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Adventure Stories From A Small Island

“Annie, you’re a grown woman. You have a job, and the ability to book yourself a hotel room and stay there if you need to.” Denis holds me gently by the shoulders, making sure I’m listening. I had already sketched out a plan to bring my sleeping bag with me after my plans to stay with @t_n_kohler fell through due to him catching Covid.

Somehow, the idea of sleeping underneath a park bench seemed more intuitive than booking a hotel room.

Dirtbaggers, eh?

In the end, I decide to leave Berlin a day later than initially planned, giving myself more time to work on the research grant defense – and to avoid having to sleep under a bridge somewhere in England. My plan is to visit a lab we collaborate with in London to pick up data we need for said grant – but a few holidays on top to meet friends won’t hurt, no?

I have a bit of time on my hands after my arrival in England. So I set out on a walk to at least say hi to Timo.

“A 10KM walk for a wave from a balcony,” I tut. Why does this sound like it could be a new national sport for Brits?

About an hour later, Timo and I are acting out a reverse Romeo and Juliet balcony scene. “This is the saddest visit I’ve ever had!” He yells down to me. “Let’s just try to meet up when you’re better again!” I shout back.

It’s definitely not the most comfortable conversation I’ve ever had.

I wander back into town along a path Time had recommended to me. “Walk along the river, he said. It’ll be beautiful, he said,” I mutter as I slip and slide through the mud. Eventually, a few rain showers, a close encounter with some cows on the path and a tea in a small inn later, I’m in a cafe, trying my best to continue analysing my data for the defense.

The weather outside is nasty, raindrops running down the cafe front.

“Welcome to England,” I chuckle.

“So I have a few ideas for scenes I’d like to shoot,” @frankie_dewar explains as we drive along the mind-startingly stunning, drop-dead gorgeous hills of the Peak District. The fog hangs low, covering fields and meadows – and then, the road disappears into a wall of white. Seconds later, the fog swallows our van whole.

I can’t stop chirping with excitement.

“This is so pretty, how are there so many hills, wow, this is so steep, I haven’t seen this much Vert since I’ve traveled in Italy, OH MY GOD WAS THAT A REAL PHEASANT?!” Frankie has a good chuckle at my antics. “Yeah, they’re super common.” I gawk at her. “Common?! I once cycled for an entire week just to see one (1) take off from a field, about 50m away from me!”

“They’re a pain, actually. Won’t get out of the way of your bike or car, running over the roads in flocks…” I’m still glued to the window, hoping for more birds.

For context: I love pheasants. I mean, who doesn’t love a bird that looks like a Gustav Klimt painting come to live?!

We’re headed off to the Lake District for a small water-based adventure – and to film the process of swimpacking. Frankie had reached out to me via Instagram after I’d complained that the act of swimming made the process of documenting the swimpack quite hard. “Would you like to film something together?”

We chose an island to swimpack to the night before we leave for Lake District. I wasn’t sure how much time we’d be spending in the water with the filming and if we’d manage to get all our gear across in one go.

Having to go back and forth several times in water as cold as what I’d been promised (8°C) did NOT sound like a fun idea.

“Let’s go for this one. It’s either 500m or 80m from the shore, depending on where we start.” Frankie pointed at a little green dot on the map. “Perfect. Worst case scenario, we can walk across!” I laughed.

A 3hr drive later, we finally arrive in Lake District, ready to go.

“Nervous? Excited?!” Frankie grins at me.

“Nervous AND excited, let’s go!”

Have you ever been filmed while out on your outdoor adventure? Well, I hadn’t – till @frankie_dewar came along. And she finally gave my habit of talking to myself while out on an adventure a purpose.

But first we had to find the island we wanted to swim to and camp on. And that proved to be trickier than anticipated.

“Well, it either sunk during the flood last week, or it ain’t here,” I mutter as I look out across the water. There’s an island with a single tree growing on perhaps 5 large boulders a few meters from the shore – but that can’t be it, can it? “Here you are!” Frankie’s right behind me, confidently striding through the thicket, unbothered by the thorns trying (unsuccessfully) to slow her down.

We finally spot our island a kilometer further down south.“That’s not 80m from the shore – but the setting is gorgeous! Let’s enter the water here,” Frankie says. A few minutes later, our gear is strapped on my Ruckraft “R2”. “You ready to head in?” Frankie grins at me.

The icy water slices at the skin around my neck. I tread water hard to keep warm. Frankie is on the paddleboard, calling encouragement and giving me directions on where to swim for her to film. She’s completely in her element. I meanwhile, am struggling to move forwards. “So…. Cold…!”

I nearly get brain freeze after front crawling. I didn’t even know that was possible?

Finally, we’re at the island. A couple that had paddleboarded out at the same time as us call to us from the island: “Keep going, you’re almost there! There’s a place to enter on the east side of the island!” With a sheepish grin, Frankie holds me back from immediately rushing out of the water. “Can you go back in once more for me to film you exit the lake?”

Oh god. “Sure!”

Finally, dry land. I can barely hold my balance from while trying to claw myself out of my wetsuit.

“THIS IS THE WORST!” I mutter, upset as a wet cat.

