Category Archives: Lifestyle

Strete – Keepin’ it real on a beach bivvy with the Belles in Blue

After witnessing the worlds first circumnavigation of the Rock with No Name, it was time to celebrate… happily someone I’d never met before but who likes swimming was having a party on a beach – perfect!

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Beach party and the smallest dog in the world: Copyright Alice Gartland

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BBQ, small dogs, wind breakers, bonfire, disco lights, tents and bivvy bags… I’ve never slept on a beach before so was very excited to do so…

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Feeling intrepid in my compact and bijou MSR 1 person tent – JUST LIKE Bear Grylls – (just don’t tell anyone that there was a coffee shop 5 mins away) – Copyright Alice Gartland

And in the morning I was honoured to swim with the Belles in Blue at Strete Gate Beach…

The Belles In Blue
The Belles in Blue and their Bivvy Bags: Copyright Alice Gartland
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Captain Webb or Belles in Blue with seaweed moustaches?



Thank you Tara and the Belles in Blue for a wonderful mini swimming adventure.

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

These Girls Can…Swim With Seals!

Jane Hardy  set up an open water swimming initiative to introduce twelve women to open water swimming, culminating in a fantastic sea swim with seals.

“Open water swimming is not a traditional mainstream sport, so the girls didn’t have a history of failure which often stops young women taking part in activities.

Sometimes young women have poor body image, low self esteem and bad experiences from PE at a younger age, so they simply give up on the idea of participating in sport and that is desperately sad.

This is new and exciting (swimming with wild atlantic grey seals has a wow factor, doesn’t it?); Perfect for #thisgirlcan

Here’s the inspiring film about the project; A Lotus Rises spoke to Hardy to find out more…

Why did you set up this initiative?

I’m a community Sports Officer for ActiveNorthumberland and my job is to break down barriers to participation in sport and to encourage 14-25 year old females who are inactive to take part in exercise to develop healther lifestyles, mental wellbeing etc.

Was it easy to organise? How did you get support and funding?

It wasn’t easy to organise. It took hours of planning behind the scenes – in particular considering every risk or hazard and making the correct decisions to maximise the girls safety. As far as I’m aware, I’m the first to organise such a programme.

I am a level 2 British Triathlon Coach qualified to coach in open water. I’m also a volunteer Coastguard so I have excellent local knowledge which I could incorporate into my planning and share with the participants.

I’ve also completed the RLSS National Open Water Safety Management Programme Supported by my employer and funded by Sportivate I was able to deliver the programme.

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These Girls Can! Credit Jane Hardy

How does the project relate to #ThisGirlCan and what does that mean to you?

I’m passionate about open water swimming so to have the opportunity to share this with 12 young women was like all my birthdays came at once.

Open water swimming is not a traditional mainstream sport so the girls didn’t have a history of failure which often stops young women taking part in activities.

Sometimes young women have poor body image, low self esteem and bad experiences from PE at a younger age so they simply give up on the idea of participating in sport and that is desperately sad.

This is new and exciting (swimming with wild atlantic grey seals has a wow factor, doesn’t it?); Perfect for #thisgirlcan

These Girls Can. Credit Jane Hardy
These Girls Can. Credit Jane Hardy
One of the seals. Credit Jane Hardy
One of the seals. Credit Jane Hardy

Please tell us about the participants? What were their motivations for starting in open water and what did they gain from the experience?

The participants varied in age from 14-25 and were all female. Most were taking to the open water for the first time. Some were at school, some had just left and were waiting to go onto further education and some were working.

They took part for a variety of reasons : To conquer the fear of the unknown (what’s lurking beneath the surface), to get fit, to make new friends, to gain confidence, to try something different, to progress from pool swimming….the list was endless.

These Girls Can Swim With Seals
These Girls Can Swim With Seals

How did the seals react to a whole load of excited swimmers in their neighbourhood?

