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ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES

Just before lockdown, our swim coach Colin Hill realised a long-held dream. He’s just seen an endless pool installed here – joining up every aspect of the open water swimming experience at Another Place, The Lake. While the hotel is closed and no guests have yet had the opportunity to use it, Colin has been crossing Ullswater every morning, from his home on the opposite shore, to run pool tests and explore its exciting potential.

Here, he explains how the endless pool will help swimmers of all abilities, why he can’t wait to invite you all in, and why he thinks the Lake District is the best place for open water swimming in the world…

Diving into Ullswater

“An endless pool is essentially a 5m long tank, with a flow of water going against you. You swim against it, and the flow is adjustable so it can adapt to different people’s pace. It’s almost like a treadmill underwater; you’re swimming but staying in the same place.

I first saw one at a triathlon exhibition in London, where they had a demo pool to try out. They’re amazing tools for coaching people, but at the time it didn’t seem like something I could possibly have; it’s quite a big investment, and finding the right location for it would be a challenge. But in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘One day I’d love to have one of those, if the stars aligned.’

Some years later, the idea of having an endless pool seemed to really complement what I do now at The Lake. There isn’t a facility like it in Cumbria, and now The Lake has one it can be like a ‘one-stop-shop’ for people who either want to find out more about open water swimming, or swimming generally. You don’t have to go to one place to get coaching and somewhere else to do a swimming session, somewhere else for a wild swim, and somewhere else to stay at a hotel. It’s all here. The hotel itself has a beautiful swimming pool, I’ve got my boat on the lake for guided swims and we have the Sheep Shed, with showers and changing facilities near the lake. It’s the ideal destination for open water swimming.

I can take someone for an endless pool session in the morning to look at their technique, then in the afternoon, take them out on the lake with my support boat. The combination of the endless pool and the open water swimming sessions I do, makes it quite unique.

The real value of the endless pool is for the swimmer to instantly see what they’re doing. We have two underwater cameras and one above-water camera looking down at the swimmer. There’s a television screen at the end of the pool. So I can stop the swimmer at any time and say, ‘Look: this is what your stroke is doing underwater…’ I can do it in slow motion, play it back… so they can see exactly what their hand is doing as it goes through the water.

In the open water or a normal swimming pool, you can try to tell people what they’re doing, but they can’t easily visualise what it is you’re trying to explain; it’s so hard to get that message across clearly. But in the endless pool, they can be swimming, I can take the video, then stop them and show them what their hand is doing, and they can see straight away what they need to correct and improve on – and what they’re doing right. There’s also a mirror on the floor of the pool, so when you’re swimming you can look down at yourself and get that valuable instant feedback as well.

There are so many people I take out who have never been in the open water before; it’s their first time swimming outdoors. It’s wonderful for me to share people’s experiences as they discover open water swimming. Once people have been in the water a little, they might get a bit frustrated with their swimming – wanting to make it more efficient so they don’t get so tired. That’s when we can get them into the endless pool and chat about their stroke.

It’s a really relaxed environment; definitely not high stress. We can have two people in the pool at the same time and have one person sitting watching, then swap over, which is quite fun.

I imagine a lot of people will want to come and have one session in the endless pool to really understand what they’re doing with their stroke, then go for an open water swimming session and put into action what they’ve learnt. We also do cross-lake swims; or they can just do 1-on-1 sessions in the open water with the support boat beside them. Either way, there’s a really natural progression between the pool and the lake.

The endless pool is a lot warmer than the lake. Today [15 April] the water temperature in the lake is 8.9 degrees; as it gets warmer through the summer, it can go up to around 19 degrees, and you don’t need a wetsuit. I keep the endless pool around 28-29 degrees. People will stop a lot, to look at the TV screen – so I keep it a nice warm temperature so they can think about their stroke rather than worrying about being cold.

This is the first year that we’ve done winter swim sessions at Another Place, and it’s been great to see how many people have wanted to give it a go. Even when the weather was bad – wavy and choppy on the lake, or snowing, and the water is down to 4 or 5 degrees, people have still embraced giving it a go. Today, there’s still some snow on top of Helvellyn. Sometimes there’s snow on the ground, on the jetty, and ice everywhere. My motto is, ‘As long as you can break the ice, we can go for a swim!’

I love Ullswater. It’s really special to me. My house is directly opposite the hotel, so I can swim to work in the morning, which is wonderful. Or I’ll come in my boat – which has an electric engine – or paddleboard. It’s such a beautiful lake. I’ve swum the length of it many times and guided people down the lake. It’s not as busy as some of the lakes, and has such a beautiful backdrop.

I’ve swum in the Arctic, Siberia, Slovenia, Doha, Canada and the Seychelles, and lived in Zimbabwe, Nepal, Ethiopia, Ecuador, as a whitewater rafting guide… But from everywhere I’ve been, I honestly believe the Lake District is the best place in the world for swimming. It’s the variety; you have so many different lakes and they’re so accessible – there are no restrictions on where you can and can’t swim here, as long as you use your common sense. You also have high mountain tarns, long lakes, waterfalls… there are so many different places to explore. I just love being here.”

The jetty Ullswater
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