Love of the Lakes (featuring Great North Swim)

Posted on July 14, 2016. Filed under: 5k, great north swim, great scottish swim, swimming |

I am a Highlander at heart.

I may have been born on the Clyde but I am as much a Weegie as I am a Chinaman.

Growing up on the edge of the Highlands, every time I watch Rory on a never-ending, silver, windswept, arctic beach wearing nothing but a streak of sand encrusted snot I am reminded of photos of me as a child. My happiest days as I grew up were battling the increasing corporate indolence by retreating to a tent at the weekends and bagging Munros.

But the Highlands are spikey.

They are bare and barren and dangerous to the foolhardy, and fools. Their majesty is their devastating desolation. Every journey is a life changing adventure, an eternal trek somewhere over the horizon. A trek in which you’ll likely see no humans, no things built by humans and have no contact with humans on the other side of reality.

I Highland whenever I can. But every June, without fail, we have packed the tent in the car and gone North. Out with wifi and comfy beds and your own shower and in with massive sand dunes and mountain passes and big sky. So much sky.

And that was the plan this year again. But for the Keswick Mountain Festival trip.

Three nights in the Lakes was not enough. We had to go back, for more adventuring.

All wild places are wild. And dangerous. But. But the Lakes feel different. If Disney did wild country it would be like the Lakes.

Where the deep Highlands can feel like a post-apocalyptic dystopia, the Lakes are pretty bloody jolly. Folks in active wear, with walking poles EVERYWHERE. Folks in active wear, with walking poles drinking warm beer and eating ploughmans in sunny beer gardens. It’s warm and jolly and smiley.

When you meet a stranger on the hills in the Highlands they have the thousand yard stare. You look into their eyes and you see the horrors that they have seen on their latest traverse. In the lakes you smile at their rosy cheeks and beer burps and their warm welcome as you meet them on the trail.

In the Highlands every drive leaves you corralled between jaggy, grey, dry-stane dykes or precipitous drops to peaty bogs. In the Lakes the roads are padded with hedgerows of ferns and nettles and soft foliage, like those helmets for toddlers to stop them bumping their head on a table edge.

As you dip your toes in a Highland loch for a swim you take a deep breath ready for the blackness, and the chill and whatever weather the swim gods will rain down upon you with great vengeance and furious anger. In the Lakes a swim is warm, and clear and the winds bring benign waves that are fun rather than life threatening.


The Highlands are a special kind of grey, a crazy, mad darkness that Dulux could not replicate on it’s colour chart while The Lakes are the most vibrant green. A glowing verdant countryside that would provide the perfect green belt to The Emerald City.


We had so much fun. Marching up to the top of a hill to a cave or a quarry or a waterfall. Schlepping along to the lake for a swim or some pebble throwing or just getting wet. Rory and Ted both finding their favourite sticks and then arguing over them. BBQing under Wansfel and then jogging up Loughrigg before breakfast the next morning. Getting gingerbread in Grasmere and fish and chips in Bowness and ice cream in Ambleside. Visiting Brockhole and Wray Castle during the day and reading Beatrix Potter at bedtime.

And thank you to Ambleside legend, Norseman, Celtman and practically every other kind of man, Chris Stirling for being so generous with his time and knowledge and even selling me the one OS map that I didn’t already own.


The Lakes are almost perfect. Almost. But we need to talk about the beer. The beer spoils it. Bloody awful stuff. The Highlands are brewing the most amazing craft beers at Black Isle and Cromarty and Skye and Cairngorm – modern, hoppy, fizzy, chilled. The Lakes have loads of modern, craft breweries but they are brewing the same old stuff – warm, flat and just a bit blah. It’s not often I choose Generic Lager over anything else but the Lakes kinda makes me do that.

Anyway. I digress.

The Great North Swim.

Once the cottage was booked I had a dawning realisation the GNS was on when I was there. But it would probably be miles away and it’s always full booked any way.  Except it wasn’t. It was on our doorstep and there was space in the 5k.

I hadn’t planned to swim a 5k. I wasn’t ready for a 5k. But I desperately needed open water time before the Thames Marathon and the Great Scottish 10k.

What the hell? I was in.

