Swimming at Chatsworth. No we didn’t use their pool.

 

If someone suggests you *might* be able to swim in the river in front of Chatsworth House, do you shudder, keep your clothes on and stroll over to the entry gate with your credit card, or pack your kit and head far away from the front door?

The outdoor swimmer’s bible, Wild Swimming, suggested being ‘discreet’. So we parked and meandered across the stunning parkland in the August evening’s sunshine trying to look really discreet with our towels under our arms as everyone else drove away from the house.

What fun! It was squishy and squelchy underfoot but once swimming it was utterly glorious, decadent – and felt almost like a stolen swim. Whilst there were no ‘no swimming’ signs the fine owners of Chatsworth certainly don’t advertise river swimming as part of their attractions to the well-healed visitor.

So we frolicked and swam in the river and then frolicked some more. The best view, perversely was not towards the house but away from it, where we saw a fish jump in the water and a large herd of pale coloured, aristocratic deer. I’m not sure if we were spotted from the house, as it’s hard to be discreet when your party consists of 3 adults, an enthusiastic teenager and an even more enthusiastic black Labrador. It would have helped if we’d changed before we got there. We launched the duck thermometer, which read 15’C just before Labrador Grace dived in to retrieve it, crunch.  Actually it’s more fun not knowing the temperature, so perhaps it’s best as a fetch toy.

As for Chatsworth itself, that’s for another day. There is indeed a Chatsworth swimming pool, open to members, and housed in a rather attractive building elsewhere on the estate. Another challenge might be to swim in the lake to the side of the house…. which is so beautifully photographed on this page.

 

A mild dose of hypothermia? Into mile 21 of my outdoors and unheated @AspChannelSwim

Today I messed up. Not big time, but big enough time. It was drizzling when I got to the lido. I clocked the temperature gauge and joked with the manager that I was trying to kid myself there’s not a big drop between 11’C and 9’C.

‘Yes there flipping is. It’s COLD today.’

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I respect the lido lifeguard team, if they’re on duty they swim, come rain, snow ice and sun. So if they say it’s cold, it is. I like the way they clock who’s at the pool, they know the regulars and they ask after faces they don’t recognise. They are true life savers.

In I went. Instead of stinging, the water had a sharp burn-like edge to it. It wasn’t properly painful – that joy comes when the mercury is a little lower. We’d worked out I can complete the 22 mile Aspire challenge to swim the length of the English Channel with just 3 more swims of 16 lengths. If you’d like to sponsor me, and I’d be very grateful if you did, pop along to Just Giving. So I set out to do 10 and see how I felt. At 12 lengths I thought I’d go for 14, so I did a real spurt, then stupidly I thought I’d stay for just 2 more lengths, that’s another 120m. As I turned into the final length I did a wobble, something wasn’t right, but instead of powering to the side I carried on. I got to the end, had more trouble than normal getting into my flipflops and enveloped myself in the blue lined duvet aka Dryrobe.

In the changing room I could feel all wasn’t well. My lips were swelling, and when I tried to talk to another lady the words came out in the wrong order. Everything slowed down, I decided to take a selfie (muppet? yes).

A Grade Gold Star Overchilled Swimmer
A Grade Gold Star Overchilled Swimmer

I did another wobble on my bike and then cycled home faster than I have ever done. I got home and luckily everyone was in, so I was bundled up onto the sofa with blankets, hot water bottle and tea and then the double duvet. After 20 minutes the shivering had stopped and all was well in the world.

Lesson learned. At 9’C quit when you’re ahead. 20 minutes is 5 full minutes too long in the water. No matter how good the kit is that you put on afterwards once the body reaches a certain level of chill it needs many layers and much warmth.

Next layer - a full double duvet
Next layer – a full double duvet

In the meantime we have no hot water or heating at home. The cheery gas engineers came yesterday to install a new meter and give our appliances the once over. Apparently the fire’s flame is too high and too yellow, so they summoned the National Grid engineer who shut off all our gas at 6pm on Friday night. You can’t mess with carbon monoxide, but it would have been good if they’d disconnected just the fire. I didn’t realise it should’ve been serviced annually, so please learn from my mistake before you end up in a cold house in November. In theory our Knight in Shining Armour aka gas engineer will be here at 7pm tonight to do a service and reconnect us.

