So what happened down in Surrey?
The Mole is a sleepy tributary of the River Thames that carves its way 50-miles through the lumpy, leafy Surrey countryside. It’s also one of England’s most biodiverse rivers with an abundance of resident species, including barbel, trout, lamprey, eel, and further upstream; chubs, perches and pikes.
Inspired by Roger Deakin and the brothers themselves, we wanted to lead a swim that would be more than just a smooth, predictable ride. With a few recce’s mixed in success, we knew the weekend would be a real adventure, a liquid exploration into unknown bends ‘just around the corner.’
Much of what we swam on day 1 (9kms+ worth) was unexplored and it was likely that our group were the first to meander down such an enclosed stretch. But this wasn’t about being the first or curating another ridiculous ego-driven world record or first, it was about real adventure and reconnecting with nature and each other, a journey into sharing and learning more about wildlife that (just about) remains in a modern, complex world under constant social and environmental stress and degradation.
What did we see and experience?
We saw pale blue and black damselflies flitting nonchalantly overhead, found a waterwheel that feeds the ornamental lake at Painshill, and ducked through webs of branches whilst diving into deep swathes of dark water, reopening our closed-off urban senses to the soothing sounds and rhythms of the natural world. There was much more to come: a rare eel, parakeets, spotted cormorants, freshwater mussels and red kites, a family of swans with eight cygnets, and all kinds of endless variations of river vegetation. The only thing we didn’t see was Calum’s folkloric River Mole shark.
After finding a suitable ‘exit point’ at the end of Day 1, we set up camp and headed out to the local friendly pubs for chats, a couple of ales and refuelling on local delicacies. We hunkered down for a night camping in the woods and awoke to songbird and a soothing yoga session in the shade, amongst the trees.
The Mole is dense in vegetation, reeds and huge giant gardens of Lillie’s and navigating the river definitely had its logistical challenges, and marrying land support and wild guided swimming often led to cul-de-sac moments behind the scenes.
We then set out on our final 5-6km swim on a pristine and beautiful stretch of the river towards Esher, relaxing and moving at our own paces, finishing off with various smaller skin swims in the beaming afternoon sun.
Looking back, it was a great two days which we hope people feel more encouraged and confident to swim wild more often. Over the years and for the record, the Wild Swimming Brothers have been shepherded out of lakes by austere club owners, yelled at from riverbanks by landowners and fishermen. But for every *insert friendly noun* looking to validate their status, there’s a friend around the corner who’s glad to see you using the rivers (and legally you are allowed to swim in them). YES, legally you are. No one owns nature, not event the Environment Agency.
We look forward to sharing another beautiful, sunny weekend of childlike play and joy with fantastic company again soon, and for those who couldn’t make it, we’d love to see you at an Adventure Uncovered event in the future, and encourage you all to get out there and start exploring and protecting your own local rivers and natural playgrounds.
To be honest, I’d never heard of the Mole when Calum first mentioned it a few months ago. Bring on more meanders, beds, banks and tributaries.