First challenge of the year; join me swimming to Pells Pool in Lewes?

high above Oxford Street
Floaty jellyfish like installation above Oxford Street


I have been mulling over which swimming challenge to take on this year. It’s all very well swimming up and down but I need a bit more purpose, something to aim for. Back in September I set myself the goal of swimming outside at the lido, without a wetsuit, for as long as I could into the winter. I thought I’d don a rash vest, but I didn’t. We were blessed with a bizarrely warm end to the year, which helped no end, and it was really exhilarating to enjoy swims on both Christmas Eve (10’C water) and New Year’s Day (8’C water). The video is proof of my 1.1.2016 swim 

The temperatures are now back at more seasonal level, so water around 4-5’C and I am just not sure about that, so for now I’ve moved inside to Kentish Town. It’s a beautiful Victorian pool, 30m long, with windows on the sloping roof through which you can see blue sky and sometimes vapour trails. They keep it cool, and when possible it’s lit just by natural light. It’s not a patch on a lido though… today the pool was evacuated for a false alarm, someone dropped their lunchtime soup in the changing room, splat, and rather than clear it up themselves left it there, and the chemical cocktail in the water gave me a very ruddy, stingy face. But I clocked up 1.2km.

Since the new year I’ve been mulling over which swimming challenge to take on. It’s all very well swimming up and down but I need a bit more purpose, something to aim for. My uber sporty friend suggested a race; knowing I’m a solitary swimmer she thought a distance challenge might work. So, something like swimming the Channel (21 miles according to the Channel Swimming Association), or swimming across the Solent (mile and a quarter), and asking others if they’d like to join me with us regularly clocking in to update distances swum to date. I then got carried away. Pells Pool in Lewes is top of my list of lidos I’d like to swim in this year. I checked out the route on the AA Route Planner. It’s 94.9 miles / 152.7km away from my home! Imagine, though, I could swim the distance there AND swim in it too. That’s the equivalent of 5090 lengths of the pool at Kentish Town. Here’s Pells – doesn’t it look gorgeous? (Photo credit @PellsPool)

Pells Lido 2015

Is there a pool you’d like to swim to this season – and then swim in? Please do let me know if you’d like to join the challenge. I’m going to get drawing and do a lido-ometer with some other distances-to-lidos marked up along the way. If I do this metaphorically I can first swim to London Fields Lido, on to Hampton lido, out to Charlton Lido, perhaps with an honourable diversion inside to the London Aquatics Centre as it’s such a special pool to visit, and then it’ll be smooth journey south to Pells. Once I’m there I could head north out of London up the A1 to Ilkley Lido – scene of a top 2015 family day out – that’d be a total of 11,206 30m lengths.

I’ve always been a bit envious of some of the swimming hats at the lido – particularly the pink one with ‘Ferries are for Wimps’ on it. Mind boggling, I think the lady is a Channel swimmer. So perhaps through this I can earn myself a special ‘I’ve swum to Pells Pool’ hat…

Will you join me on my challenge? Leave a comment here or find me on twitter @loveswimming

(Pells 5090 – 40 = 5050 to go!)






New season, new challenge: trials of a trainee swimming gala official

Autumn is most definitely with us, rain and conkers have begun to fall, and most importantly the temperature gauge at the lido is on its way down fast. I had the most perfect end of summer swim at the weekend in the enormous 60m by 27m pool at Gospel Oak which I had all to myself. No one’s limbs but mine breaking the surface of the water, no one to avoid colliding with and no one but me gazing at the silver stainless steel lining on the bottom. Heaven can be the Gospel Oak lido. It was 16′ which is absolutely fine if you keep moving and are sporting a new festive swim cap like mine from Canada.

swim cap

I’m sure autumn’s a time for reinvention, why leave it all to January when you’re feeling bloated, depressed and cold? I’ve taken on new challenges, the first is very much in the spirit of #ThisGirlCan or perhaps #ThisMotherisGoingToTryTo and is to train for British Swimming’s Judge Level 1 qualification. This entails three classroom sessions: learning about time keeping, what’s a legal turn and what’s not, heaps more about correct strokes and watching videos when me the novice tries to spot what on earth the super slick swimmer could possibly be doing wrong.

Then there are the practise sessions poolside – 10+ of these – when the trainees are let loose sans L Plates or even P Plates to time and watch and judge at real galas featuring highly competitive swimmers. You might imagine adrenalin is all kept to the guys diving off the blocks and pounding up and down, but oh no, I was overflowing with the stuff as I stood there all in white (eek, yes, white polo shirt, white jeans, white flip flops and *tangerine toe nails*) clasping the stopwatch in one hand and the back up button in the other trying not to press STOP or LAP or START prematurely.

This first poolside practice was at Barnet Copthall, a pool I have travelled to many times for the Super Swimmer’s (now aged 11) galas. I normally fail to get a seat to watch, so squidge up with other parents on the damp concrete. But this time I got to perch on one of the Officials’ Only chairs. There’s a lot of leaping up and down – check out the rule manual:

‘On hearing the long whistle the Timekeepers must;

Stand up to indicate readiness to the Referee (in fact I didn’t want to sit down lest I missed something)

Listen / watch intently for the starting signal (YOU BET I WAS!)