The seals on the Farne Islands are unique in that historically dive boats visit the islands daily all year round. They are used to divers and so we weren’t unusual or a threat.  Having the paticipants in the water was no different from any other day. Seals are naturally curious and inquisitive so they swam around the girls confidently – we were in their waters and they are much better swimmers than we are so they simply came as close as they wanted as and when they wanted.

I’m a volunteer marine mammal medic for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue. I am trained to assist with marine mammal strandings (including seals) and I was able to educate the girls about seal behaviour and ensure there was mutual respect between human and seal. We didn’t climb onto the islands where the seals were resting. We didn’t approach them. We didn’t swim in the mating season or the calving season so we ensured minimal disturbance to their natural behaviour.


These Girls Can Swim With Seals - And so can you!
These Girls Can Swim With Seals – And so can you!

What advice do you have for any women thinking about getting into open water?

I would encourage anybody interested to look for a local social open water swimming group.

If they post on the Outdoor swimming Society and share there location, then there is always a friendly swimmer willing to share the love of the open water. There are usually tri clubs who offer open water swimming coaching too.

I would advise to absolutely never swim alone. Find someone who can read the tides and who knows the local waters. The waters in the UK are cold so I would suggest hiring a wetsuit intially too.

These Girls Can Swim with Seals

Will you be running other courses like this? If people want to create their own initiatives around the UK, where is the best place to start?

Given the success of this initial programme I would love to be able to deliver again. Ideally not exclusively to 14-25 year olds and inclusive of men too. I’m not sure about the best place to start – insurance will be an issue and I obviously had that covered through my employer.

Social meets where folk swim at their own risk are possibly best which is why I suggested the outdoor swimming society.

The thing I liked best about the programme is the fact that it was not for profit.

It would be sad to see the growth of folk charging for something which should be wild & free. 

Wild swimming, not expensive swimming, that’s my vision.

And finally, where’s your favourite swimming cossy and what is your favourite swim cake?

I love zoggs. I’m a bit busty and tall and they have cossies which suit my shape.

Favourite cake has to be lemon drizzle any day 🙂

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who love open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!


Openwater swimming and cake; they’re spiritually aligned, but what is the best cake for optimum swim performance?  Once again at A Lotus Rises, we’re putting ourselves on the frontline to answer the very toughest questions in open water swimming.

Photo from an earlier research project about French patisseries
Photo from an earlier research project about French patisseries. Photo credit Cat Channon

Today was the official start of what could be a lifetime of research.* Daunting for some, but we believe we have the focus and tenacity to swim and eat cake for as long as it takes and wherever it takes us – all over the world if necessary.

No more sleepless nights wondering what’s the best cake for the Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim… An end to such anguish we say! It’s time to seek out the very best in openwater baking and share that knowledge with the world.

So this morning we travelled for a whole 45 minutes to Tooting Bec Lido to meet with one of the world’s foremost openwater bakers, Fiona Bettles.

Barbarer and Fiona
Barbara  (creator of cheese scones made from a top secret recipe) and Fiona holding a plate which once had St Clement and Blueberry Polenta cake on it

On the menu today was a medicinal** few hundred metres in brisk turquoise water followed by St Clements and Blueberry Polenta Cake, devoured in the Autumn sunshine with a cup of PG Tips. Some swimmers had coffee.

Happy Winter Swimming! St Clements Polenta Cake with Blueberries , created by openwater cake baking legend Fiona Bettles
Happy Winter Swimming! St Clements Polenta Cake with Blueberries , created by openwater cake baking legend Fiona Bettles

A Lotus Rises scientific swim-cake evaluation: Fresh, light, fruity with a whole lot of zing – Bloomin Gorgeous. Swim performance? JUST LIKE Katie Ledecky – incredible!

Here is a link to the original Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe.

Bettles rarely gives interviews, but did pass on this scientific baking tip ‘I never use more than 180 g of sugar as this seems more than enough’. Thanks Bettles.

