Starting in ankle deep water was never going to be ceremonious. We waved up to my parents who stood above us on the bridge at Cricklade which bore the sign ‘River Thames’ and marked our starting point, then began splashing down stream.
Wading through a small river in rural England whilst clad in a wetsuit felt more than a little farcical. My sense of pride urged me to swim though my body was less keen given the temperature. Once in, however, the endorphins soon began to flow and Laura and I were grinning as we floated our first few yards towards London.
I was wearing a wetsuit, two swimming caps and a small pair of fins. I hurt my shoulder a while ago and haven’t done much swimming since so have taken to using fins to keep up with Laura. With the current on our side, arm-free backstroke and doggy paddle were enough to maintain a reasonable speed without testing the injury. In fact, I managed our whole first swim without a single stroke of front crawl.
It wasn’t long before we snaked away from the village and found that no signs of civilisation were visible from our position on the river’s surface. We swam through reeds and delighted in the sudden fast flows that took us round bends. Ducks spluttered their way upwards to safety as they saw as us come into view. Frequently we would find ourselves beached in low water and having to stand up, allowing fresh water to flow around the inside of my wetsuit and make me shiver.
We were aiming for the Red Lion at Castle Eaton. It was the first settlement on the river and we’d left a car there earlier. We didn’t know how far it was and after two hours in the water there was still no sign of it and I was getting pretty cold. It’s an insidious process. Because your brain slows as much as your body, you don’t always realise just how much you’ve been effected. My arms began to ache, my hands lost their dexterity and I was only giving monosyllabic answers to Laura’s questions as she tried to gauge whether she would have to put her lifesaving skills into practice.
The final mile was a haze of moderate discomfort viewed through the narrowed world view that results from lowered body temperature. A swan seemed to be leading the way, stopping to wait for us and always 10 yards in front. I felt let down when it seemed to suddenly fly off for no obvious reason but then I saw a grassy lawn in the distance and realised we had reached our destination.
Day 1: Friday 15th April, Cricklade to Castle Eaton, 4 miles