I am not entirely sure where to begin on such an amazing weekend but I have to start somewhere so I think to begin with I will start with some thank yous:
The biggest thank you goes to my absolutely amazing sister, Laura, or my big fishy. Without Laura acting as my carer/helper for the weekend the weekend simply wouldn’t have been possible. She did so much for me behind the scenes from carrying things, helping me find things, making sure people got out the way, helped me pay for things if a checkout was too high and generally helped me conserve my energy doing basic things like drying my hair after a shower to enable me to get the most from the weekend, both from giving a good talk to all the networking I also did whilst there.
Secondly, I must thank Jenny for inviting me to talk at the festival, I wasn’t sure about attending at first since it’s the first time I have ever done something like this, but I felt that as a campaigner for more accessible open water swimming I had to take the opportunity of spreading my message on a larger platform. I also wanted to share my journey to Windermere and show what you can achieve with sheer grit and determination, and a bit of stubbornness! It didn’t matter how terrified I was I wouldn’t let the opportunity pass.
Finally, I want to thank the Kendal Mountain Festival organisers and the helpers, sound guys, the film crew, and everyone else in the background for putting on such a great and welcoming festival. I couldn’t believe that I actually saw some other wheelchair users there, there were people of all ages, all diversities, just proving that the outdoors IS for everyone. So thank you for putting on such an awesome festival!
So, down to business:
My sister and I left my parents house at 10.30am on Friday morning, we knew it would be a long day of travelling because rather than going the quickest route we decided to do the route with the least train changes to make it easier and less stressful. Unfortunately, the journey didn’t go to plan and when we reached Nottingham it was announced our train was going to Norwich not to Manchester (and beyond)…not helpful. After a lot of stress and chaos we arrived at Windermere at about 5.30pm having not stopped travelling all day. We ended up getting a takeaway pizza for dinner and then went to bed ready for an early start on the Saturday.
Sadly, despite the exhaustion from travelling I had a pretty poor night sleep. However, I was up early on Saturday for a swim in Lake Windermere and couldn’t wait! Winnie Poaty (who is an awesome woman) picked my sister and I up from our hotel and drove us down to RayRigg in Windermere. This is where I swam in September in the lead up to my 2-way Windermere swim, in-fact, that was the only other time I had swum in Lake Windermere. This time, it felt different, it was obviously much colder, far less busy, and somehow much calmer and more peaceful. In the roll down to the lake I was getting more excited but also a little nervous about it being much colder than the river I have been swimming in. Winne and I got changed and got in the lake with my sister standing on the pontoon laughing, taking photos and continuously informing us we were nuts; like we needed to be told!
It was a lovely warm 10.4 degrees, so warmer than the river and some-how as soon as I got into the lake the stress of the travelling the day before and the anxiety about the next days talk left me. I took my time getting in like normal and was introduced to Winnies Water Wings and as you can see by the video, wasn’t thrilled by them like she was!
However, I did get in all the and we did enjoy a short but incredibly beautiful swim together where we got to know each other a bit more as the fog and mist lifted over the lake, the views were simply breath-taking. I always find it easier to introduce myself in the water because its where I am most at ease, so Winnie and I had a good chat and giggle and I discovered that she was as nervous as me about the talks we were giving. This reassured me and made me feel a little better about being invited to and taking part in the Kendal Mountain Festival alongside people like Cath Pendleton and Neil Agius!
After the swim in Lake Windermere we headed to Kendal, I had never been before and wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. We knew that the hotel we were staying in was very nice and 4* and thankfully they had somewhere that we could leave our bags before checking in later in the day. This meant we could wander down into Kendal to “base camp” which was the main hub of the Kendal Mountain Festival to pick up our passes and generally have a look at what else was going on. As we went down into Kendal it was clear that the festival was bigger than I thought, it had basically taken over the entire town and it was amazing to see so many adventurers in one place. It was also quite amusing because you could tell who was there for the festival and who lived locally apart pretty easily, simply from the clothes they were wearing; It was a bit like a bobble hat fashion show!
We began to wander round the base camp (in a marquee) and one of the first stalls we came across was the Ordinance Survey Maps. They had a game where you picked a number and won a prize – who doesn’t love free stuff! However, whilst we were still there, I decided to ask and see if they could give me any advice about my Accessible Swim Spot map. For those that don’t know, earlier this year I attempted to make a map of accessible swim spots in the UK I ended up having about 10 spots on the map and realised that I simply couldn’t do it on my own. I have no experience of map technology but had attempted to make it through Google Maps https://sophie-adaptive-athlete.com/map/ but this explains what I tried to do. OS Maps obviously know the technology, have the technology and I have some of the ideas so I am hoping that we may be able to combine our skills.
