Michelle Walker, our Deputy Technical Director, is currently in the midst of training for the Wild Dart swim. Follow Michelle's journey in this new blog series, written by her as she braves the cold water in preparation for this mammoth wild swim.
As if she doesn’t already do enough for The Rivers Trust, Michelle has decided to fundraise for us in the lead-up to the event on the 26th of June. Click here to donate to Michelle’s fundraiser for cleaner, healthier rivers.
5am in early June and it’s bright daylight and the birds are in full song. This is important for fooling the body and mind into thinking that it’s a civilised time to be up and about if, like me, you aren’t a morning person. Still, I need a good coffee to get me going as I pull on my wetsuit and gather my kit ready for my longest training swim yet.
It has been lovely to feel some normality returning as the pandemic restrictions have been gradually lifted, but as life gets busier, it’s getting harder to find time to fit in the long training swims I need as I build towards my 5 km goal. With only 3 weeks to go, I had still only managed 2.5 km as my longest swim, so I knew I needed to push myself, and on a bright, clear and very early Wednesday morning last week, I headed to Clevedon - intent on knocking out a solid 3.5 km. I knew from training for the Dart 10k some years ago that the longer training swims are really where the endurance kicks in – the sheer boredom of ploughing up and down the same stretch of water, and the heavy feeling in arms that are exhausted after two hours of lift and pull, so it was with gritted teeth that I set off that morning.
When I arrived at the lake I could already feel the heat from the sun at 5:50 am I was greeted with the stunning beauty of the view across the lake and the bay to the beautiful Clevedon Pier and beyond to Wales across the Severn Estuary. I felt my mood lift and I was excited to get in - only two other swimmers were there before me and they soon got out, so for a while I had the water to myself.
Another reason for an early start is that the lake turns in to a heaving mass of bodies on sunny days, reflecting the lack of outdoor swimming venues locally. I have not yet managed a river swim during my training – the bacteria levels in my local river are probably OK now that we’ve had a couple of weeks without rain, but the level of phosphate means that the channel gets choked with weed in the summer which isn’t great for long distance training. Accessible and swimmable rivers are few and far between in my neck of the woods – it would mean travelling further afield to Bristol, Bath or Somerset. Even then it is hard to judge whether the water is clean enough to swim in as there is no routine public health monitoring of any of my local rivers, other than the limited monitoring The Rivers Trust is doing to support bathing water campaigns.
At Clevedon, a group of us volunteers take water quality samples to a local lab each week during the summer, so we know from week to week how clean the water is, which is reassuring when spending several hours in the water. Every 2 to 3 weeks the tide is high enough to overtop the lake so that water is refreshed. We just keep our fingers crossed that this doesn’t happen when there is a diffuse pollution warning in place, which happens when untreated sewage and farm runoff enter rivers, affecting coastal bathing water quality too.
The success of the Ilkley Clean River group in securing designated bathing water status for the River Wharfe has been a real landmark and is inspiring many other groups to start their own campaigns. This week, The Rivers Trust is supporting the Mid Thames End Sewage Pollution campaign with a water quality monitoring ‘blitz’ across several rivers upstream of Oxford’s popular bathing spots on the Thames. Please consider sponsoring my swim challenge so that we can support more citizen science campaigns like this.
Keep your eyes peeled for Michelle's next blog, and cheer her on with a donation if you're able to!