Inspired by Wild Swim – the excellent book by Kate Rew – Robson Green’s Wild Swimming Adventure is as much about one man’s journey of self-discovery as it is about swimming. Still coming to terms with the recent death of his father, a former miner and apparently excellent swimmer “who could swim for miles in 10 degree water in his swimming trunks”, Robson is on a mission to swim across to Holy Island, a swim that his father never made.
In the first episode, which screened on ITV last night (December 8), Robson traces his childhood ‘wild swims’ including in a now heavily polluted and overgrown river and in the sea at the coastal resort of Seaton Sluice, where Dad “hurled me into the North Sea in my white Y Fronts.” From Newcastle and Northumberland, Robson heads south where he begins his wild swim training in Plymouth’s Tinside Lido where he meets two men who recently swam a mile in each of 100 lidos across the UK. Then it’s over to Porthdown, Cornwall where he experiences the ‘paradise’ of swimming in a hidden tidal pool and to Devon’s Burgh Island where he swims along sea bass: “a beautiful way to see Britain.”
Though overly sentimental at times (especially when discussing his family’s reactions to his adventure – you almost feel he is going to cry at one point), Green does a great job in conveying the real pleasure of Wild Swimming which is as much about the spiritual high as the feeling of physical well being. He also meets some really interesting characters along the way. As Kate Rew puts it as she’s talking to him during a moonlight swim: “When you immerse yourself in water you enter another world.”
It’s only during his training for his Holy Island swim, when he’s out there in freezing temperatures in Snowdon alongside extreme swimmer Lewis Pugh – a man who has swum the north pole – that we are reminded of the task ahead of him in swimming across to Holy Island. Stumbling from the water wearing only a pair of trunks, he collapses on the shore but wins the praise of Pugh himself. “I think what he is trying to achieve by swimming to Holy Island for his father is a great thing to do. For an untrained swimmer this is absolutely magnificent.”
Part two of Robson Green’s Wild Swimming Adventure airs ITV1, Tuesday, December 15th, 9pm