The Outdoor Swimming Society’s Dart 10k is in its eighth year; growing from 200 swimmers on a single day in 2010, to around 1600 split over this Saturday and Sunday, enjoying one of the most gorgeous swim adventures in the outdoor swimming calendar.
It was an absolute joy and privilege to join the 800 Saturday swimmers in the invigorating brackish water; winding our way under a big blue turning-to-grey sky, from Totnes to Dittisham.
Alice Oswald’s poem, ‘Dart’, articulates the voices of people who live and work alongside the river; a dialogue that stretches from source to sea, reconnecting us all to our environment and most precious natural resource.
Like Oswald’s poem, we each have our own dialogue with the water. And with that, grows an empathy and respect for our fellow swimmers, which was palpable as my wave walked from the briefing to the river’s edge – you just knew this was going to be a great swim!
I had forgotten to lubricate my armpits so had a last-minute dash back to the stand helpfully signposted “Information and Vaseline”, then, as is tradition, I high-fived my swim buddies Kathrine and Barbara and we dived in…
An initial chill went across my neck, ‘Yep.That’s definitely the Dart,’ I thought, but then settled in nice and cosy amongst the pod…
A flock of geese traversed above us and the morning sun bounced off the water, enabling me to practise my bilateral (breathing) smile – wicked.
We travelled the curves of the river, swam through seaweed and twigs, grabbed onto the food stations as the tide swept us past, laughed as we bobbed around taking in the view, and let our bodies bounce to the rhythm of the water (and sometimes into one another) as the clouds darkened, adrenaline circulated, rain fell and the waves picked up – I don’t think I’ve experienced many swims with such diverse character and I think the Sunday swimmers got a lot more wind and chop than us – epic swimming times – wicked!
One of the things I love about outdoor swimming adventures is that they often pop up as if from nowhere (it was an unexpected and last-minute decision for me to swim); yet somehow reveal a hidden logic that joins once disparate dots from across your life together – this Saturday’s swim was one such lovely moment.
Summer 2010 was when I first discovered outdoor swimming. I got a second-hand wetsuit, and as all adventures start, I signed up to my first 1-mile swim, not really knowing what I was doing.
Back then the water provided the tranquility I needed to rebuild my mind and body following a really tough time. I’d go to the Serpentine Lido regularly and what started out as a few laps preparing for the mile, grew into an hour, and then two hours of swimming.
One day, I got chatting to a guy who said he knew someone called Kate who was organising a 10km swim in Devon; that it would be great fun, and I should try it. So I did…
And so began my outdoor swimming journey. In 2010, I never thought I’d swim the Dart in skins (why, why, why would you do that?!)… but this Saturday I did – and I LOVED it.
I guess you never know where the water will take you, and here’s to the first-time 10kers; the gold hatted three-time Dart 10kers; the doing the double (yep Saturday and Sunday!) swimmers; the skins swimmers; the leisurely swimmers; the ‘I’m not sure why I am doing this, but I am’ swimmers; the fundraising swimmers; the swimming in memory of loved ones swimmers; the overcoming adversity swimmers; and the going for a PB speedy swimmers – what a swim – well done all of us!
And thank you to the OSS volunteers and the excellent support crew for making this adventure possible – I can’t remember a swim event as well monitored and with such proactive safety crew guiding us through the sometimes challenging conditions.
Emerging from the water, we were enveloped in our shared accomplishment, beaming smiles and the warmth of an impeccably timed hot chocolate.
Thanks Kate for organising that swim back in 2010. You never know, one day this outdoor swimming thing might just catch on…
Alice Gartland is Contributing Editor of Outdoor Swimmer Magazine and founder of the swim blog for women who love open water A Lotus Rises.