An Ullswater Odyssey

One family, one lake, and 54 rice krispy cakes

Ainger Scanlon

If you want to swim 11km and involve your whole family, you have got to think big. Ainger Scanlon tells of his Ullswater swim journey this summer and why 54 rice krispy cakes were no bad idea.

 

This is the story of four families, seven kids, four swimmers, three adult support crew, four packets of jelly babies, 54 chocolate rice krispy cakes, four thermoses of soup, one kayak and a swimming-themed disco. When Donald Campbell broke the water speed record at 202 m/h on the 23rd July 1955 on Ullswater he would never have imagined that just over 62 years later four swimmers would fail to beat his record by a mere 201m/h!

This August we set ourselves the challenge of not only swimming the length of Ullswater but of including family and children in this adventure. Planning and logistics were key, which meant factoring in lots of stops and ways to entertain the children. It was never meant to be quick or record-breaking and, as they say on all good reality TV shows, it was all about the journey: a swim journey. And like all great journeys, it was one of the body and of the mind.

When Donald Campbell broke the water speed record at 202 m/h on the 23rd July 1955 on Ullswater he would never have imagined that just over 62 years later four swimmers would fail to beat his record by a mere 201m/h!

Ainger Scanlon

The purpose of our odyssey was twofold. We wanted to tackle the second largest lake in the lower Lake District and bring together four friends, who hadn’t been a quartet for over 20 years, but who had separately developed a love of outdoor swimming and with it the desire to share this love and experience it with their family.

Our swim journey took us from Pooley Bridge at the north-easterly end of Ullswater to Glenridding at the more south-westerly end – a swim distance of just over 11 km. Although the swim was at the heart of the odyssey, the journey included a series of challenges such as overcoming the cold water, entertaining children, getting everyone to the endpoint by land or by water, and of course having enough energy to bust some swim related dance moves at the end of it all.

We quickly discovered that one of the challenges was estimating the swim time for such a diverse group of people.

We planned our swim journey so it included a series of breaks and stops to allow swimmers and non-swimmers to catch up with each other and to celebrate progress and success. The intention was to set off at the crack of dawn, but dawn had cracked a little more than planned when the swimmers set off to Pooley Bridge. Meanwhile, the support crew headed out somewhat later to catch the steamer from Glennridding to Howtown, about a third of the way through the swim. We quickly discovered that one of the challenges was estimating the swim time for such a diverse group of people.

Ainger Scanlon

Entertainment was provided by nature around us. We had some good rounds of the stone game (see box), skimmed stones, climbed trees and paddled in the lake. Then the excitement of looking out for the bright orange tow floats of the swim team. Much of this exhilaration was fuelled by the fact that the children had been promised a share of the goodies once the swimmers arrived. Jelly babies and sweets were distributed, chocolate rice crispy cakes were consumed, and the hot soup was not as much in demand by the children as it was by the swimmers.

 

The lake was perhaps a little cooler than anticipated by the swimmers. But this in turn led to the invention of the SWONGA (swim conga). Everyone gets in a conga line with swimmers sandwiched between warm bodies and the conga begins. A perfect way to revive cold bodies. It had been a very wet August, which had brought down the temperature of the water. This pattern was then repeated throughout the day as the children and adults in the support crew walked alongside the path that follows the lakeshore.

The children did races, played tag and hide and seek and took photos along the way. We also had competitions to see who could spot the swimmers in the lake from the various points on the paths. As there was an easy access to the water with canoes and kayaks and at the end, some of the children and adults managed to paddle out and accompany the swimmers on the final legs. This was hugely appreciated by both swimmers and support crew.

But this in turn led to the invention of the SWONGA (swim conga). Everyone gets in a conga line with swimmers sandwiched between warm bodies and the conga begins. A perfect way to revive cold bodies.

Ainger Scanlon

We celebrated the end of the swim journey with a swimming-themed disco. Given the temperature of the water though it remains unclear how Club Tropicana became the theme of the night. Still, the drinks were free and there was enough for everyone.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Ainger shares some thoughts on what planning elements worked well and what could be improved upon:

  • If you are planning a family swim journey or odyssey, it’s a great idea to choose one where people can meet up with you or accompany you along the way. Ullswater was good because there is a path that goes around the entire lake that can easily be followed on foot.
  • We did not take into account that the landscape rises and falls quite considerably on the walk from Howtown back to Glennridding. This turned out to be quite a challenge given that the youngest member of our support crew was three years old and needed carrying some of the way.
  • It is worth considering a good child backpack for a safe and convenient way to transport young children.
  • If you can incorporate a nice ride on a steamer, boat or ferry then that’s a bonus for the children and adults can enjoy the scenery.
  • Carrying enough food and water for both the support crew and the swimmers along the way was a challenge, and so it is important that every child has a little backpack with their own food and water in it. This was an important lesson for us.
  • Make sure you celebrate at the end point.
  • Finally, don’t be in a hurry. Enjoy the swim journey, take it easy and remember what happened to Donald Campbell when he tried to go too fast!

If you are planning a family swim journey or odyssey, it’s a great idea to choose one where people can meet up with you or accompany you along the way. Ullswater was good because there is a path that goes around the entire lake that can easily be followed on foot.

Ainger Scanlon

The swimmers we would like to give thanks to Lord Birkett without whom this would not have been possible. He led a campaign in 1962 to prevent Ullswater from becoming a reservoir and died one day after seeing the proposal to turn Ullswater into a reservoir defeated.

Box 1 – Activities to keep support crew entertained

The Stone game – Everyone puts up to 3 stones in their hand (can be leaves or anything) then has to say how many in total there are.
Stone skimming – How far? How many bounces? Encourage them as training for World championships on Oban.
Spot the Tow float – Surprisingly popular
Canoe/kayaking
Hide and seek
Bribery with sweets and treats
SWONGA (see article)

Box 2 – Suggested Kit

Thermos with hot soup
Rice pudding – Very popular with swimmers even cold
Sweets, jelly babies, choc rice krispy cakes – very popular with kids
Lots of drinking water
Tow floats – For visibility, for mob phone etc
Kayak/canoe – for support
Backpacks for kids

View Ullswater Odyssey On Map

Ainger Scanlon