One way to get into the swim of things
As a kid I would marvel at reports of someone swimming across the English Channel. Being a total wimp in water, I couldn’t believe that anyone would want to swim the chilly 33 kilometres between England and France when you could hop aboard a ferry. Swimming the Channel has become so common-place it rarely gets a mention these days. However someone who did make the news is Ross Edgely, a 33-year-old Englishman, who last week became the first person to swim around mainland Britain’s 2,882km coastline. He achieved this in 157 days without setting foot on land. Mr Edgely’s daily routine featured up to 12-hour stints in the water, followed by sleeping on a catamaran with a small support group. In a clockwise direction, he started and finished at Margate, a small seaside town on the southeast coast.
Being someone who finds dipping his toes into the sea at Brighton a major challenge, I just cannot conceive anyone wanting to swim around the entire British coastline.
During his five-month swim Mr Edgely inevitably got to sample the different salty waters that grace the coast of Britain. He told the Guardian that the sea in Scotland “tasted really nice, but the Humber Estuary was straight-up fertiliser.”
Jellyfish stings were a major problem and Mr Edgley’s scariest moment came when a giant jellyfish attached itself to his face for half-an-hour. Just imagine that. This occurred at the same time he was struggling to negotiate the treacherous waters of the Gulf of Corryvreckan whirlpool off the west coast of Scotland. You have to remind yourself that he’s doing this for fun.
Reading about the whirlpool — the third largest in the world — is frightening enough, let alone swimming through it. Even the name, Corryvreckan, sounds like it could belong in any seafaring horror story. It also has bit of a history…
Orwell’s great escape
The Corryvreckan whirlpool almost claimed the life of George Orwell in 1947 when he was staying on the island of Jura while working on his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
On an ill-advised fishing trip, his little boat lost its outboard engine in the turbulent waters and capsized while crossing the treacherous whirlpool. On the boat with Orwell was his adopted son Richard, along with nephew and niece Henry and Lucy Dakin. They were saved by climbing onto a tiny rocky outcrop. Fortunately, a few hours later they were spotted by passing lobstermen who rescued them.
Commenting on the frightening incident Henry Dakin said, “I thought we were goners.” Orwell was less dramatic, briefly noting in his diary “ran into whirlpool and were nearly all drowned”, but then goes on to write about puffins as if it was just a normal day.
These days tourist boating trips are arranged for a close-up look at the Corryvreckan whirlpool. They advertise “these trips are for the more adventurous”, which I would not dispute. A bit too adventurous for me, I suspect. I had a look at a lifeboat tackling the Corry whirlpool on YouTube and that’s as close as I want to get.
Over the sea to Skye
The west coast of Scotland is certainly one of the most beautiful parts of Britain … if it doesn’t rain. As a teenager in the early sixties I enjoyed a rail trip with my parents from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh after which we took the ferry to Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye. Now they have a bridge. My mum was thrilled to be on Skye, partly because she loved the Skye Boat Song, although she was a bit dodgy with the lyrics.
I also had a couple of favourite Scottish songs of a somewhat different nature. In 1958 there was a big hit in Britain called Hoots Mon by the splendidly-named Lord Rockingham’s Xi. It was a rocking saxophone instrumental, broken sporadically by shouts of “och aye”, “there’s a moose loose about this hoose” and “it’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicht.” A couple of years later came Andy Stewart’s stimulating offering, “Donald Where’s Your Troosers?”, a lively ditty concerning the merits of wearing a kilt.
A bonnie time
Armed with this fountain of Caledonian knowledge, I spent a fortnight with Scottish relatives in Nairn, near Inverness, and had a great time once I mastered my cousins’ wonderful lilt. I heard “och aye” frequently and even found myself saying it, along with things like “wee” and “bonnie”. Happily, in the absence of rodents in the household, I never got to hear “there’s a moose loose about this hoose.”
I do recall being befriended by a gentleman in a Glasgow pub and although not understanding a word he said, I kept nodding and grinning in agreement. He was probably calling me a Sassenach idiot. At least I didn’t get a “Glasgow Kiss”.
Freddie’s final curtain
Despite the mixed reviews for Bohemian Rhapsody, I sneaked along to see the film during the week and confess I quite enjoyed it. Admittedly it’s cheesy at times and full of cliches, but it is also thoroughly entertaining and that’s why most people go to the cinema. It helps, of course, if you enjoy Queen’s music and Rami Malek is outstanding as Freddie Mercury. Even Freddie’s numerous cats are solid performers. Mr Malek gives Freddie a very human touch that can almost bring you to tears. Well, it’s only a film after all.