The River Mole (Adventure Uncovered)
In 2017 we partnered with Adventure Uncovered and led swims along the Jurassic Coast to the beautiful limestone arch of Durdle Door. It was great fun and all the swimmers got on... (don't say swimmingly - don't say swimmingly)... like houses on fire... (ah that's worse). Especially when we plunged into the waves of Man of War Bay and dove and bobbed around together in the surf.
So, last weekend on Saturday (June 30th) and Sunday (July 1st), we touched Wonder Twin rings again with AU and decided to hold another event – this time leading a group of 20 grinning swimmers down the River Mole.
Calum called this event: Meandering Down The Mole... with Adventure Uncovered.
The Mole is a sleepy tributary of the River Thames that nuzzles its way through the lumpy, leafy countryside of Surrey. It is also one of the most biodiverse rivers in England with a plethora of resident species, like barbel, trout, lamprey, eel... and, beyond Leatherhead, a few toothy predators too, like chub, perch and pike.
We'd been inspired by Roger Deakins call to 'break free of the official version of things' and we wanted to lead a swim that would be more than just a smooth, predictable ride. In fact, we knew from the outset that this would be an adventure. The stretch of the Mole we'd traced on the first day seemed to be quite unexplored and much of it was still unknown to us after our recce.
It was likely that our group would be the first to meander down that enclosed stretch in a long, long while - perhaps even the first ever.
On the first day, what proceeded was a 9km scramble, float, trudge and swim down the River Mole. It was a wonderful way to spend a few hours - we saw pale blue damselflies flitting overhead, found a waterwheel that feeds the ornamental lake at Painshill, we ducked through webs of branches, nosed our way through slow-closing sludge corridors, dove into deep swathes of dark water, leapt off rocks, searched for parakeets, spotted cormorants and red kites, met a family of swans with eight cygnets, saw all kinds of endless variations of river vegetation, pretended to be commandos in gardens of waterlilies, climbed a sunken tree, met what we think was an eel and wrestled with slimy tangles of riverweed...
The only thing we didn't see was what Calum called the folkloric... River Mole shark.
All in all it was a special first day with plenty of hairy moments and exciting twists and turns. In the end it turned out to be a little more Apocalypse Now (Mole) than Wind In The Willows, but our group of lovable misfits (of varying ages and backgrounds) was more than willing and able to meet every challenge head-on and, most importantly, with good humour.
We finally climbed out the water close to a glittering beacon called the Crystal Grotto - we imagined a cross between Crystal Maze and the grotto under Heff's Playboy mansion. Then we spent the night refueling at the pub and drinking beers at the wooded campsite.
After waking up the following morning we stretched-off and cleared our heads with a little yoga in the forest. I'm not sure why it's taken me so long, but this was my first yoga session, and I really loved it! It turns out those Vedic priests who’ve practised it for several millennia are onto something...
Once we'd all calmed and stretched ourselves we jumped back into the Mole and swam a 2.8km stretch of deep water under perfect sunshine. It was a chance for everyone to swim freely and at their own paces. We travelled downriver with the gentle current, passing rows of grand houses, and the odd castle, and then turned and came back on ourselves, ending at the West End Recreation Centre, close to Esher station .
Looking back, it was a great two days and we hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did, and that you also feel encouraged to swim wild more often.
We wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who came along and to James (founder of Adventure Uncovered) for inviting us back as guides.
Over the years we’ve been shepherded out of lakes by austere club owners. We’ve been yelled at from riverbanks by landowners and fishermen. 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).
Some people talk about rivers like they’re more dangerous than roads, as though a fish with teeth is more likely to injure you than your average hairless primate/human. We've grown accustomed to being in cities and keeping the outdoors at bay, prodding it occasionally with sticks to see if it's still alive... My brothers and me think this is a condition that can be changed. And we hope weekends like this help to encourage others to get out more and to resist the arse-suctioning draw of the sofa...
We'll be doing plenty more of these events in the future!