At A Lotus Rises, we need to eat more cake so that you can optimise your swimming potential. If you can help us help you, please get in touch with your recipes as we’d love to feature  you and your swimming cakes on the blog.

* This groundbreaking scientific research would not be possible without funding from  the International Institute of Swim-Cake Studies.  Thank you for your support.

**It was a bit of a late night of elite endurance athlete dancing.


Not everyone grew up in the swim lanes where diving, tumble turns and butterfly are second nature; and whilst as an adult swimmer who enjoys openwater, you know joining a masters swimming club could be really helpful to improve fitness and technique, meet swim buddies etc, it can also be a bit intimidating.

#WSwim is a London based women only swim session which aims to bridge that gap. #WSwim focuses on building swim skills, fitness and confidence of female swimmers in a non-competitive and relaxed environment.

A lotus Rises spoke to Emily Chong one of the #WSwim founders, to find out more.


Why did you start #WSwim? 

#WSwim was founded at a time when we were trying to recruit more women to our swim club where quite often there’d be 30 men in the pool and only 1 female swimmer.  We spoke to a lot of people and many have come back to say they found swim clubs intimidating because they felt they weren’t good enough.

Some said they didn’t understand the jargon/ couldn’t do butterfly or were converting from breaststroke to front crawl  / couldn’t do tumble turn or dive start etc.  So we ran a series of 4wk courses as a bridging program to get swimmers the confidence to join a club.  However, quite a few have stayed with us since!


Where and when do you train? 

Marshall St Leisure Centre, 15 Marshall St. London W1F 7EL (nearest tube: Oxford Circus or Tottenham Court Rd).  Fridays 7-8pm.

What are the sessions like?

Our sessions are during the pool’s women’s only slot, so it’s quiet, peaceful and apart from the lifeguard only women are allowed in.  We tend to have around 4-10 swimmers in a double width lane. Depending on the group, we would focus on either technique / club or open water skills or fitness.  Some nights we would use under water camera for video analysis on swimmers’ request.

Who are the coaches? 

#WSwim has always been coached by female coaches who really understand how to build confidence.  Previously we had Emily Chong (founder, Serpie, nutty open water swimmer), Kinga Bornemisza (Magical Sports massage therapist, US college / State swimmer) and currently Daz Parker (stunt woman, pro triathlete).

We’re aways on a look out for any ASA Level 2 or above swim teacher or coach, so get in touch if that’s you!

#WSwim training
#WSwim training

How can we join in?

Head to or e-mail and let Coach Daz know you’ll be coming and turn up on Friday! There’s no joining fees, just pay £10 per session (£5 extra if you would like a video analysis).

Thanks Emily, we look forward to training with #WSwim soon!

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or We want to share your stories, insights and advice, so we can support you and inspire others!


How a love of openwater and freediving led to a new career. A Lotus Rises meets SwimQuest’s Alice Todd.

Open water can lead to all kinds of adventures. Alice Todd is an open water swimmer, free diver and triathlete. In 2014, she took the brave decision to follow her passion for open water and left her job in media to co-run SwimQuest Holidays with John Coningham-Rolls.

A Lotus Rises spoke to Alice about her love of open water, career change and the hardships of making a living by swimming all over the world…

Alice Todd enjoying her new career

When did you start open water swimming and why?

I started open water swimming as a child, when we went on family holidays to Whitby. There are loads of photos of my sister and I splashing about in the North Sea, on what look like pretty chilly days. We had a blow up dingy, which we loved, and we used to take it in turns to drag each other around in it – one of us swimming, pulling the rope, the other sitting in the boat ordering the other one about: left, right, faster, faster … I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it more than my poor sister did! I’ve always been drawn to water though – looking at it, painting it, and swimming in it, whether it be pool, river, lake or sea. I think the sea is still my favourite.

What do you enjoy most about open water?

I think it’s still the childlike, carefree adventure I love most about open water and the outdoor swimming community; splashing around, feeling free, enjoying beautiful spaces – and having fun with other people. In this sense, I started swimming in open water because it was great fun, and made me feel good. I’m determined never to lose that feeling even now open water swimming is my job.

