Planning a long river swimming adventure

How do you best plan a long distance river adventure?

Calum Hudson, one of three brothers who have had some incredible experiences including swimming the Maelstrom, gives his 7 tips on a source to sea journey.

© Dom Tyler
First up lets look at the definition of an adventure through the eyes of an adventure expert…
“We are plain quiet folk, and have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing, and uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit
According to Bilbo Baggins an adventure isn’t something to be desired, its nasty, disturbing and uncomfortable. However I’d be more inclined to listen to Bilbo at the end of his journey…
“Well I’ve made up my mind, anyway. I want to see mountains again, Gandalf – mountains; and then find somewhere where I can rest.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring
Here an adventure is a personal journey related to the natural world, with a start and finish. Something embarked upon, with trials, tribulations and challenges to overcome which has a natural end. While Middle Earth might be a tad hard to reach (and dangerous) for your next swim, follow my 7 tips below to take your first stroke on your very own wild swimming adventure. To once again quote Bilbo Baggins “I’m going on an adventure”. 

Adventure is Personal

Now this is the most important part, your adventure should mean something to YOU! Don’t worry if it’s not a well known river, don’t worry if no one else has swum it, don’t worry about the length or size. Pick a river which you have a personal connection with. Your story and the reason you want to swim it will resonate with like minded people and will be more fulfilling and memorable than an arbitrary river. Has anyone ever swam the longest river in your county before? Perhaps you’d like to do a bridge to bridge swim or a cross river swim, get creative and make it personal.

Stay local

© Dom Tyler

Now this is probably juxtaposed to the common perception of an adventure, with images of faraway mountains, polar ice caps, treacherous channels and famous rivers and lakes, but I would advise you to stay local. Put down Lonely Planet and look at your local rivers to find a waterway near you, perhaps the river nearby where you grew up, the longest river in your county or the river nearest to your house. Why? By choosing a nearby river you will immerse yourself in your local environment and see somewhere very familiar from a totally different perspective.

Get social

Get out there and tell people about your river adventure, this can range from telling the local swimming club to spreading the word through local press and beyond. First step, set up a twitter account, and start tweeting about your plans, follow your local swimmers and swimming clubs. You’ll be amazed at the positive response you’ll get. For our River Eden swim we’ve had local people offer up their gardens for lunch spots, elderly couples offer us hot mugs of coffee at the end of the day and one man has offered to come down and swim with us and bring us his prize winning Cumbrian cheese. It’s these little gestures that go a long way to making your grass roots swimming adventure truly memorable.

Ditch Google and get out a map

© Dom Tyler

Don’t get me wrong Google Maps is great but my advice would be to get an OS map of your local area and trace the course of your river the old fashioned way. Theres something about opening up a huge map on the table, tracing the route of the river with your finger and following the contour lines and landscape as it changes. This will bring you closer to the adventure on a visceral level and allow you to visualise the point to point nature of your swim. Also, big maps are just cool!

Find out what Riparian Access means

This point is key to ensuring that you keep local people, farmers and landowners on side. Who actually owns a river? Can I actually swim the whole distance? Where can I get in and out? What should I do if I encounter a fisherman? All these questions can be answered by googling ‘Riparian Access’. My advice would be to be humble and polite at all times, approach local landowners and angling associations and inform them of your plans, giving them a heads up will work wonders and most people will be extremely positive about your plans, after all, they most likely love the river as well. In the case of disputes swim past quietly and always stick to the opposite bank to any fisherman. Lets give outdoor swimming a good name and build this attitude into your river adventure.

Invite people on your adventure

Any good adventure is about the journey along the way, not just the challenges you overcome but most importantly the PEOPLE you meet. Invite people to join you on your river adventure, whether its just for a quick dip or a whole days swim, having people join you will not only be great for your morale but also be a fantastic experience you and them. If you can inspire even one person to come along and join you then thats a fantastic thing and really what an adventure is all about. We’ve got 10 swimmers from the OSS joining us and I can’t wait to learn from them and share the adventure.

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Source to Sea

There is something very appealing about following and swimming a river from its source all the way to the sea, perhaps its a primal urge to reconnect with the natural journey of water like Roger Deakins ‘Waterlog’ or perhaps its about completing a swimming challenge in its entirety, conquering the full length of the river like Martin Strel’s ‘Big River Man’. Whatever the reason, make your river adventure a source to sea swim. Even if that means a long hike or trek to the source and a downhill scramble along a shallow beck until it deepens, completing your swim in its entirety will be all the more fulfilling. Strap on your wetsuit shoes, remain within the banks and follow the course of the river from its beginning, once its deep enough you can start swimming your way to the sea.
Lastly, the main advice for your very own wild swimming river adventure is just to take the first step (or stroke) and enjoy it. Who knows where your adventure will take you and who you’ll meet, thats the point really. Get in touch if you’d like any advice on your first river swimming adventure. I’ll leave you with another quote from one of my favourite adventurers, Bilbo Baggins…
“He often used to say there was only one Road, that it was like a great river, its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. “Its a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring