Daylight is already failing, turning the glass-like waters a majestic purple. Steep crags reach up behind the coast, and the tallest peak, still snow-streaked despite a run of dry days, is edged with orange by an invisible sunset on the far side of the island. For an hour I’ve been scanning the roadside verges for trailheads, for gaps in the undergrowth, for patches of unused land behind the trees, but I still haven’t found the place I’m looking for.
I’m on a train, speeding north from London for an event tonight in Kendal. It’s the fourth in a run of film screenings I’m doing over the next two weeks. I’m knackered. My body-clock is trashed. And I’m wearing the same clothes I was wearing in my sleeping bag last week on an island in the English Lakes that I swam to with two friends, Al and Ferg.
It was a foolhardy plan, concocted by three blokes desperate to justify why they weren’t spending Valentine’s Eve with their other halves. At least the plan was a simple one: swim to an island and sleep on it. The island in question? Peel Island, also known as ‘Wildcat Island’ in Ransome’s classic Swallows & Amazons.
A one-hundred-metre swim doesn’t sound like much. Just four lengths of a swimming pool. It begins to sound more unpleasant, though, once you factor in the water temperature, which sat that day at around 4 degrees above zero. Fresh water begins to solidify at 2 degrees. (Wetsuits, of course, were a luxuriant fantasy.)
Why do this? For me, it was a reaction against a winter of self-imposed slave-labour in my own self-built cubicle. Leave the house; have an adventure in the space of an evening; return home with the reset button well and truly pressed.
And the swim itself sat just on the right side of daunting. I had seriously considered ditching the idea and taking a canoe instead. I stood ankle-deep in the painfully-cold shallows with a sick feeling in my stomach and a suspicion that this might be a really stupid thing to do.
But this meant that when I dragged my stinging body clumsily onto the island — convinced I could not swim another stroke, that my heart would cop out, unable to wrestle my T‑shirt back over my head and get wrapped up warm again — it was a victory that tasted all the sweeter. (For as long as I ignored the fact that I’d have to swim back in the morning.)
Watch Al’s masterfully-constructed video of the trip.
And do check out his Microadventures campaign — simple, accessible adventures (mostly not involving wintertime wild-swimming!) that can be fitted around everyday life.
I’m on the road for the rest of the month, with screenings coming up in Kendal (tonight), Newcastle, Ayr, Edinburgh and Sheffield. Check out theand come along if you can!
You might have noticed that Week 4 and 5 of my series on learning Persian did not appear. You might also have noticed that this corresponded with my first big book launch. Unsurprisingly, there is a connection here!
Full disclosure: In 2012, Cascade Designs sent me a WhisperLite Universal for testing, review and feedback. As with all such arrangements, I reserve the right to write honestly. If a product is crap, I’ll tell you why.
We are already spoilt for choice with camping stoves, but MSR have recently brought out a hybrid-fuel version of the classic Whisperlite, which burns propane-butane canister fuel as happily as the unleaded petrol/gasoline/benzine/diesel/kerosene/white gas we’ve come to rely on as cycle-tourists. This is interesting.