Guest blog: Swimming the River Severn - Melissa Compton

We know lots of open water swimmers and are big fans of wild swimming - it’s a great activity and a great community, with a big emphasis on being welcoming, self-reliant, and risk-aware. There are plenty of potential risks in swimming in open water so the key is to carefully assess each swim, be aware of how well you know the location, and understand your capabilities. Always swim safe.

Swimmers swim for lots of reasons - to have fun; to keep fit; to be part of a community; to explore new areas; to improve physical or mental well-being; or all of the above. Our swimming buddy Melissa has just started blogging about her swimming life, and it’s an inspiring read, especially for those of us with dodgy knees…

Swimming and me.

I started open water swimming just over three and a half years ago and it has changed my life. My obsession with swimming came about after I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my right knee at the age of 34. Throughout my twenties I spent most winters skiing where I picked up several bad knee injuries which needed surgery. After I stopped doing ski seasons, I took up long distance walking. This added further strain to my knee. I started to struggle to walk and ended up using a walking stick and only managing to walk short distances before the pain became too much. A friend of mine suggested that I should take up swimming. I was reluctant at first having never given it any thought before, but as my mobility reduced still further, I realised that I needed some form of exercise to stay fit. So, I literally took the plunge. 

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I brought a wetsuit and went for a swim in Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) in North Wales. From that day I was hooked. I dragged my friends to shore watch whilst I swam not, caring what the weather was like. I managed to swim for just a couple of months during that first year before the major knee surgery I needed could not be put off any longer. I had stem cell therapy on the cartilage in my right knee and a meniscus transplant. I was out of the water for three months before my surgeon said I could go back in the pool and another six before he said I could swim outdoors. Just before I had stopped swimming for the surgery, I had joined a swimming group on Facebook. This was one of the best decisions I ever made. 

Lake Bala - a favourite spot

Lake Bala - a favourite spot

Swimming doesn’t end with summer in fact once summer is over then swimming becomes more sociable and extreme. Myself and my friends swim 365 days of the year. In the winter we seek out the ice and snow. A recent trip to the Lake District this winter saw us plunging in lakes covered in thick ice and snow which took 20 minutes to break with the ice axe so that we could wallow in the clear crisp 0 deg c water underneath.

2018 was my biggest swimming year, myself and three others in the team completed a four person English Channel Crossing in June whilst the water was still only 13 Deg C.

The last few metres of the English Channel. French sand is in reach.

The last few metres of the English Channel. French sand is in reach.

Llyn Tegid two way, Big Welsh Swim, Llyn Padarn 9 km (although training later in the summer I swam 12 km), Dee Mile and Windermere one way in September. All swims are in skins (which means a swimming costume but no wetsuit).

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For 2019 I have decided to set a new challenge for myself. The planning and training are underway to try and become the first woman to swim the length of the River Severn and the first person ever to do it in skins. The source of the Severn is in mid-Wales high on the hill of Plynlimon above the Havren Forest. It then flows through Wales, though my home county of Shropshire before heading towards Worcester and Gloucester and finishing at the Bristol Channel. The total length of the river is 220 miles or 354Km. It is the longest river in the UK. 

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I will be documenting my swims and adventures leading up to, during and after this adventure – you can follow me at https://swimmingmelissacompton.water.blog/ and if you’d like to support my fund-raising for Versus Arthritis then my JustGiving page is here

On a recce in the River Severn, with canoe support

On a recce in the River Severn, with canoe support