How did you get into freediving – Is it dangerous, where did you learn?

Like all sports, freediving can be dangerous if you do it irresponsibly, or without proper training or knowledge. That being said, anyone who has held his or her breath underwater has technically been freediving. I used to do that all the time, diving down to look at coral on holiday, enjoying the way it felt to tumble and roll underwater and feel completely weightless, but I didn’t realize it was a ‘sport’, until a couple of years ago. It wasn’t until a friend bought me a freediving course for my birthday, that I became a little obsessive about how far some people could push themselves without the bubbles. The current depth record for dynamic apnea with fins (basically swimming down a line using fins – as deep as you can go, and back of course) is 288m. 288m! That’s further than swimming from the public viewing gallery at the Shard (244m, incidentally) and back, on one breath of air. This record is currently held by Goran Čolak from Croatia. I’m still just a novice on the scale of things, but its helpful to be able to get beautiful GoPro footage of our guests underwater – and it’s nice for people to be able to take home photos of themselves floating in the blue.

Alice in Waterland: Freediving
Alice in Waterland: Freediving

If you’re keen to find out more, I would recommend starting with an AIDA International course. This will give you a good grounding and knowledge about the risks and safety procedures. The course I completed was run by a real-life merman – Adam Drazga [see]. A challenging but fascinating introduction – highly recommended for anyone seriously interested. I then joined a really friendly club in Victoria called Apnea Revolution, who train biweekly in a pool.

 What do you find most challenging about open water?

If I’m totally honest it’s the loneliness on the longer swims. It makes me realize how bad I am at being in my own company! When you swim for a long period of time, it’s just you and the water, and if you’re not careful your head can visit some scary places, especially when you’re cold. That’s the biggest challenge for me – learning how to deal with that – and I think it’s very personal.

Swimming together!

Many people talk about making changes to their careers, but it can be daunting. What gave you the confidence to make the move to SwimQuest and do you have any advice for other people contemplating a career change?

It is so daunting. I actually enjoyed many aspects of my job in the media, and I worked with some incredibly impressive people, which made it an even bigger decision, however I did reach a sort of ‘now or never’ moment. I was confident in my own abilities, I didn’t have a mortgage, or kids, and always knew I wanted to work for myself in the long run. I bumped into John at The London Triathlon in 2013, and really liked the look of what he was starting. I knew I had the skills to help him build what was then Coningham-Rolls Swimming Holidays into a bigger brand, and I was excited about the concept and the idea. I decided to take the plunge (I know, I’m sorry).

My advice to anyone considering a similar career change would be to do it, but to make sure that you have the skills you need to bring in money independently of the business start up. Freelancing has been fantastic, but you need to be prepared to sell your skills, and live hand-to-mouth for a while.

In her element

How has your life changed since making the move – What’s a typical work day for you nowadays? Is running SwimQuest all about drinking cocktails by the beach and swimming in warm turquoise waters or is there other stuff involved?

I live a completely different life now. I have the freedom to work my own hours, from wherever I like, which is amazing. The more I see the business grow, the more I want to work. Some days I will work longer hours, some days not. I do end up working in some form or another most weekends too, but the freedom of not having to sit glued to a desk from Monday – Friday is invaluable for me.

The other major difference is the breadth of work. As we are such a small team, I get involved in pretty much everything at the moment – which is great fun. Marketing, accounts, web design, print design, merchandise, planning, strategy, promotions, partnerships, bookings, SEO, and of course swim guiding!

The swim guiding is brilliant as you meet so many fascinating people. This week I feel particularly lucky – I am spending the week with our guest coach, Olympic Medallist Cassandra Patten, who is incredibly inspirational, an amazing role model for young women and has everyone hanging on her every word when she’s giving advice on stroke technique. Occasionally we do get to drink cocktails by the beach, yes, and I have to admit there is quite a lot of swimming in warm turquoise waters!

