FEATURES,  Readers' Swims

Mad Cows come home

On Sunday morning the Cumbrian Open Water Swimmers (COWS), definitely mad, arrived back home, after completing the challenge of swimming 4km in four lakes in four countries in one day. Having travelled over to Northern Ireland the previous day, we began our epic task just after midnight on Saturday 20 June. Setting off into the dark uninviting waters of Lough Neagh, myself and 16 other swimmers completed the first of the 4km with my wife, Jane, in one of the support kayaks. Once changed back into dry clothes, there was no time to look at the scenery, we had a ferry back to Scotland to catch.

While I complained constantly about the midges around Loch Ken, the Scottish part of the swim, the loch was a joy to swim in even though we managed to swim an extra 500m due to my enthusiasm and miscalculation. With another quick change and a welcome bacon butty, we left Scotland to cross over the border into England for the penultimate swim in Ullswater, where we were joined by several of our friends, to not only cheer us on but also swim alongside us. 

At 8.00pm we arrived at Bala Lake in Wales for the final swim, which was tough both mentally and physically, especially with the wind and strong waves. Needless to say we all completed the swim and a well earned celebratory drink was had in the hotel that evening.

This was probably the toughest endurance event I have ever taken part in, especially being awake for over 42 hours since 7.30 on the Friday and only managing to grab 20 minutes or so here and there on top of the 600-plus miles of driving. You have to dig deep and find the strength to go on when it would be so much easier to just stop. While I have been successful in competing in endurance events such as the 10km Kielder Water Swim last year, and also swam 16 lakes in 16 days two years ago, this was just so much more difficult. The length of time between swims was so long that it was hard not to let negative thoughts creep in. The camaraderie within the group is what kept us going and something that will not be forgotten in a long time.

The growth of open water swimming has been phenomenal in recent years, which we have all noticed in and around the lakes. While I cannot speak for the rest of the Mad Cows, swimming up and down a pool counting tiles does not really do it for me any more. Perhaps it is just the sheer beauty of the surroundings, which are constantly changing – and sometimes they even put on the wave machine for you!

What now?

Will I do another challenge like this? Of course, bring it on. We already have a few ideas for next year and we’ll maybe even slip one in before the end of this season.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.