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Swim on the Wild Side: the one-day 4x4x4 European Challenge

Lac De La Madine Copy

Graeme Sutton, who runs Swim on the Wild Side, to a group of outdoor swimmers on a unique an interesting challenge that he devised. The aim was to swim 4km in open water, four times in four different countries in one day. It sounds like the 16km of swimming was the easy bit…

Organising a high-speed tour of northern Europe the day after a terrorist was a shot dead in Brussels was always going to be logistical headache. We started in Zeebrugge, picking up three swimmers who’d arrived by ferry and two more from Brussels airport. To say there was an army of militia surrounding the airport would be putting it mildly. Every vehicle was stopped and searched prior to reaching the airport terminal. Luckily, our luggage (which consisted primarily of wetsuits, swim kit and emergency food and drink supplies) was judged to be harmless and we were able to move on to Heimbach in Germany where we stayed the night.

Actually, we only stayed half the night as we were up at three in the morning for breakfast (huge thanks to the hotelier for accommodating our ludicrous start time). We then set off for our first 4km swim of the day in the beautiful Rurtalsperre Schwammenauel and arrived just as the sun broke through the horizon. It was all going so well, until we discovered that water levels were much lower than we expected due to a recent spell of dry weather. The two islands we had planned to swim between had now become one. Never mind. Our kayak support, guided by a Garmin, quickly plotted us a different route and we soon had the first 4km completed.

Flushed with our initial success, we changed at our leisure and ate a second breakfast before returning to Belgium for part two. We lingered perhaps a little too long.

Team Europe Copy

I had previously contacted Beverly Weekend, a resort on Stausee Bütgenbach a reservoir in Flanders, to see if they could help pin point a safe place to enter our swimmers for their second 4km swim. Very kindly they offered their own resort and facilities, despite our planned arrival time of 7:30 in the morning. However, it was now 9:30 and when we reported to reception they said: “Yes, we know who you are, but you're late!”

The problem with being late was that the centre and reservoir is used by many different groups and we ended up having to navigate our way through half a dozen yachts, a group of kayaking kids and a beginner’s windsurfing class. Fortunately, there was very little wind and the group leaders did a great job of keeping the other water craft away from us.

Swim number two was of course followed by another meal on the shores of the lake and we then set off for Luxembourg and a 4km swim in Lac de la Haute-Sûre. Little did we realise it was a public holiday and where we planned to swim from, Insenborn Plage, was packed with locals picnicking on the banks. Most swimmers at this stage had decided to forgo their wetsuits but kept on their costumes, unlike some of the locals we came across further down the river. It appeared we’d accidentally swam past a nudist beach and we were treated to the sight of a male sunbather flexing his muscles on a rock high above us.

While this was all very entertaining we were still two hours behind schedule so decided to skp the post-swim meal and make do with coffee and cake (lots of cake) and hit the road again. At two and a half hours, this was the longest drive of the trip. We arrived at our final venue, Lac de la Madine in France, just before sunset. We rushed down to the water’s edge, launched the kayaks and started the last 4km swim of the day. While the water in the previous three swims had been crystal clear, this lake was somewhat chalky and very choppy. While the chop was to the liking of several of our swimmers, to others it was a nightmare due to fatigue. Still, we got through it, and then tucked into a well-deserved deserved barbecue.

Swim on the Wild Side is a Cumbria-based outdoor swimming business. In addition to tours and trips around the Lake District, the company runs luxury swimming trips to Europe. Find out more swimwildside.com

Last Swim Copy

The team just managed to do the final swim of the day before the sun went down.

Cover October17

Issue 7 October 2017

  • Extend Your Season – Swim all year!
  • Pool Training Special
  • Beginners' Guide to Swim Training Aids
  • Wild Swimming in Dorset and Orkney
  • Century Swim - Sarah Thomas's mind-blowing 104-mile record!
  • Plus, wildlife, nutrition, training, event reviews and full event listings

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