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Sunday 5th March 2023. Kicking off a new tour!

Hello. It's been a while since my last blog post which was at the end of my previous tour, which ended in Plymouth.

And I've kicked off the tour again with 2 sold out shows this week in Lancaster and Derby. Because I live in the middle of the two, I didn't stay over in the area, meaning I couldn't swim with the local community (once we'd done our tech and get outs) so, I put a call out for swimmers who would be up for me going to their local swim spot with them, in the wider Derbyshire swim groups and the surrounding area, before and after the 2 show dates. My first invitation came from Catherine, who suggested a couple of spots to swim at but we went for Matlock Baths as I have never swam there and have always wanted to, plus it's quite different to the usual swimming places I'm used to.

I have to admit that I dashed out of the house frantic and late, throwing in shampoo and body wash as my vague memory was also of the word “spa”. What a plonker I am. Matlock Baths is a natural spring water outdoor pool with (only just) basic changing cubicles, not a drop of warm water in the vicinity 😂 I think I thought I was going from slumming it in my usual millponds to full on Turkish Baths haha. Anyhow, enough about my ill-prepared self (I also didn't bring a warm coat or my toweling robe), it was lovely to learn about the makings/reopening of the pool from Catherine and Jules and I took a peek at the spring water pipes running near the pool. I also got excited about the recorded temperature of the water for the day: a balmy 17.3 degrees. Looks like a bath could be on the cards after all!...yes it was much warmer than most water that I swim in but, unless you are physically moving a little faster than my usual amble, you soon get cold.

I managed around 8 laps before I couldn't feel my feet anymore, and clambered out to dress and watch all the ‘pro’ swimmers do their thing. (Without giving too much away about the show if you haven't seen it, I basically think anyone who can swim front crawl is pro 😆.) So there was Catherine and Jules and 6 other women doing front crawl laps of the pool, and as I changed I saw one of the more-athletic front crawlers appear out of the cubicles after a few minutes, perfectly coiffed hair, elegantly dressed, at a guess in her early 70s, wetsuit in handbag and she was off home! Marvelous.

I chatted to another swimmer who had just clambered out as I waited for Catherine and Jules to change. This swimmer told me she'd just done 35mins in the pool: she was dressed in just cossie and swim cap. These swimmers were all very competent!

Catherine and Jules took me to a cafe they frequent so we could talk more and warm up. They told me about how they became friends some 5 years ago at a swim social, how they were match-made, how they have each others back: when Catherine's speech and lips start to drop in speed and movement then Jules calls it when she's swam enough, and when Catherine spontaneously spots some water to swim in that they're driving past then she gets Jules to get in with her. Jules talked a lot about the stress of her job at a busy secondary school, about raising 3 children alone, about walking the dog and it taking 15 minutes or more sometimes to tune into her surrounding world and hear the birds. She didn't like that she feels so wound up so much. Both Catherine and Jules are very competent swimmers and used to train a lot and enter swim competitions regularly but something switched for them both during the lockdown where they realised that the pressure they were putting on themselves to compete and achieve in swimming was taking away from the enjoyment of swimming. So, they started swimming more side by side and taking the time to talk as they swam, and they started going further afield to find places to swim outdoors. It became a thing of great companionship rather than a thing of pressure and competition. As I listened to them chat, I couldn't help but feel a little envious of how much they had each other's backs, how they relied on that company and shared a passion for something but also a humanness in their experiences. It was lovely to witness. Close newly-found friendships like that are precious, and once again, it's a story of how the water has brought people together.

They told some stories about the aggressive side to competitive swimming and it surprised me! I think because I rarely encounter serious outdoor swimmers in my swimming world, I am a little naive to how times and achievements are very important to some people and how swimming counts for a big chunk of their lives and fitness. Just hearing about tumble turns which resulted in kicks to other people's faces, made me clutch my cosy cup of tea closer to my chest and wish for my more familiar dips back home in the Lakes and Peak.

I feel like today’s swim threw me in the deep end for my first blog of the tour and meeting of new folk, not because Catherine and Jules weren't anything but lovely, warm and friendly, but because it was a reminder of the big old world of swimming out there, the vast variety of ability and dependence people put on it. It's only been just shy of a year since I was swimming on tour and meeting all these folk, but that world has been mostly absent in my mind. I had to leave the ladies to their coffees and head over to ShAFF in Sheffield - one of my favourite adventure film festivals, and with a whole day dedicated to wild swimming, I couldn't wait to watch the films. And this only cemented that full-immersion back into the swimming world and how very big it is (one can get used to one's own dips alone and with friends in one's own usual spot!).

Thank you Catherine and Jules, and to the elegantly delightful Matlock outdoor pool for my first swim of the last SWIM tour.


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