Swim A River From Source To Mouth


SO YOU'RE THINKING of swimming a river from source to mouth? Break out the maps, collect your gear and get ready for an adventure like no other. Waterways lead to pockets of quietude that would be otherwise unreachable. They bundle you down valleys, through gorges and into the depths of entangled forests. You'll meet funky little flitters of wildlife along the way, beautiful wild flower gardens and no doubt wind-up whistling the bear necessities tune to yourself.

It's a wonderful experience, is what I'm saying. Of course, there's a fair amount of logistical planning that also has to go into it. You might need to contact local fishing associations and other authorities in the region. Just be sure of your dates and have a plan in place before you do so. It shouldn't be a problem. We met a lot of fishermen as we travelled the length of the River Eden - we only had one encounter that wasn't amicable.  

Here are a few other answers we've given in the past to other aspiring river swimmers. Hopefully you'll find something of use...

You’ll meet funky little flitters of wildlife along the way, beautiful wild flower gardens and no doubt wind-up whistling the bear necessities tune to yourself.


When would be the best time to do it?

We swam in August to avoid the cold winter. The only concern for choosing a warmer season is the potential lack of rainfall, especially during those first few days when the water is much shallower. I would say some time after summer, just watch the rainfall to make sure there's enough water in the river.  

How long did it take you? 

It took us nine days in total and we finished halfway through the ninth day.

How many miles did you need to do a day?

We averaged around nine miles a day, just be prepared for some days being less and some being more, depending on how merciful that particular stretch of the river is.

Is there any equipment that it is essential for us to have?

Vaseline for your necks, plasters or bandaging for blisters, good goggles that don't mist too frequently. And of course wetsuits, wetsuit boots, tents, bags... We also carried dry bags with us so we had all the supplies like energy drinks and lunch. Brownies were a life saver and stodgy food like sausage rolls to give you energy and keep you warm. 

Do you think that it's ok for just two of us to do it?

You'd be fine with just the two of you. The only part of the river that's a little hairy is the bit where it runs through Hell Gill Gorge. This is a canyoning course and there is one section where you have to pull yourself along a rope. As long as you have the company of at least one person you should be fine.

Did you have a support team the whole way down?

We had a support team of our two parents. It probably would be essential to have someone there to bring tents and perhaps at lunch to provide food that you don't carry on your backs in dry bags.

What happened when there were waterfalls and other river obstacles?

One waterfall, shortly after Hell Gill Gorge is too tall and too shallow below to jump from. All the others are small and easy to navigate. Just be careful, take it slow and keep an eye out for the safest possible walking route - you don't have to leave the water. As for the one after Hell Gill Gorge, you'll have to get out and climb down around that one.

What did you do to train for the swim?

We swam outside a lot and hugged the coasts and went up and down outdoor lidos. You need to be used to cold water by the time you start and you should also be comfortable swimming a couple of miles. There are a few stretches, close to Langwathby, of long, uninterrupted swimming. On a lighter note, it might be smart to put on some blubber. I was a little fatter than Robbie and Calum when we started and, as a result, I found it much easier to cope with the cold.  

Where did you sleep at night?

We camped in local campsites and sometimes pitched on greens or pub gardens in villages close by. Just ask and no one should have a problem.

Are there any dangerous currents to worry about?

The only currents I would worry about are the ones under waterfalls. Just make sure you don't jump down into water under a strong waterfall. Also, on the last day you'll have to time your swim with the outgoing tide so that you can ride it to Port Carlisle. 

Was the coldness a problem?

The cold wasn't a problem, as long as you've prepared for it (outdoor lidos, plenty of wild swimming, maybe a few cold showers). Also, I would definitely recommend gaining a little blubber.

I know it sounds like there are a lot of rules and things to worry about, but the key thing is to enjoy it. Travelling the length of a river, feeling the current strengthening as it matures from infancy, is an experience that gives you a great sense of freedom and natureful fun. You won't forget it!