It was 6am, and I needed air, fast. Patch and I had slept in a small tent together the night before. The idea of rolling over in tent to get comfortable during the night never crossed my mind. A pivoting action was required if we wanted that luxury. I was sleeping in a carbon dioxide filled environment for the last seven hours. I opened the front of the tent and inhaled what can only be described as the “best fresh air of my life”.
The morning was a lot different than the previous three mornings. Usually I’m packing up gear and getting ready to start walking on tired legs. Today was different, we had reached out start point for the swim the night before, so all Patch and I were doing now was playing the waiting game. We had to wait for the land support to come up with all the gear, so we could finally start swimming.
The land support arrived at about 1:30pm, and hour later than we thought due to road diversions. I was delighted to see Caitriona as I had seen her for three days. I looked at the car straight away, and got quite worried as it was stuffed up to its eyeballs with gear. So much so, that only two people can fit in the car at any one time.
We decided to drop myself off at the start point, so that I could get ready for my first swim. Caitriona and I drove down a narrow farmers road to check out a suitable start location. The road had a long grass strip running through the middle of it, and was tickling the underside of the car.
I jumped out of the car and checked to see if we could start under a bridge. The bridge was privately owned, and very shaky on the foot. I walked over the bridge and down to the riverbank. As I was walking down, about five sheep bolted out from the underside of the bridge, and ran straight past me. My heart jumped out of my skin in the process. The starting point had perfect access, so I went back to Caitriona to give her the green light to go back to collect Patch from The Green Dragon.
I had a brief bit of time to myself when Caitirona went away to collect Patch. It was this point that things really started to get real. I knew that in about 30 minutes, I was going to be putting my face in the cold, murky, River Severn. I was both excited and anxious all at the same thing.
Caitriona and Patch arrived at the start point and we pumped up the standup paddle board (SUP) and got our gear ready. Patch looked more excited than me to be starting. We were all setup, and off we went to the start line.
We got to the starting position at around 3:30pm, which was a lot later than we initially planned. Where we were starting was this nice stony strand, which was falling away very sharply into the water and located just upstream of the beautiful old bridge. We took a couple of pictures and then carefully jumped in to the water. The water temperature was perfect. I always like to take a bit of time before staring an openwater swim, just to settle myself mentally. I was taking my time just settling myself, and I could see that Patch, just wanted to shout “C’mon we’ll get a move on”. He was about 20 meters in front, and I could see he was holding himself back. Patch couldn’t wait to get going down that river.
Off we went! After only about 50 meters of swimming, we were faced with very narrow, shallow, and fast flowing water. I was nervous about the depth of the water level in the run up to this event, and this certainly didn’t settle those nerves. The water was flowing very fast initially and Patch was on full guard.
We were constantly fast with narrowing sections, where trees either side would create a pinch point. As I was swimming through these sections, I could see the branches under the water, which I would just avoid. I was kindly given a state of the art Zone 3 wetsuit for this swim, and I didn’t want to rip it on my first day.
We followed four swans for hours. They wouldn’t pull over to leave us past. After awhile, one of them panicked and decided to try and fly straight over us. The swan opened its wings and made swan noise while frantically trying to go upstream of us. I felt so vulnerable in the water when I saw this swam with an aggressive manner flying just above the surface of the water, and about 3 meters from Patch and I. Patch was acting came after the event, but I certainly wasn’t. I was only a few hours in to the first day of swimming, and a swan nearly took my head off.
The scenery blew us away throughout the swim. I was pleased with great scenery over the first three days when I was walking on my own, but this was much different and a lot better. The riverside vegetation was constantly spilling into the river water and the mountains in the background where setting a great backdrop.
It was getting quite late, and the sun just creating magnificent scenes of nature at every bend in the river. We had planned on meeting Caitriona at out first bridge, which we thought was about 10km away from where we started. We were up to about 11km before we met Caitirona on the riverbank, who had walked back from this bridge to meet us. She informed us that she got us a free nights stay at Grantley Court Camping and Carvan Site. We were all so happy with this. We thought that we could be staying in the bottom of a farmer’s field, but once again Caitriona played a stormer.
We were told that the bridge was only about 15 minutes away. “That’s the last time I’m ever listening to someone tell me how far they think it is to swim somewhere, because it was about an hour later, and no bridge”.
The owners of Grantley Court, were standing up on the riverbank cheering us on. They informed us that they had spaghetti Bolognese ready for us. Patch and I thanked them thoroughly for this. This was exactly what we needed.
We went around one more bend and there it was, a very tall, beautifully arched bridge. It was a fantastic sight. The river just downstream of this bridge was raging, so we had to be careful getting out, as our exit point was right next to the bridge. We clambered up the steps and onto the grass. It must have been about 8:30pm and the sun was still shining as strong as ever. We took a couple of pictures on the riverbank, before loading up Malcolm’s jeep with the SUP.
I finally met Charlie, who would be the second paddler on this trip. Caitirona had picked Charlie up at the train station at Welshpool. Charlie made a great effort to get here and I can’t thank her enough. Her support on and off the rivers over the next few dates will be very welcome. She is also making the videos on this trip from today onwards, so expect an drastic increase in quality.
We were dropped down to the campsite. Malcolm and Annette (owners of the Grantley Court Campsite) very amazing to us, they gave us logs to burn on the campfire and brought us down the dinner. Their kindness and generosity is something to be admired and really hope that we meet more people like this on our way down the river.
It was late, we were still setting up our tents, and Patch was lighting the fire. We ate our dinner and then stood around the fire for a while talking about everything and anything.
This was the first time the full team were together, and it really felt like the adventure had begun at this stage.
We have smashed our initial fundraising target of £1,000, as a result we have increased the target to £2,500. Thanks to everyone who has donated. You will make a difference to peoples lives.
If people would like to donate, you can do so by visiting my Just Giving page, it’s really simple to do. All monies will go directly to Motor Neurone Disease Association.
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Start Location: Pool Quay
End Location: Llandrinio
Distance travelled: 14km
Exercise Duration: 5hr:00mins
GPS Track: //connect.garmin.com/modern/profile/RossSwims