When the starting signal is given Timekeepers must;

Start the watch

Sit down

Check that the watch is running’

But before all that for each race you have to check the swimmer’s in the correct event, correct lane, correct heat, what their name is, what stroke they’re doing and how many lengths. That is a lot of checking, whether you’re talking experienced masters swimmers or enthusiastic and perhaps very nervy young ones. They just thrust their entry card at you, or put it on your clipboard, and if you’re not very careful you end up with a wodge of cards not knowing who’s who. (NB note to tutor: I will get better at this!) I bet I’m not the only trainee who’s panicked at a ‘200m IM’ thinking is that 200m of each stroke, or 50m of 4??

Woe oh woes it went pear-shaped twice. Twice I pressed the wrong button. It’s mortifying as you have to flag down a Proper Qualified Official who takes over timing your lane.

But hey I am really enjoying this. I haven’t got a new qualification for so long, and this is fun, I’m learning rules, understanding systems and getting to grips with the world of competitive swimming which my daughter is so immersed in. The language of the rule book is quite particular, and takes some learning. My tutor was right, it was best to start with a Masters event (so adult swimmers) but I think you get wetter at them, try standing beside the blocks when a grown man dives in, whoosh down the legs goes half the pool water.

The Proper Qualified Officials were so kind, one had laid on an enormous officials’ feast for lunch (I’m wondering what said feast etiquette is, is it an excuse for me to bake and take something along or would that be seen as currying favour at the start of my training?), and some of the swimmers said thank you. But I’m very sorry to the team who asked if ‘are we going over’ for not knowing what on earth that meant (it’s a reference to diving over the top of swimmers in previous race) and hey to the medley team who apparently did an illegal handover but I couldn’t disqualify as I was too busy fretting about timekeeping I do know that the key to being an official is giving the swimmer the benefit of the doubt.

I can’t really believe that I got to time Jane Asher. Not the cake impresario, as I thought of as I looked at the timesheet, but multi medal-winner and record holder – Jane Asher, who took up competitive swimming aged 40 and is an utter inspiration. Here she is starring this video alongside @LouiseMinchin

If you’re swimming this week have a good one – and if you’re officiating and you’re all qualified, good on you, I’ve a long way to go! You can catch me all in white on 19th September…

Favourite outdoor swims of the year as I swam redundancy out of my system – Gospel Oak, Scotland, River Thames & Yorkshire

I love, love, love swimming. I’ve been a fan of Gospel Oak lido for years – it’s a stainless steel-lined 60m x 27m temple to swimming. It’s walking or cycling distance from home, so when I left work the lido – and the sport – were the obvious things to focus my day on. I’ve swum in new places and made new friends – and swimming has been a fantastic way to shed the stress of being made redundant.

photo Lido start

The photo above was take on day one – 14th May 2014. I shed the wetsuit 2 days later.

photo lido winter kit

This year my outdoor swimming season spanned May to November, last week I reluctantly wimped out and moved indoors. I’ve packed away my essential lido bag of wetsuit, neoprene booties and gloves, thick hat, googles, thermos and tea kit. When the water temperature – it’s unheated – dips below 10’C I find I can’t swim for long or far enough for it to count as proper exercise. I’ve swum elsewhere too, and here are my top 5 outdoor swims of the season. I’d love to know yours as well! Another time I’ll dip into my favourite swimming books.

Gospel Oak Lido

I really used my membership to its max this summer – with 21 swims in June alone. The water temp maxed out at 24’C when the air was 29’C – it might have gone higher later but by that stage you can’t see the water let alone find space to spread a towel to sit on. Our ten year old twin daughter loves the water as much as me. She has grace, speed and superb technique – I don’t. My best swim of the year was without a doubt matching her stroke for stroke as we ploughed up and down side by side in September, her in a brand new long-sleeved wetsuit me just in my swimsuit.

photo Alice lido floatphoto lido water

Fort William

I arrived in Fort William one July morning via the sleeper train  from London Euston. With 2 hours to kill before the Fort William to Mallaig train departed what could I do? I took a wander along the shores of the loch. How inviting the water looked; crystal clear and fresh. Did I have a towel on me? No. Did I have my costume? Yes. What was stopping me from having a quick dip? Nothing. So in I went, for my first Scottish swim of the decade. Bliss.

photo Fort William

Isle of Eigg

I spent 2 nights with a friend on the Isle of Eigg. We stayed in a B&B run by the extremely good cook, and very hospitable Sue Kirk, half a mile from a beautiful beach. I swam before breakfast and supper – and if I could’ve swum more I would have. The water was warm, almost balmy, thanks to the Gulf Stream.  The sun was so slow to set and cast a silvery spell over the water. On my last evening swim I went back in three times, loath to leave its magic.

photo Eigg

River Thames, Pangbourne

Three adults, four children and one enthusiastic black Labrador got the urge to swim. So off we went, OS map in hand, to find the perfect spot. We tentatively waded in and swam back and forth across the balmy water, chatting to various boat owners or captains who invariably raised their glasses and told us we were mad. Such fun, and a real highlight of our summer.

photo Pang

East Yorkshire

I’m not revealing the exact location of this beach, but it’s near Sewerby which is a couple of miles from Bridlington. Fine golden sand is exposed at low tide, whilst at high tide you step over milky white pieces of chalky rock. The water has always been calm in August, and you swim out to the headland then dash back in time to pick up fish and chips. Perfect.