You’ve swum all over the world. Where’s your favourite swim spot?

One of our SwimQuest locations is a tiny little island called Mathraki, just off Corfu. The water is really, really sapphire-blue – and there’s a little pile of rocks I swim out to in the mornings, teeming with tiny little velvet-black darting fish. It looks like someone has cut tiny little black holes in the water – and they shift and dance as you swim through them. That’s probably my favourite – it really is idyllic. If you don’t believe me – watch this!  Having said that, I still have a soft spot for the Norfolk Broads. Not many people think you can swim in them, but they are some of England’s cleanest waters. We run a Swim & Sail weekend there in September, on a gigantic Wherry Yacht – it’s very surreal, there’s even a piano on board …

And finally, what’s your favourite swimming cossy and why?

The brighter the better. I have a luminous orange one with a high leg that is my current fave, but I’m open to brighter suggestions.

Thank you Alice Todd!

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures to follow via our BlogFacebookTwitter and please don’t hesitate to get in touch at We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Out of the Water a Lotus Rises

On Mid Summers’ Day, swimmers were asked to talk about their love of taking the plunge as part of Amy Sharrocks’ Museum of Water at Somerset House.

In the beautiful June sunshine, we each took to the stage on the river terrace overlooking the Thames. The aim? To create a Swimmers’ Manifesto.


I thought about how best to share my experiences of water and what popped into my head was the idea of a swimming chronology.

That became a poem and I called it 芙蓉出水(‘fúróng chūshuǐ’), which is a Chinese proverb meaning: Out of the Water a Lotus Rises.

It’s a phrase often used in connection with swimmers and strong, beautiful women in water. But more than that: it celebrates people over-coming challenges and coming into bloom; something that resonates with me deeply.

somerset house pic 1

芙蓉出水:Out of the Water a Lotus Rises

The 1970s


My first swim: I can’t remember it; but I know I loved it.

Alice and Dad

The 1980s


My first major swim crossing.

At 3 years old I completed one width of the big pool at Eltham swimming baths.

Terry the coach was poolside, guiding me along with a bamboo pole.

I vividly recall my determined doggy paddle as I travelled from one side to the other, refusing to be intimidated by the splashing and shouting of the older swimmers.


A wild, wet and windy Brittany beach.

A gale was blowing.

My mum was wrapped up in an anorak, but I was in my favourite blue swimming costume, demanding to be allowed to get in the sea.

Alice Beach with mum


School swimming lessons on a Wednesday morning begin.

A mushroom float; A star float; Swimming in pyjamas and diving for a brick – the progression from bronze to silver and then gold: Each badge appended proudly to the front of my blazer.


A holiday to Corsica and a beach with pebbles like scorching coals.

Transfixed by the early morning big waves, I got caught.

Tumbling under the water I ran out of breath.

From nowhere, arms grabbed around me and an anonymous Frenchman took me under his arm and planted me upright, but dizzy and in tears on the shore.


Crook Log swimming pool opens two aqua-zooms. We queue for hours.

The big question was, “who is brave enough to go down the red flume?”

With fear and excitement: yeah, I was.

Alice Blazar


A holiday to America.

Disneyland, water-melon, beautiful sandy beaches, porpoises, everglades and alligators.

We even have to stop the car to let a turtle cross the road.


My first swimming gala: 25 meters backstroke. I win; and an American girl called Laura who loves swimming, visits my primary school. We become friends.


The Woolwich Waterfront Leisure Centre opens.

It had a wave machine, and a loud horn sounded to signal its start. It was so exciting! We went there to celebrate my 11th birthday and I remember feeling like a superstar when the lifeguard announced it on the intercom.


I visited Laura in New Jersey. Homesickness was dissolved by pizza being delivered on a scooter to the beach.

Jet skis, swim training, tuna fish sandwiches, coca cola, fire-flies, helicopters and multimillionaires. I was no longer in South East London.

