Lago di Garda, Italy. Solo swim from the Hotel Gran Fasano to Saló – 4,660m.
It takes a certain sort of person, says my wife, to look at a map, pinpoint a distant spot, slip on his wetsuit and say “Darling I’ll see you there at 6.30, you can order up an Aperol by way of an aperitif before dinner”. And so it was as the evening gloom descended and clouds darkened a once bright sky that I found myself swimming to our assignation in Saló on the western shore of Lake Garda. My earlier bravado was slowly sinking as the wash of the Saló to Riva ferry (calling at every small town on the way) slipped over me. I front crawled my way past empty moorings and shuttered villas with sprawling overgrown buganvilla cascading over ruined walls. Normally in bright light with a powerful sun peeking its way through the watery particles the occasional glimpse of the lake bed would be a comforting reminder that the shore might not be too far away. But here in the half light of the cloud covered setting sun all I could see between breaths for air was grey lifeless water and all I could hear was the clanking of skeletons pulling their manacled legs along the gravelly bottom. Swimming is a fine thing for calming the mind, except of course if you have a fiery imagination.
Sea swims are generally interspersed with moments of boredom, moments of peace and occasionally moments of high tension. The possibility of sharks, orcas or giant tentacled beasts from the depths are a remote possibility but still a possibility. Inland waters (Loch Ness excepted of course) invariably hold no human predators other than the fast churning screws of a Riva speedboat. But here I was swimming past these gloomy lake front mansions with their dusty pergolas and abandoned wisterias hearing the sounds of long dead retainers (slaves of Catullus? servants of Dante? soldiers of Mussolini or Napoleon?) dragging their chains through the water. The echoey sounds were as hollow as an empty cask of Bardolino and I could almost feel the fish fed boney wrists reaching up supplicating for me to save them (the innocent slaves of Catullus) or dragging me down to join them (the mercenary troops of Napoleon).
Swim faster! I tell myself, this will be the only way to dispel those malevolent spirits! Inevitably, my breath heavy, I slow down and as I approach a dull yellow dinghy attached to a slimy weed green buoy I hear the sounds of children playing in a garden and the scent of charcoal from a Friday evening barbecue. Quickly I am brought back to my senses, my heart rate slows, my breathing shallows and I continue the last few hundred metres of my journey. Once again with my head below the water I hear the slowly receding chains dragging along the lake bed, just the mesmerising swell, I say to myself, of the heavy anchoring’s of the pontoons to the lake bed.
It is almost dark as I slip past the myriad of yachts and motorboats moored to the Saló promenade, my gentle splashing the only sound I hear now. I look at my watch, late as usual I say to myself. “What kept you?”, says Ellie, two glasses of vivid Aperol lined up on the edge of the promenade, hers half empty, mine the ice almost melted. “Oh you know, ghosts and things…”