Coniston was better. Better than Bala at least – better from a kayaking perspective.
Coniston has always been my favourite BLDSA swim – it seems to wholly embrace the amateur element of the association, yet is set in such a beautiful location that you can’t help but be awestruck by it. It was while swimming it last year that I realised that I wanted to see it all from a different perspective – to get a wider appreciation for it all. That’s why I decided to kayak.
I’d actually made the decision to kayak before I’d found a swimmer who needed one. So while I was being coached by Ray over the winter I relayed this to him and persuaded him to swim the event. Then at the BLDSA dinner, late into the evening after much alcohol had taken effect I promised to kayak for Jo for the veterans’ event too (not that Jo looks like she should be anywhere near the veterans event!).
So I had a full weekend planned. And after the previous weekend I was very nervous.
I drove upon the Friday afternoon and had packed a little picnic and a pint for me to have in my room in the BnB so that I could catch up on some work – and despite some dodgy wi-fi that plan worked well. The Saturday morning it was time the briefing for the veterans’ event and the shuffle up the lake for swimmers and kayakers.
Coniston is a strange lake for swimming in that there is nowhere to set up camp at either the beginning or end of the lake. So we set up at the wonderfully welcoming Bluebird café which is about 1 mile from the end of the lake.
The full swim starts at Water Park at the north end of the lake, however it is private land at while they generously allow us access to the water, we don’t have permission to park and leave cars there (there wouldn’t be room for them all anyway). While the finish of the swim is at the point the lake finishes to the south, but is a little beach (no more than 6 feet in depth), with a little car park and a road immediately next to the beach. Given all of this the shuffle of swimmers, kayakers and kayaks to the start and from the finish is a mammoth task.
The veterans’ swim is a little shorter than the full one (at 3 ¼ miles instead of 5 ¼ miles), so the start is actually not as far up the lake as Water Park and the finish is back at the Bluebird café. This makes the shuffling a bit easier, but only a bit.
The plan originally was for me to kayak up to the start. This would have given me a bit of chance to regain my confidence and would also have provided a bit of a work out too. It was blowy, but nowhere near as tough as in Bala the previous weekend. However, although the kayak was there for me to take, the buoyancy aid and spray deck weren’t, so I couldn’t paddle it. I have to say I was a bit relieved.
So we got to the start and ready to set off. As the name suggests the veterans’ event attracts the associations older members (I have to be careful what I say here as I’ll qualify very soon) and some of them are not as speedy as they used to be, so there is a staggered start to allow everyone to finish roughly together. Jo was one of the speedier ones, so we started in the last group.
Despite my nerves (and Jo’s last minute scramble for her hat and goggles – which she didn’t find and had to borrow from someone else) all started well.
I had been joined by the spare kayaker and in the end we were either side of Jo providing synchronised support and being the living embodiment of the expression “a rose between two thorns.”
A couple of times I wanted to tell him that I was fine and he didn’t need to ‘babysit’ me. But I didn’t. After my inability to properly escort my swimmer on my last outing as a kayaker I realised that consciously or not I was being looked after and that it was not about my ego, but about swimmer safety. So I shut up and the three of us made serene progress.
Until about 30 minutes in, “SHIIIIIIIITTTT!” came a sudden yell from Jo in the water.
I frantically back paddled and shouted out to her, “are you okay?” It turned out that she was fine, the mobile phone she was fishing out of her swimsuit was less fine! In the confusion at the start she had forgotten to take it out of her costume – storing it there for safe keeping once she gets changed ready to swim. Oops!
The rest of the swim passed without incident, although given the staggered start we managed to pass a few people. And then the Bluebird was in sight and we reached the end.
Jo is a joy to be around on these swimming weekends and she clearly loves her swimming. At the end of every swim she lets out a yell and a laugh and proclaims how much she “bloody loved it.” This swim was no different and it was a real honour to provide support for it.
Cups of tea, a quick dip in the lake myself, certificates, rounds of applause and then back to the BnB for a shower and change. Out for dinner and a few pints, with more swimming chat and back to bed ready for Sunday.
Sunday was a different proposition and although kayaking for Jo had calmed my nerves, they hadn’t got rid of them completely. I had asked Ray to swim this event so that I could kayak. He had come all the way up from London just for this – and although he was clearly looking forward to it, there was more riding on it for him than there had been for Jo. Also he was speedier. He was as quick as Rach and I’d failed to keep up with her the week before.
Fortunately all the shuffling at the start meant that I forgot my nerves and before I knew it we were off.
The weather was windy again, but it was a tail wind, so it was [kind of] helpful. It certainly meant I wasn’t having to kayak into the teeth of it and as I’d borrowed Jo’s kayak again I was actually able to relax and enjoy it.
Ray was great to kayak for – a strong swimmer who didn’t actually need any support above the BLDSA requirement and we soon moved towards the front of the swim. I tried to count and I thought we were the 6th or 7th swimmer in the lake and given Ray’s speed it was amazing to watch those ahead of us speed away.
My one criticism of Ray’s swimming (beyond the jokes I made with him about his technique – he is my coach after all) was that he needs to trust his support boat and be willing to swim a little closer to it – but given my recent experiences I couldn’t be too demanding of him.
We made great progress down the lake, occasionally seeming to gain on those in front of us, but never quite reaching them. The wind seemed to be a little bit swirly so we occasionally swapped sides. I tried to navigate as straight a line down the centre of the lake as possible and we continued to make progress.
Now I was experiencing the swim from this angle – and thoroughly enjoying it – I thought about even more ways I could experience a swim. Swimming the damn things seems like such a small part of the process and I was acutely aware of just how grateful I am to all the people that have supported me during my swims – from the kayakers to the safety officials and the event organisers.
Then we were passing the Bluebird café and the end was in sight (for me in the kayak at least – I’m pretty sure Ray couldn’t see it yet). But not only were we nearing the finish, but we were gaining on another swimmer. One last push and we might overtake just before the end. C’mon Ray!
He did push, but so did the other guy and we finished a couple of minutes behind him, but in a excellent time of 2 hours 40 minutes. Not bad for a southern softy!
More cups of tea, congratulations and certificates. And during the presentation Jean who organises the swim so brilliantly announced that she’d like to step down from the job and asked if we knew anyone that might be willing to run it in future.
Well, I had been saying to myself that I wanted to experience a swim from a different angle and Coniston is my favourite swim on the BLDSA calendar, so I might* have volunteered.