The illustrations in the gas safely leaflet seem rather apt so I’ll sign off with them – I did a good demo of the dizziness one today.

Gas safety leaflet graphics
Gas safety leaflet graphics

 

Ultimate solution for my cold water swimming – a humungous Dryrobe

Swimming in Crete the water was I think a steady 22’C. Back in reality in London the temperature at the lido is hovering around 11-12’C. Swimming in unheated waters under blue skies gives the biggest high, the rosiest glow and the most euphoric feelings, but it also heralds cold hands, even colder feet and the battle to get warm and get dressed as fast as possible. There comes a time when visits to the lido cease to be proper exercise and the value switches to a pure mental kick; I go there now solely endorphin rush. And because I can.

Sunday was a dull dank day. A post holiday in the sun kind of damp day with wispy bits of fog in the air. Not one of those glorious autumn days with sun streaming through the leaves. The water did not look enticing. Temperature was a steady 12’C. All the better then for trying out my new secret weapon against the cold – a giant Dryrobe. This is a piece of clothing, a hooded cloak, with a fleecey, wool-like lining which you put on the minute you get out.

I rolled the robe up and shoved it into a rucksack. A decent sized rucksack, so much so it looked a bit like I was embarking on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition, complete of course with thermos and mug.

There’s nothing discrete about this as an item of clothing, it’s enormous, big enough to keep on and change underneath. I felt a bit of a wuss as I walked past the 20 or so swimmers – none of whom were sporting wetsuits – clutching my enormous robe.

I did my 20 lengths, got out of the water, as ever a bit wobbly slipping my feet into flipflops and then oh golly, I put it on and was completely enveloped by it. I realised as I put my trousers on that my back and shoulders were warm. No more avoiding the man spreaders in the sauna, clearly all I need is my trusty new piece of kit to warm me up.

The difference between my last two lido swims – and the past half dozen – is that when I left the lido building I was warm. No need for a jog, and no sign of chattering teeth. I left with such a spring in my step I started thinking of swimming through to December, into the New Year and beyond, safe in the knowledge my waterproof duvet would be waiting to envelope me poolside…

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The scene at lunchtime today – taken whilst sporting my new kit

 

The DryRobe was given to me very kindly by Simply Swim UK. They’d spotted I’m doing the Aspire Channel Swim and offered me a piece of kit to test drive. I’m particularly grateful to them for it as I embark on the last few miles – and lengths – of my challenge.

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Scores on the doors are heading South

 

19.5 miles on the milometer for my outdoors Aspire Channel Swim

11’C down goes the temperature and up goes the distance I’ve swum. 19.5 miles! So that leaves a mere 2.5 miles to swim in the unheated waters of Parliament Hill Lido.

I have embraced a new technique:

  1. Swim
  2. 3 minute sauna (during which my face starts to swell, I suppose a classic reaction to being immersed in cold and then seriously hot environments, it’s a bit disconcerting as lips come back to life but it does the trick in just 3 minutes)
  3. Fumbling change and cup of tea in the changing room
  4. Stumble / jog up and down and around the Heath for 20 minutes

    Parliament Hill Lido on Thursday
    Parliament Hill Lido on Thursday

During the jog feeling returns to my feet. On Thursday this all went very smoothly, and I felt rather smug as I got home fully warm and ready for the next part of the day. Yesterday, Friday, the air temperature was 11’C, not 15′ as the day before, and I felt a brand new sensation as I started off on my jog. My teeth were chattering, chatter chatter plod plod chatter chatter plod plod. I was wearing FOUR long sleeved layers, my woolly hat and gloves. I didn’t take a single layer off til I got home.

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But I felt AMAZING ALL DAY LONG and hey that was worth half a length trying to conquer the loud chimp in my head shouting ‘OMG IT’S COLD OMG YOU’RE MAD OMG THIS IS YOUR LAST TIME’.

I’m definitely going to crack this, it’s going to take more trips swimming shorter distances and longer and faster jogs to warm up afterwards. It’s going to be more of a challenge as I’ve a break from the lido, and then a change in working patterns, but hey I’ve the whole of November and a week of December to nail this.

I’d you’d like to sponsor me, perhaps £11 to match the temperature I’d be so grateful. I’m taking part in the Aspire charity swim to swim the distance across the English Channel in support of the work they do to help stroke victims. Thank you very much.

