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My Swim Story – Nikki Ball


Nikki Ball’s family was brought up in the water. After the death of her brother, a family wild swimming trip helped them through the grief


Nearly a year ago, my eldest brother, Rich, suddenly passed away. My brothers and I all learnt to swim from an early age, with Rich entering (and winning three times) the Long Swim in Clevedon and Dave and I joining our local swimming club. My nieces and nephews are all good swimmers too; none of them reaching the heady heights of national age groups (so they never had to do the early morning training like me), but all very confident.

Helen, my amazing sister-in-law, has gone from not being able to put her face in the water to regularly swimming in the murky waters of Clevedon seafront, entering the Long Swim (shudder) and is an avid wild swimmer.

And so began my next micro adventure.

For her fourteenth birthday my niece Lou asked for us all to go wild swimming to help deal with our grief following Rich’s death. We all jumped to that, and after much deliberation on where to swim, we finally decided on Pensford.

Pensford is a small village in Somerset, situated on the River Chew. After meeting up with everyone, we set off on a small walk beneath the viaduct and opening out onto fields. Cows were in one field and, as we had three dogs, we positioned our picnic away from them and by a perfect entry spot for the river.

We set out the picnic blankets and while some of us had a quick snack, Helen (along with her dogs) went to test the water. 

She announced it was perfect and plunged in.

The rest of us were not far behind. I was a bit of a wuss in that I chose to wear a wetsuit. But, as I explained, it was a huge thing for me that I was actually in the water as, up until October last year, when my partner and I did SwimTrek in Turkey, I had a big fear of open water.

The water was definitely cool, but we got used to it pretty quickly. I think if I hadn’t been wearing a wetsuit, I might have exited the water a lot quicker, but, as it was, I was content to paddle up and down with the family, watching for dragonflies. No crocs, no leeches, no eels as far as I was aware. I didn’t put my feet down, although the girls were happily diving under (“It’s all yellow when you open your eyes underwater”). Helen and the girls did a small bit of exploring, but, as she was the only one with wetsuit shoes on, that was quickly abandoned. And so the afternoon passed by in a leisurely fashion of floating in the water and munching on picnic lunch. There was a small excursion to the next field as the cows wanted to come and have a check at what was going on. They then decided that they wanted to venture back into the original field, which worked out well for us, as that was the only field with entry to the river.

Swimming done, we all decided to head back to Clevedon for birthday cake and tea and to plan some more wild swimming trips.

My niece Harriet’s description of the afternoon was: “chilly, challenging with chuckles.” Two people were greatly missed that day. One of them was in Australia visiting his girlfriend. And the other? Well, he was definitely there in spirit.


What’s your Swim Story? Email: editor@outdoorswimmer.com with the subject ‘Swim Story’