South Lakes-based engineer Tim Faudemer is nearly half way through a fascinating - if chilly - challenge: to swim across every body of water in the Lake District. From the biggest meres and waters to the tiniest mountain tarns his hit list runs to 248, with a total distance in the water of about 80km. More so than the distance however, the challenge is coping with cold water, the weather and the sheer leg work needed to reach every one of the higher tarns. Tim, who is planning to keep on swimming through the winter, is raising money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
UKH: What inspired this crazy idea?
Tim: My Grandfather passed away earlier this year from Motor Neurone Disease; it was a bit of a shock, with the disease taking hold really quickly. It required a lot of care from members of my family, during which I learnt a lot about the effects of the terminal disease as it progresses. I realised the care and facilities needed could be costly if you don't have a supportive family. This challenge is a way to try and do something in his memory and support a cause that affected him. He also lived in the Lake District for a big chunk of his life and enjoyed a good adventure, so it seemed very fitting. We thought the Motor Neurone Disease Association was an under-represented charity whose cause is touching more and more people's lives. We wanted to raise money for them, and also raise some awareness.
How have you tallied up the number of tarns, lakes, meres and waters?
It's a very debatable question and something I'm still not quite sure about. I think the real answer is it depends how much rain/sun we have each year! When researching, I found books by Anne and John Nuttall which seemed to give the most exhaustive and reliable list I could find. I deducted all the reservoirs and private tarns and came to 224 tarns, 13 Meres and Waters, and 1 Lake. Unfortunately, the book was printed 20 years ago and since then a couple more have been privatised. These I've had to then miss out, but I'm calling it 248 in total with just a few un-swimmables.
How many have you now done?
I've done 96 in total; 9 Lakes and 87 Tarns. I've been recording them all on my blog
Do you already have a good knowledge of the Lake District?
My wife, Katherine, knows much more than me, being a local girl, but I've learnt a lot since starting this. She's recently completed the Wainwrights so knows the Lake District like the back of her hand - she helped a lot finding the more obscure tarns.
How about the tarns – had you swum in any before?
I'd only done about three or four beforehand. I didn't have a wetsuit before I started the challenge so only did them when it was really warm. Doing them in January and February was a very different experience!
Are you a fan of open water swimming in general, or is this something you're mainly doing for the challenge?
I am now. I hadn't really done any before but on the whole I'm really enjoying doing it. I find it really relaxing and good for clearing your mind. It's also a great form of exercise because it's a full body workout and I don't get the aches and pains I get with climbing and running. The only issues so far have been dirty tarns and those filled with blue-green algae that I've found halfway through a swim. Other than that the cold can be difficult to deal with, but I just think about getting a warm cup of tea back home and it keeps me going.
The largest lakes are clearly a different proposition to smaller tarns. How are you managing safety in the water?
I've had loads of support from friends and family. My wife and another friend have provided kayak support for all of the lakes so far, and have also accompanied me to all of the tarns I've hiked or fell-run to. I also have a swim float, which helps to make me more visible to boats on the lakes.
So are you intending to keep it up into winter?
I hope so. Swimming can be done all year round but you have to be careful. Swimming in increasingly cold water through the autumn helps to build up a resistance and being able to spot the signs of severe cold is essential to avoid hypothermia. I think I might wait til next spring to do some of the Lakes but there's no reason why I can't keep doing some of the smaller tarns in the winter.
Have you had fun so far: Is there more to it than cold and suffering?
It's fun when the weather's nice and the water's warm, but when it's cold and miserable the enjoyment kind of wears off. I guess it wouldn't be a challenge though if it was easy!
How are other people reacting when they see you?
There have been some very inquisitive and supportive people, which has been great. My wife occasionally gets asked things like, "Is he just mad, or is he in there for a reason?!" I think we've managed to raise awareness of not just Motor Neurone Disease but wild water swimming as well, which is fantastic.
- You can follow Tim's progress on his blog the great lakes tarn challenge
- He is currently about one third of the way towards his fundraising target of £1500. Pepople can donate on Justgiving
- OK it's not really the best time of year for most of us, but for some ideas of classic mountain tarns and lochans all over the UK - whether you're swimming or just having a picnic - see here.