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Guest blog: Wild swimmer John Mather

I am passionate about swimming and have swum in lakes and pools, in the UK and overseas, most of my life. In 2014, I decided to celebrate my 60th birthday by attempting to swim the length of all 17 lakes contained within the English Lake District, little realising the time, effort or the planning that would be involved

John Mather begins swimming Ullswater

These 17 lakes range in size from Brothers Water, the smallest, which is just under half a mile in length, to Windermere, the longest natural lake in England, which is ten and a half miles long.

I believe that I swam a total distance of 40 miles, which is greater than that swum by someone crossing the English Channel, by the time I completed this task in October 2016. Normally, I swam with colleagues and was always supported by one or more boats in the busier lakes.

As well as making me aware of both the beauty and fragility of this wonderful land, I used my experiences to write and illustrate the account of my journey. I was fortunate to see and experience the Lake District in many of its majestic moods and glories. I was also rewarded with glimpses of red squirrel, cormorants, woodpeckers and deer.

I am very keen to introduce everyone to the joys and pleasures of open water swimming. Open water swimming has been described elsewhere as a whole body sensual experience. Enough said! Forget the boredom and restrictions of endless pool swimming for something totally else; this has to be experienced to be believed! There is something magical about being immersed in natural water and experiencing the Lake District like you have never seen it ever before! And it is suitable for all ages and all abilities, but it is important to check that you are medically fit before taking the plunge for the first time, if in any doubt.

Of course, the potential perils of open water swimming should never be underestimated and I admit that not every swim went to plan. My experiences of the southern shores of Windermere in a torrential rain storm and misjudging the length and temperatures of Bassenthwaite Lake are quite frightening!

Nevertheless, I had many highlights in the swim: heading straight down the length of Wast Water in the shadow of the mighty screes; racing with four hundred other swimmers along the length of Coniston Water and even squeezing through the narrowest of tree lined passageways between Elter Water’s hidden pools. Unfortunately, I was not able to swim in three lakes used as reservoirs. These are Thirlmere, Haweswater and Ennerdale Water.

I was particularly pleased with my successful swim of Ullswater. I did this to advertise that “Ullswater (and the Lake District) was open for business” following the flooding caused by Storm Desmond in December 2015.

John Mather finishes swimming Ullswater

I hope that the book will make all water users, not just the ever-growing number of swimmers taking up open water swimming, be more aware of their responsibilities and their need to safeguard this precious commodity for future generations. I am particularly keen to chart both the pressures on the lakes and also the current works being carried out to improve water quality and encourage wild life.

You can find John’s latest book, Challenging Waters, The Diary of a Lake District Swimmer in the Library at Another Place. For your own copy, visit John’s website.

John Mather restas after swimming the length of Ullswater

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