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Fenwick Ridley - Swimming through a pandemic

Ice swimmer, adventurer and Feral Friend Fenwick Ridley tells us about how the last year has affected him and his adventures – and how much joy he took from one of the coldest winters in years.

In the last year our paths, challenges and ideas have been constantly changing for all of us and many have faced some really tough times. I'm always trying new things and finding adventure wherever possible but in this last year there was very limited action – but maximum planning.

I was one of the lucky ones with the ability to do my coaching online more than usual, teaching people about ice holes and ice channel making. I've been able to help those abroad and those here in what was described as one of our best winters for years for ice swimming. My work with my business H2oTrails is something I'm so super proud of and always feel very lucky to have it.

And then of course there is Moona who is also by my side all the way and – Man! – she was sooo good at looking out for me. Moona (my young 16 month old Black Lab) is very well trained on the ice and this winter just gone (2020 to 2021) was her first winter with me. It was so awesome to have her along fetching the ice out the ice hole for me. She is currently in training for part of my lifeguard team on the SUP board and is doing amazing.

With me, there is a challenge ALL THE TIME and I literally can't help myself create a mission or grow an idea so big and bright that it becomes reality and ends up pencilled onto my list. This list is of course a whopper of a list but it's also got a fair few things crossed out. One of my challenges that didn't end up being crossed out and got smashed in 2020 was my 'Ice Crossing' – cutting a channel in the ice across an entire lake and then swim it. Loved it!! I was glued to my axes this winter due to the epic icy topping on the lake ready for me to play in over a few months.

Winter is somewhere my soul gets to breathe and my body gets to repair and my head is calibrated, though it's not all just about the water. It's also the prep and the journey and the tools in the hands. There is a massive, satisfying feeling creating deep snow holes with big snow boots. Winter is also my instructor in so many ways and I'm always learning each time it comes round as every winter is different and each time I'm on a different path.

Of course my big sad face could be seen on the horizon when it got a little bit warmer and the ice started to melt and vanish. Though I also get fairly excited from a last blast of winter near Easter as its totally unpredictable especially here in the UK (AND IT DID – SNOW IN SPRING!!).

My kit for winter was a bit crackers really, here is a brief overview:

  • Snow boots
  • My military mitts (beasts)
  • Ice prongs
  • Hatchet
  • Large axe (Ymir)
  • Turtleback bag (Of Course)
  • Brownie
  • Flask (Spiced Tea)
  • Alpaca socks x2
  • First aid gear
  • Moona's snacks (duck or ostrich)
  • Moona's safety vest
  • Moona's first aid gear
  • Moona's towel
  • Camera gear
  • Swim trunks (sometimes)

I'm now looking forward to seeing more people enjoy the waters this year as my lake opens up and we have more try it for the first time and get their buzz from the water. Then there is my general season clients returning for the warmer waters and I watch them also smile and enjoy nature as me and my few team SUP lifeguard them.

Another thing that I'm looking forward to this year is finishing my adventure swim up river against the flow of the River Tyne (the South Tyne – I finished the North Tyne).

Here is a snippet of my footage from the mission so far and please do hit sub to see my coming finished videos I hope to upload soon.



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