After talking to OS Maps we continued wandering round and spoke to a few other people before heading to the Mountain Festival Book Shop. I have been really pleased to see so many books about wild and outdoor swimming being published recently, not only about individual swimmers but also guidebooks on good swim spots and even childrens books on the importance of keeping our rivers clean. The first book I purchased was the Outdoor Swimming Guide, Edited by Kathy Rogers; which is a guide book for all wild swimmers listing over 400 great swimming spots throughout the UK. When looking at this book I was really pleased to see that the accessibility has been taken into consideration and highlighted throughout the book and if you are looking for new swim adventures I highly recommend the book. I also bought Aquanaught by Rick Stanton for my swim buddy Clare as she used to do a lot of diving and I wanted to get it signed for her at his talk. After that we grabbed some food and headed back to the hotel so we could check in. Once we were in our room we naturally had to test the beds, I flopped and it was like being hugged by a giant warm teddy bear and since I was utterly exhausted by this point it would have been rude for me not to stay flopped on he bed and have desperately needed nap!
Later that evening we headed out to attend the talk by Rick Stanton about his new book and to listen to him talking about the amazing Thai Cave Rescue, what really struck me about him is how down to earth he was and he came across similar to how I was feeling about my talk the next day; still not 100% entirely sure what he was doing there because to him, he had done nothing special. He was given a problem and situation he had to deal with and find a solution to so just got on with it…or as I like to say – bish, bash, bosh. After listening to a great talk, he kindly signed my friends book and my sister and I rushed off to our next talk we were attending.
This was one that I chose to go to; the “Women in Adventure Session” presented by Rehna Yaseen and Jenny Tough. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was not disappointed; unfortunately we missed most of Anna Taylors talk on her experiences in trying to be the first female to complete a continuous round of every route that features in the “Classic Rock” but we did catch the end of it and all I can say is that her determination and drive to succeed in what she sets out to do is remarkable. We then heard from Tessa Simpson and got to watch her amazing short film ‘Freedom’ which expresses her love for the outdoors through film and animation. (The image to the left is a screen shot from Tessas film).
Next it was the founder of The Wonderlust Women, Amira Patel and she was one of the main reasons I wanted to attend this event. I don’t even remember where I heard about Amira but I knew that she (along with so many others) is someone that is trying to break down barriers to the outdoors and make adventures more inclusive. I wanted to hear someone else that I knew had thoughts and feelings like mine talking about making the outdoors accessible and inclusive and I am pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed. I was thrilled to listen to her ideas, what she loves to do and what her plans are moving forwards, I think one of her most exciting projects at the moment is creating the worlds first outdoors Niqab to allow her and other women like her to do what they love comfortably and safely. Seeing Amira getting emotional about the project just reminded me of moments when I have had a message saying thank you for helping someone find somewhere accessible to swim or for finding someone like them that understands.
Finally, we heard from Saskia Dugon and her mum Margie who were attending the festival because of the film “Back on The Bike”. If you haven’t seen the film I highly recommend it, it’s a great film showing the highs and lows of an adventure alongside the relationship between a mother and daughter with the daughter reminding her mother she can do much more than she thinks is possible. It’s a really beautiful film with laughing and crying and even a bit of sea dipping too!
After the talk we were completely shattered but also absolutely buzzing from all the inspiring stories and short films we had seen. We got a taxi back to our hotel and got ready for bed. Whilst I was getting into bed my sister decided in her infinite wisdom to look up and see how many tickets were left for the Outdoor Swimmer Session I was talking at the day after and she told me there were a few left but not many. It was at this point she also asked me how many people I thought I was giving the talk to, my response “only around 50 or so, its not going to be a huge stage” and her reaction to that was to snigger. She informed me that there were going to be a few more than 50 people attending the event and that the stage may be bigger than I thought and showed me the seating plan; my immediate response ‘oh s**t what the hell have I agreed to do’. Thanks to the knowledge that it was more like 200 – 300 people I was going to be talking to I struggled to get to switch off and get to sleep. I kept trying to remember any experience and advice I have been given before giving a presentation or talk and all that kept coming into my head was the thought “it’ll be fine, I will imagine the audience are cabbages…”
Click below for the books, films and social media accounts of people mentioned:
The Outdoor Swimmer Guide Book
Back on The Bike – Saskia Dugon
Amira Patel – https://www.instagram.com/amira_thewanderlust
Winne Poaty – https://www.instagram.com/winniepoaty/?hl=en