Hayley Vowles recently undertook a major challenge to raise funds for us. That 18km swim was not easy. Here’s her story.

I wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who supported me in my recent challenge of swimming the length of Lake Windermere to raise money for Wycombe Homeless Connection.

A lot of your messages were words to the effect of ‘you’ll smash it’ but I wanted to tell you all that isn’t quite how it happened!

   

I’d love to be able to say I swam effortlessly from A to B but here is a more realistic version of events for anyone who’s interested....

It was a gorgeous sunny morning as we arrived at Fell Foot, the water was like a mill pond and we felt like the odds were on our side. Even a Virgin hot air balloon came over to see us off.

We headed out at 9am and my confidence was growing with every marker we passed.

To set the scene, the south of the lake is very deep (167m) and steep-sided. After a couple of hours’ swimming we’d made great progress but the cold was getting to me, so Mark spotted a jetty to stop for a break. Once I was out of the water the effects of the cold were more apparent – I was shaking uncontrollably and felt numbness in my face. The next section of the swim involved crossing over to the other side through the deepest water. I looked at Mark’s face and I knew he was thinking the same as me, that it wasn’t safe for me to do it. I was absolutely gutted and felt close to tears, the thought of giving up this early on was horrible. We had a chat and assessed all the options and agreed that I would get in the kayak and Mark would cross me over the lake, once there I would get back in and stay right along the edge where hopefully it would be warmer. Obviously it would be a longer route following the contours of the lake around all the inlets, but it seemed a better option than facing the colder waters again. We also agreed that we’d make more regular stops than we’d planned so I could keep warm.

Getting back into the water that first time took all my mental strength but once I got swimming again I started to get my confidence back.

Once we hit the north part of the lake, things improved and the water temperature was a lot more bearable, however the weather had changed and although it’s not tidal the wind was causing the water to be more choppy which made swimming a bit more tiring.

The next 4 miles (miles 5-9) were the most enjoyable. We made a couple of stops and chatted to people who were interested in what we were up to. One lovely guy even gave me all the change from his pocket as sponsorship.

We knew we were on the home leg as we reached Wray Castle and when we spotted the yellow buoy in the distance, which is in the middle of Waterhead Bay, our final crossing to the finish point, I think both of us were filled with relief.

As we stood looking over to Waterhead the phrase ‘so near yet so far’ overwhelmed me. I knew this was a crossing over the middle of the lake where it would be deep and cold, but the biggest concern was the wind had picked up and was causing a cross current with very choppy waves heading south, so very much going against us.

As I stood there on the bank, I wasn’t sure if I could face it. I knew it would take a long time to battle my way across this last mile and I wasn’t sure I had it in me. We looked on the map and could see the waters were shallower here and the sun had come back out again so the temperature would probably be better and I decided to go for it.

For a long time the buildings we were heading for didn’t seem to get any closer and it was taking all my strength to not get pushed in the direction of the current.

Mark kept reassuring me that I was making progress and to just keep going. Finally I realised we were getting closer but I was running out of strength so the last few hundred meters I laid on my back and kicked my legs as hard as I could with Mark guiding me and then when I turned around again I was nearly there.

As I walked up the slipway around 7pm with a random lady cheering me, I was filled with emotions. I walked round to meet Mark who had gone to beach the kayak and started to realise the enormity of the challenge we’d just completed.

You may think I’m totally crazy for doing this but I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life and one that I will never forget. I would never ever have been able to do this without my Trusty Support Crew and if it wasn’t for Wycombe Homeless Connection and all of your generous donations I would have given up after the first 2 hours!

 

Lessons learned:

Research future challenges in a lot more detail.

Eating whilst swimming is virtually impossible.

Your face can get sunburnt whilst swimming even though it’s mostly in the water.

11 miles is a long way to swim or kayak!

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

If anyone would like to make any further donations, my Virgin Money Giving page is still open 😊

Thanks Hayley from all at WHC!