At the beach club swimming gala, we raced on inflatable turtles across the pool, whilst competitive parents screamed at us to win.

Laura and I were laughing too much to care.

Alice and Laura 1


Swimming in Italy.

I am a child of the jaws generation and the huge rocks under the sea prompted me to enact the first rule of international shark defence:

Make sure your brother and sister swim in front of you (it’s scientifically proven that the shark will eat them first).


Back at school I raced in the annual Haberdashers’ tri-school sports tournament.

About more than just simple school rivalries, this event was a clash of state versus private education, inspiring the best and worst in some participants.

I was part of the underprepared team of female swimmers from New Cross, competing against two sister schools who trained all year round in their own pools, with official coaches and matching swim kit.

The girls from New Cross had none of that.

Cutting through the glass ceiling we claimed victories our competitors did not anticipate and learnt about the importance of team-work, aspiration and self-belief in the process.


Cigarettes, alcohol and a rebellious first love, led to me being sent to Saint Malo to learn French. My language skills didn’t improve but I did discover the power of a woman in a bikini.


Ice axe, crampons, and tales of adventure.

In Norway teenage insecurities were dissolved as I climbed mountains, discovered glaciers and skinny-dipped with friends in the Jotunheim sunset.

Alice Scotland


After downing Chinese liquor under the strobe lights of a nightclub in Nanjing; at 3am I find myself in a swimming pool playing volleyball with new-found Chinese friends.

We enter a new century…

During 2000 to 2007 swimming was subsumed under academic pursuits and a city job with all the trimmings.


I travel through Mongolia, the water basin of Asia. In North Western Mongolia I meet Kazakh eagle hunters and swim in a lake that looks like an ocean.

It was cold, vast, wild and free. I vow to return.


My brother is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and from my office in Beijing under the man-made blue skies of the Olympics, I contemplate what it means to truly seize the day and dream of a return to a healthier past…

Back to London and I entered a sprint triathlon and got swimming lessons to lift my stroke out of the 1980s.

But on 30 June 2009, the day before my 31st birthday, I got hit by a lorry whilst cycling to work. Swim training comes to an abrupt halt.

Waking up on the tarmac, commuter traffic swirled around me: Nothing could stop them from getting to their desks on time.

It was a wake up call and I woke up on my birthday determined to instigate change.

That summer I went to Canada: kayaking with orca and sleeping under the stars.

I also met an Australian who was passionate about swimming and we jumped into freezing cold lakes whilst hiking in the rockies.

My love of water was reignited.

A year later (2010) I swim my first mile, then 5k and then 10.

I make new friends and at the Serpentine, I hear about marathon swimming for the first time: Lake Zurich sparks my imagination.

My first mile


I moved to the mountains and frozen water took over my dreams. Skiing obsessed; I was hypnotised by the white stuff and unable to see the lines that were being crossed.

Water became my protector.



I finally understand the importance of self worth; swim across lakes and rivers and break free.


I completed the Lake Zurich Marathon Relay with my friend Anna. Brought together by our love of swimming and immense pride in our South East London heritage, we named our team the South East London Ladies Swimming Club.


That team name transformed into a community of swimmers, each enjoying their different journeys in water and inspiring one another in the process.

In 2013 I also started to learn about the global fresh water crisis and China’s role within it.

My swimming costume is made in China and I started to join the dots between the freedom I feel in the water, what I had perceived as its never-ending abundance and the realities of water scarcity, pollution and control in the land where my swimming costume is made.

Those issues are closer than we think.


I swam outside throughout the winter and I now dream of more snowy swimming adventures.


A back and shoulder injury has taught me the importance of patience and when I was frightened having an MRI, I shut my eyes and pretended to be swimming.

Focused training has transformed my swim technique and taught me a new body language that talks me through the water.

A wonderful summer of swimming has started.

芙蓉出水 (‘fúróng chūshuǐ’)。Out of the water a lotus rises.