Light sifting through the trees on the way to the top of Parliament Hill
Light sifting through the trees on the way to the top of Parliament Hill

Man spreading in the lido sauna, giggling and clocking up metres on my Aspire Channel Swim

Tonight it is pouring, absolutely pouring with rain. But yesterday I went swimming with my friend. It’s the first time I’ve swum with a buddy at Parliament Hill during my Aspire Channel Swim and it was the best fun in ages. We were at uni together, where she played hockey to a very high standard and I rowed to a very low standard. Any swimming was confined to the City Baths, which were periodically flooded by the River Wear, or the pool at Durham School.

We arranged to meet at Parliament Hill Lido. She had travelled half way across London and I had 2 miles to cycle and was late (slow puncture + phone call + pedestrian speed cycling = poor excuses). I found her in the shower area, clad in swim suit, 2 swim hats, gazing up at the small radiant heater. Cue some giggling and a very quick change on my behalf, me thinking, it’s completely crazy to subject someone else to this but I can see we are going to have a very good morning.

She’d brought her wetsuit. So to suit-up or to ‘skins’ it? I lowered myself in, acknowledging and accepting and getting on with the cool temperature, and left her to make her own decision. In she got, out she got. Over she went to put her wetsuit on. Back she came, without wetsuit, and off we set together. We’d had a brief chat about it being a bit nippy, and agreed to get out if it started feeling warm. She is a Very Fit Athlete (ie hill running rather than pavement plodding). I am not. But I have added insulation, which she does not. We’d originally said we’d do a mile together, but with the water temperature at a notsohotso 12’C agreed we’d just see how we got on. We also agreed the swim would involve:

swim + sauna + cuppa tea in changing room + hot lunch in cafe

After a bit she said she was feeling a tad wobbly, so got out and went straight to the sauna. I swam a bit more, then started panicking about a) etiquette – is it ok to ditch your mate in the sauna whilst you swim, and not check they’re ok? b) distance still to be covered.

So I clocked up 16 lengths and jumped out and into the sauna. I have never set foot in the funny wooden structure by the water’s edge – more fool me eh. I opened the door and was met by a fine array of man spreaders, OMG, honestly! Much much worse than the tube I promise. And there right in the corner was my lovely friend. I took one look at her, another at the man spreaders, and started giggling, very loudly. She started talking, and giggling, about 19 to the dozen. I do not know what the man spreaders thought. I just thought they could have given us a bit more space so that my chilly thighs didn’t have to stick to her hot ones. After a lot more loud giggling I realised my neck was on fire, so we shot off to have our cuppa teas from my thermos.

If I’ve made you chortle at all please do think of donating – perhaps your #FirstFiver – to my challenge, thank you very much.

I’ve included the two short but very memorable swims at Clevedon Marine Lake and Portishead Lido in my Aspire Channel Swim total. Both of those involved giggling, mainly as we tried to execute some legs-in-the-air-like-we-don’t-care synchro swimming moves…

17.4 miles down – 4.6 to go!

Let me know if you know anyone doing their entire Aspire swim outdoors, so far I’ve discovered one lady who’s doing as much as she can outside

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Post swim reading on a sunny day last month with my 2 toning swim caps

Conquering 13’C and losing all feeling in my toes – swimming outside for Aspire

So today I took on Cold Water Swimming for the next stage of my Aspire Channel Swim Challenge. There’s a very big difference between swimming a mile or two in water that’s a balmy 21’C (1st September), 16′ (1st October) and water that’s hovering around 13’C, as it was today, but hey France is almost in sight.

Mid way through this challenge to swim the length of the Channel I decided to do it all outside. Before half term. Hmmm. That was when it was a bit warmer, when we were basking in our Indian Summer. Now the idea of doing a mile in rapidly cooling water 4 times a week is not quite so achievable, feasible or sensible.

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You have to pack a load more gear in your cycle swim pannier, and a whole different attitude when embracing water under 14’C. Cue adding an old favourite to my Winter Season Hat Collection. Yes, it’s a knitted number which my mum made for me to take on a Geography field trip some several decades ago. I asked for one which would show up if I attempted to climb Snowdon, and red was my favourite colour. I think I should dedicate this post to the football coach who clocked me with said hat + cycle helmet wedged onto my wet hair, and then looked a second time as he couldn’t quite believe someone could wear a hat like that, under a helmet… perhaps I should have asked him to sponsor me. Into the pannier goes the mug, tea bag, tiny milk jar and thermos for the essential post swim cuppa. In too goes the rash vest. I lost last year’s – durr – and the new one has the kind of snug fit you’d opt for if you wanted to minimise your bust. It does a good job at both warming me up and flattening my chest.

