning views of London skyline and obligatory group photo (thanks to The Swimmer for this and a few other pics, which I have shamelessly swiped from your website):

...past London zoo (no giraffes in sight - presumably lie in on Saturdays?), through pretty Regent's Park resisting urge to add in a bonus swim through the boating lake, winding our way amongst the smart marylebone streets, before hitting Hyde Park like a herd of over-enthusiastic wilderbeast and our destination for swim #3 - the Serpentine!

Changing facilities = a bench for the boys and a tree for the girls, giving passing tourists better sight-seeing value than they could ever have hoped for (we aim to please). 

Then a quick line up along the jetty before splashing down into the considerably er, 'earthier' waters of the lake.

Snaking our way to the water's edge


Swimming heaven
Back behind tree to change. It's at this point in proceedings I generally discover all my kit is wet and start to feel just a tad cold and tired - nothing for it but a morale-boosting cigarette to fortify the sinews and steel me for the 6-mile leg to journey's end.

We set off at a reasonably sprightly pace which to my (mild and concealed) disappointment didn't really abate, but there's nothing like running in a pack to keep you zipping along. Along towards Hyde Park Corner, cutting right to Sloane Square (where I saw a footprint with individual toes! I was tracking Peter in his weirdo shoes!), over Chelsea Bridge -Battersea power station bathed in sunlight- a nip through Battersea Park, along little streets with cute terraced houses, up a hill (blast you hill!), Clapham Common and finally Brockwell Park and Lido - a blessed sight at the best of times and all the more so after 18km on foot.

Saving the best til last
Back on home turf and happy as a fish, I dashed out a joyful 6 lengths under the October sun and amongst the now familiar shoal of white hats. Here we have a rare piece of Brockwell footage (nice work Peter) with some bonus Serpentine material at the start (where you can see me filming my video above, ha!).

Out of the water, we all shook hands and congratulated one another on our mission accomplished, before reclaiming civilian clothes and making a beeline for brunch at the famed Lido Cafe. Poached eggs never tasted so good nor disappeared off the plate so fast.

P. S. If all that sounds a bit too much like hard work, you might want to check out  'The Swimmer Lite' (as documented on Brockwell Icicle David's excellent and hilarious new blog 'Entirely Surrounded by Crumbs'), which took place simultaneously and, in his words, "let the train take the strain". 

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