First thing to say about the Great North Swim is that it is like all the other Great Swims on steroids. It is huge. It starts on Friday and finishes on Sunday and thousands of swimmers drift through the waters over the weekend. The location is great but also not so great. The scenery is stunning and it allows for close up spectating from the shore but there is a LOT of walking.

It is a long walk to the site. The site is vast. And it’s a long walk home. Apparently there were hot tubs. Never saw them. Apparently there were segways.  Never saw them. Sooooo big compared to our nice compact Loch Lomond venue.

Anyway. I haven’t swum a 5k since I finally got over myself and my fear of long distance by Slaying Demons last August. I was in better swim shape back then but also hungover and full of McDonalds so I reckoned if I could get a similar time I’d be happy.

We hiked up to the venue. Had a look around and then I got suited up ready to go at 0930.

Warm up was a perfunctory walk through an area not unlike a human sheep dip. I got my suit wet, my head under and managed to steal a few strokes amongst the human soup. Bizarrely one fella, presumably warming up for the 5k was having a panic attack in waist deep water and holding up our conga. No idea how he’d have coped in deep water.

Things then proceeded as all Great Events do. A dry land warm up. Race brief.  General motivational merriment. Self seeding by speed that has all the human bricks seeding themselves as great whites. A countdown. The horn.

My approach to a mass start swim is very particular. It has been honed over the years from too many unexplained bad swims. What I know now is that if I start off too fast, even marginally, by about 200m in I am gasping for air and certain that a boa constrictor is squeezing the life out of me. In my first open water swim start I became irrationally convinced that the TV helicopter was sucking the air from my lungs.

So now I start as slow as I can. Literally at the stall point where I can’t maintain forward momentum. And then, as I am reassured that I am settled into my stroke, and as the human stramash eases, I start to pick the pace up to a more comfortable race pace.

I must have picked up the pace too early. I felt the rising panic as I approached the first buoy. But I know what it is now so I took the pace right down until I recovered and carried on.

There really isn’t much to write about the actual proceedings of an open water swim. Bubble, bubble, breathe. The odd boot in the face. A low flying swan. A squint, but VERY ENTHUSIASTIC swimmer.  Bubble, bubble, breathe. Repeat. Repeatedly.

I had no expectations of time. It was just about relaxed, open water time. As I neared the ramp I couldn’t focus on the big clock but I imagined it would be somewhere near the 1:37 at Loch Lomond last year.

On to my feet. Goggs and cap off. Cross the timing mat. 1:21.


Probably a mistake. Must be the time for another race. I scan the crowd for Pam, Roar and Ted. No sign. I wander the length of the site. Noooope.

I had told them just over 1:30. Maybe the 1:21 was legit.

It is.  I do my shocked face and I’m not even faking it. Keswick had been a wake up that I could do a decent pace in open water but I knew I faded there. Perhaps it was the 10k run that caused the fade rather than general swim sloth.


We all meet up and I take Roar off to the change tent to get a wetsuit on to get into the Lido. Talk about a duck to water! Aquasphere loaned him some goggles and a cap and he spent his time in the water trying to dive to the bottom to get stones. A natural!


The countdown is now on for the Henley Bridge to Bridge, and almost immediately after the Great Scottish Swim 10k and then a reprisal of the Forth Crossing.


I am doing plenty of swimming and looking forward to the challenges ahead. If only my wetsuit would stop garroting me……..




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5 Responses to “Love of the Lakes (featuring Great North Swim)”

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Great blog! Great swim time. Just altogether Great! Can I make a suggestion for your wetsuit chaffing. I had exactly the same when training for IM and found this amazing stuff called Tri Slide. Its lubricant in an aerosol can and I can honestly say since using it on my neck my wetsuit has never chaffed since but if I forget it – I get the same friction burn as you. Its available from Amazon. Its not cheap at £14 a tin but it lasts ages if you only use it on your neck area.

Liked by 1 person

Thank you! That sounds like worth testing! The next stage was a barrier of tape so the spray might be less intrusive.


Love reading your writings! Always glad to see similar experiences although sadly not the swim time.. 🙂 p.s is that still the same old, slightly ill fitting wetsuit?


Thanks Sarah! Nope, the old wetsuit ripped 30 minutes before a 5k requiring an immediate replacement!

Liked by 1 person

Ah new wetsuit irritation 😉


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