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Now to attitude. I know it’s going to be cold. I’m not stupid. But I also know I can manage this. Last winter I swam through in skins – so no wet suit, boots or gloves – til 6’C. I know I need to recognise the signs of hypothermia (slowing down, starting to feel nice and warm) and head out very sharply if they appear. So it’s a case of acknowledging, accepting, and getting on with it. It’s very much what Prof Steve Peters talks about in his book The Chimp Paradox.

I clocked up 20 lengths = 1.2km, not a mile, but a fair decent swim. I’ve ditched the post swim shower as warm ones make me cold, and cold ones don’t seem worth the effort, so it’s a swift stumble along to the cubicle to fumble with the thermos and my clothes. And then the reward of a post swim catch with fellow hardy swimmers under the glow of the electric heater.

I regained the feeling in my toes about an hour later, otherwise all was fine and I’m now up to 16.8 miles – every yard and metre of which has been swum outside – at Parliament Hill Lido – with guest swims at Portishead Lido and Clevedon Marine Lake.

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12 noon at Parliament Hill Lido, Hampstead Heath

 

 

So how was the 5.25am start for you? Feeding the 12 year old swimmer.

The alarm went at 5.25am. When it was dark. It was almost the middle of the night. I jumped out of bed, careful – just – not to fall over in that semi crazed comatose post-alarm-I-must-leap-up-straight-away state. I donned clothes, dashed up to check the swimmer was awake and down to make tea and toast. Not much thought , I must admit, went into how to fuel the 12 year old swimmer before her first ever early morning training session – that’s 6am – 7.30am, but I thought brown toast and a lot of jam with a glass of water could do the trick. It’s hard at that time, none of us really want to eat when we’re pretty much asleep.

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7.01am at Parliament Hill Fields Lido

We left the house and got to the pool at 5.50. By now both of us were strangely quite excited, perhaps at the newness of the situation; it may well not feel such a game in January. I drove back home, slid back into bed fully clothed and wondered what to do. 15 minutes later I was out again, and on my bike to Parliament Hill Fields lido on Hampstead Heath. If she was getting her exercise in, surely that’s what I should be doing too.

In the early mornings the lido is for width swimming only; it’s busy with swimmers ploughing up and down motorway style. But oh, you glance to the east and are rewarded with the sun emerging above the mansion block and its light glinting on the water. At bang on 7.30am the lane rope is tied onto the deck and everyone switches to swimming lengths.

Today, I got back home to be able to greet the swimmer with a pile of toast and a large banana milkshake. Next Friday will be that much more complicated, with school uniform needing to be crammed into her kit bag, a full breakfast on wheels catering service to fuel her through til lunchtime to be provided and then a dash to catch the 0811 from Finsbury Park.

The swimmer and I have been thinking about nutrition. Boy do you have to tread carefully, I really do want to do my best to give her the right things at the right time but it’s not straightforward. She needs to eat. She has wanted to eat yummy sweet things. I don’t want to over-egg the situation and tell her not to eat things or to eat other things.

But after a year of munching a cereal bar in the car and eating sweet things (cake, gutsy carb loaded puddings and banana milkshakes) when she gets back from her evening swims she’s asked for something healthier. By the time she gets back from the pool (normally 9.45pm ish) I want to go to bed not conjure up chicken breasts and broccoli (not that I think she’d go for that combo at 9.45pm).

I don’t like cereal bars, I think they’re just sweet chewy cardboard, but we should have shares in them we’ve got through so many. I’m invested instead in a heap of new ingredients and am poised to bake Nigella Lawson’s breakfast bars I’m also going to try the granola bars over on Smitten Kitchen – with thanks to my friends Vicky and Stephanie for the suggestions.

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What I’m not so sure about though is making sure she gets enough carbs after school, and protein after training. Please lovely blog readers do share your secrets and tips of how to fill a growing 12 year old – and her growing footballing and running 12 year old twin brother – with the right foods at the right time whilst holding down a job (and a life). Send me a tweet or post a reply, I’d be so grateful. Thanks for reading.