This September we are proud to be supporting Christopher Woodward as he embarks on his fourth – and final – Sponsored Swim in support of The Garden Museum.  You can follow his progress by reading his swim diary here. This week, he will swim 30 kilometres within the Arctic Circle to raise money to display two objects of natural history and complete our recreation of John Tradescant’s Ark with a crocodile from the River Nile and the skeleton of a 17th century whale.

The swim will retrace part of Tradescant’s expedition to Russia in 1618, and Christopher hopes to raise the £75,000 required to put on display these two specimens of natural history, which would be on loan from the Natural History Museum, London. Each will give to the Museum visitor the wonder, amazement, and education in the natural world that visitors to the Ark experienced 350 years ago.

Click here for more information and for Christopher’s sponsorship page.

Christopher’s Diary – Day One 

‘Swimming to Mordor!’ announces John Coningham-Rolls, cold water swimmer and founder of SwimQuest, as sun rises over the Lofoten Islands. Our hut has a jetty, and sharply granite mountains rise out of the water as improbably as in a Tolkien illustration.

SwimQuest Lofoten, Arctic Circle Accommodation

What could have been in Tradescant’s mind as he sailed up the coast in the summer of 1618? I am writing this from memory waiting for the boat to arrive for the first day’s swim but there is a brilliant chapter in Jennifer Potter’s Strange Blooms describing how Tradescant joined Sir Dudley Digges’ expedition to trade in the Russian Arctic, which took me to go to the Bodleian Library one day to see Tradescant’s diary of that journey. This document, I imagine, is the first piece of autobiography written by a professional gardener; it is a slow read as Tradescant’s handwriting was bad enough even when not writing on a ship heaving so much that the first two weeks out of Gravesend were occupied by the Captain’s seasickness.

Why did Tradescant sail? He never tells us, but Tradescant did many things which no gardener one had done before him: make a Museum, collect animals, rise from obscurity to being the confidante of a Queen… And he must have struck people newly-met by his patient, technical curiosity.

Christopher Woodward SwimQuest Arctic Challenge On 27th June ‘there Cam a Strang Bird Abord our shipe which was taken Alibe & Put to my Custody But Died within two Days’. The ship was 60 leagues from the Shore, and he had never seen such a bird before. That night ‘the Sonne did show some small part of his body all the night’. But then came the ‘fogge’.

And here comes Frank, the boatman, with the inflatable motor boat. What’s its name, I ask? Frank shrugs. Norwegians do not do flourishes or bravado, so we name his inflatable boat ‘Thor’ on his behalf.

Click here for Day Two >