Don't miss the Urban Mermaid at this year's festival
17 Sep 2019, 11:45 a.m.
Lindsey Cole will be speaking at the Children with Cancer UK Swim Serpentine festival at 11:40 on Saturday 21 September 2019.
Lindsey is a cold water swimmer, adventurer, environmentalist, writer and a speaker. In November 2018 she swam the length of the River Thames to highlight how we're choking mermaids with plastic. She has also cycled the length of Africa to watch the World Cup and walked along Australia's Rabbit Proof Fence.
“Whatever idea pops into my head, I like to see if I can give it a go,” she explains. “I'm also a big fan of spinning a negative situation into something positive and looking after this planet of ours that I've been so lucky to explore.”
We caught up with Lindsey to find out more about her recent ‘Urban Mermaid’ adventure to raise awareness about plastic pollution while swimming 120 miles down the River Thames in a mermaid’s tail.
How did you come up with the Urban Mermaid idea?
“I was learning to free dive in Indonesia when I scratched my hand on something. I originally thought it was a jelly fish but then I realised that it was a piece of plastic. I’d just finished the most beautiful journey I’d ever done – walking the rabbit-proof fence in Australia – and I was on the lookout for a new adventure.
“I always like to be inspired by something rather than just think up something new – and I’d grown up as a swimmer but I’d never done a swimming adventure before. I was also looking to move back home to the UK as I’d been moving around a lot. I thought that swimming the length of the Thames as a mermaid would be a good reason to come back home.
“I swam seven days a week with a club when I was younger but I wasn’t very good, in fact my coach once told my mum that I looked like I was going for a Sunday stroll when I swam. It looked like I could swim forever, which is sort of what I can do. I can run or swim very slowly all day, which is great because you can be really creative when you take on endurance adventures.”
Why did you start the swim in November?
“I’d worked with an artist in France who turned waste into sculptures, so I asked her if she could turn loads of plastic into a mermaid. She created a six-foot tall sculpture and also offered to be my support crew for the swim, but she wasn’t free until November, so that’s why we started so late in the year.
“It was really cold but it turned out to be a blessing because we only saw one boat a day. I could taste and smell a petrol-powered boat from a mile away, so if we’d done the swim in summer I would have become really sick.
“Doing the swim in winter meant that the Thames felt like it was mine – ducks and swans would take off around me and come really close, which was really beautiful.”
How did you get people interested in the campaign?
“I don’t really like preaching to people – instead, I wanted to make people think. The sculpture and my mermaid’s tail were designed to attract people’s attention so they would talk to us and ask us what we were doing.”
"The outdoor swimming community is a really lovely world. Everyone’s there to support and inspire each other.”
How did the swim unfold?
“I’d been living in Spain, where the water had been 17C, before I started the swim so the first time I got in the Thames on the day before I was due to start the swim, the seven-degree water really shocked me – so much so that it made me sick. I couldn’t eat before swimming every morning for the first week because I was so nervous.
“In total, it took me 23 days to swim the Thames. By the end I was in the water for six hours at a time, my body totally changed shape, and I was really sad to finish. It was so lovely.
“Swimming the Thames really reignited my love for my home country – the wildlife and the countryside and the beautiful, quaint cottages along the river. It made me fall in love with England again.”
What advice would you give to swimmer new to open water?
“Take your time, cruise along and enjoy the environment and the camaraderie but also make sure you take a look at London from a totally different perspective. Enjoy being in the Serpentine, enjoy the ducks and the wildlife.
“The Serpentine is one of my favourite swimming spots. I went to the Serpentine for the first time last year and met some really lovely people who share a great community and they’re really encouraging. The outdoor swimming community is a really lovely world. Everyone’s there to support and inspire each other.”
What are the health benefits of open water swimming?
“I’ve always been a freelancer so I’m in and out of work and sometimes, when I can’t find work, it’s a bit demoralising and I get a bit low. You think the world’s against you, but for the last six months while I was swimming I wasn’t low at all because the water really sorts you out. I had no opportunity to be sad; being in the water makes you feel alive and rejuvenates you.”
Tell us about your ‘Swimming with Strangers’ adventure…
“I was so taken with the open water swimming community that I wanted to meet more of them so people messaged me and invited me to swim with them. Then I decided to take part in the Scottish Cold Water Championships, so I thought I could cycle there and drop in on all these communities along the way – and then I just carried on!
“If I didn’t have anywhere to go or to swim, I would put up a post on the Outdoor Swimming Society website and people would reply and put me up for the night. I can’t think of any other sport that would be so inviting to a stranger.
“People wanted to show off where they lived and would take me on little adventures – which was very addictive. The most northern beach in Shetland was a really memorable place to swim. It was so quiet and remote.
“I’m writing a book about my open water swimming experience – the whole thing oozed joy.”