But when we walk into the heart of the island, I gotta say:

Swimpacking to a lonely island to camp on it?

It’s the best.

Are you in control of your life? Or do you ever look at a spider holding on to for dear life in a car’s wing mirror and think: “Huh. That could be me!”?

If so, you’ll like this one.

We march across the island to find a good spot to set up camp. We have no tarp, and only a small tent suited for one. But there’s hope that in combination with a bivy bag, I can at least snuggle into the vestibule – the space between inner and outer tent. But @frankie_dewar‘s tent is a LOT smaller than I’d anticipated. Using the paddleboard as a wind-shield, we carve out half a square meter for me to squeeze into.

“Damn, I hope it won’t rain tonight. The bivy’s not completely waterproof!” I joke. (If this was a comedy film, I’d insert „A FEW MINUTES LATER“ right about here.)

Pitch-black darkness settles over the island at 5PM as we prepare dinner (couscous and hot water sans tea – the tea bags had been left at home).

Frankie suddenly looks thoughtful. “Do you think spiders that have built their webs in the wing mirror of a car know where they’re going? Or they’re just riding along, their little minds going: ‘AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!’?” I burst into laughter. “Absolutely the latter.” – “Do you think we’re in control of where we’re going in life, or do feel like a spider in a wing mirror, too?”

“Oh, I am absolutely a spider in a wing mirror. I mean, how the heck did I even get here?! On to an island? Somewhere in England? That I swimpacked to?! With someone I met on the internet?!! I mean, how the heck did I even get into swimpacking?!!! What questionable decision-making skills brought me here in the first place?! AAAAAAHHHHHHH!”

We’re sitting on a random island in a random lake, which itself can be found on a random island surrounded by a random ocean, and we are laughing so hard we’re close to tears at the absurdity of it all in our one-person tent that we’ve squished two people into.

Honestly, if this is what it’s like to be a spider in a wing mirror –

I’d say we found ourselves a pretty epic ride to cling to.

“ARE YOU OKAY?!” Frankie yells at me from the paddleboard, slowly but (disturbingly) surely drifting away from me. I lift my right hand and try to form the diver’s “OK” sign, but my index finger struggles to touch my thumb to form the ‘o’. My hands are clenching up, and I’m still halfway between island and shore. “..…!” I wish I had the luxury of panicking, but thankfully I’ve learned by now to save that for After The Scare. Currently, there’s no alternative to just keep on keeping on.

My long fins that I have in case of an emergency to make it to shore faster than I would without, are on the board with Frankie. “No way out but forward,” I think, and swim on.

The thing with island camping in the middle of the Northern English November is that, frankly, it’s a guaranteed sufferfest. My hands had already cooled off when we were packing up camp, the tent, the bivy, the mat, our bags dripping wet from the storm that had been beating down on us during the night. “Annie!” Frankie had whispered in the dead of night as the wind steamrolled over the trees around us. “Do you think the paddleboard will be fine?” I assured her that I thought it would, not mentioning that on the other side of the tent tarp I was frantically checking the weather radar to find out at what speeds the wind would peak.

So when I climbed into my wet wetsuit to swim back to the mainland, I knew my body temperature was already dropping – and the clock was ticking.

I can see the pier not too far off. Frankie reaches it first and dashes alongside me as I finish off the last few meters to the shore. “So strong!” She laughs. My feet touch solid ground and I stand up. The water seeps out of my wetsuit as I walk up the shore.

Two other swimmers standing in wetsuits by the shore shake their heads at us. “The weather is too wild for us to even swim past the pier, much less swim all the way over to that island!”

Frankie just grins.

“We did it!!!”

“This is TERRIBLE,” I whimper to @jonathandoylemedia as we claw our way out of our respective beds at Ungodly Early For A Weekend Day. Trading in sleep just to freeze our butts off in a lake doesn’t sound inviting. But I want to meet Vic, and see her legendary grin and energy for myself. So we drive up to Windermere lakes, armed with coffee and a thermos full of tea.

Kendal – a town in the Lake District in the north of England – seems like heaven for anyone keen on outdoor life. It stole my own heart in the moment I realised: every single person around me in the café was wearing adventure gear, and all the dogs and puppies are all leashed to climbing rope.

The hills around the town are dotted with sheep and trees, ancient(-seeming) stone fences and creeping moss taking over medieval graveyards, snuggle up around the town. It’s easy to imagine going mountain biking after work, or trad climbing, or wild-swimming before work.

The latter of which Vic (@hatching_a_plan) was crazy enough to suggest us to do.

“It’s SATURDAY MORNING….” I cry – but there’s Vic in her car, and she’s got the hugest grin and the tightest hug, and there’s the lake and it’s surrounded by autumn-coloured hills of gold and the water reflects the blue and copper hues –

I honestly forget I ever had anything to complain about.

It’s a gorgeous morning in the Lake District.

And my friends are braving the icy cold water with me.

What more can I ask for on a Saturday morning?

I got what I came for: Adventure stories from a small island.

And it was marvelous.

If your’re curious to see the final swimpacking film by Frankie Dewar,
watch it here:


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