Tom Elliott and Danny Longman swam all the lakes of the Lake District in four days, and Richard Flint filmed them. Sounds simple, but of course it isn’t. You need to be tough, resourceful, strong in both mind and body to do this, which Tom and Danny are. Richard is too, in following this adventure, which took place in October 2019. This challenge takes planning and a fabulous support crew, both of which they did and had. It is complicated enough, but to make it yet more interesting, Tom and Danny chose to cycle between each lake. To complicate matters further, determining what is a lake and what is not a lake proved to be not straightforward. "When is a lake not a lake?", is a Hamlet-like question in keeping with the Shakespearean pun of a title of the film, As You Lake It. "To be, or not to be", I could almost hear a would-be lake of the Lake District asking itself this existential question of identity – "To be a lake, or not to be a lake". So, when is a lake not a lake? It depends on context, as so much in life. The answer, according to Tom is "When it’s a tarn". It doesn’t explain much to me, as somebody who has lived a tarn-free existence for the vast majority of my life – it’s OK for Tom and Richard to say this, but their place of origin is the Lake District. "So then, what is a tarn?" I ask them. I won’t spoil it, neither the film nor the podcast - this important question for this important challenge arises in both. But just to say that it involves physical geography – altitude, topography, but not necessarily size. But also social geography, which is what happens to a place when there are people involved, in this case, Tom, Danny and Richard, their support crew, and all of the machines and instruments that they brought with them to allow the challenge to be undertaken and recorded. Once the lake-tarn definitional challenge was won, swimming all the lakes of the Lake District could then flow from lake to lake, the order of swimming could become obvious, and following this, the logistics would start to fall into place. They saved the biggest lake, Windermere, until last. Saving the biggest challenge of The Challenge for dessert, it turned out, was a big pudding to digest. I won’t spoil their account, but among so many things logistical, food is inevitably involved - but was there cake? While we recorded, at the Serpentine Swimming Club, in Hyde Park, Adam very generously bought coffee for everyone. He didn't know Tom nor Richard, but it is all part of swim-coffee and cake karma - what goes around, comes around, and this includes coffee and cake.
The film premiered in October 2021, with the following teaser - "With over 60 kilometers of swimming, the new film “As You Lake It” documents Tom and Danny’s adventure through one of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes. Will they make it?"
They were certainly there at the end to tell the tale. In this podcast I am in conversation, in a café post-swim, with swimmer Tom and film-maker Richard. We cover a lot of ground (and water) – from working out what a lake is, to swimming and cycling then swimming again, to mechanical failure and brain-freeze, from emptying the mind to lack of sleep, from preparation to improvisation, from start to finish. I salute them - Tom and Danny for swimming amazingly, and Richard for making an indelible and extremely watchable film. Listen to the podcast and watch the movie!
Listen to the podcast here
Watch the movie here
Image of Tom and Richard by Stanley Ulijaszek; all other images from the movie, courtesy of Richard Flint