The explorer and naturalist, Steve Backshall, 47, lives with his wife, Olympic gold medallist rower Helen Glover, by the Thames in Berkshire. Here he tells how he coped with lockdown, and what he’s most looking forward to now…
I’ve mastered swimming – at a stroke!
Lockdown was dominated by the fact we had twins Kit and Willow in January. Our son Logan is now two, so it’s been bedlam: sleepless nights, screaming and nappy changing.
It’s been rewarding, though, because my job takes me away for long periods, but all my work just went when lockdown began.
Steve is splash happy swimming in the Thames while wife Helen and his son Logan accompany him in a canoe
We’re lucky to have the river on our doorstep and there was no river traffic at first so our stretch became a wildlife refuge.
There was more evidence of otters, and we had more breeding grebes, coots and moorhens. I decided to use the time to do what I’ve always wanted to do: become a strong swimmer.
I’ve been a reasonable one, and for work I swam with crocodiles in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, and a great white shark off the coast of Mexico.
But I went out for my first lockdown swim, 800 metres, and nearly sank the entire way – I hated it! So I made myself swim a kilometre every morning and when I relaxed into it, I found myself swimming two kilometres, then three, then four.
Helen and Logan in the canoe with Steve in the water. The Olympic rower has been supporting her husband Steve on his swims
I’ve had advice from my wife Helen, who’s an exceptional swimmer. She’s paddled beside me in the canoe with Logan.
There’s a simplicity in having little parts of your technique to focus on, it takes away any other thoughts. It’s so rewarding after 47 years to now be able to swim 4km and feel fine.
I can be totally in the zone for over an hour, thinking about my breathing, and about a stroke.
With a lot of other exercises I end up using them as thinking time, and I’m more stressed at the end than when I started!
With swimming, I just go out, splash about and feel cleansed.
The sound of lockdown
Steve has been listening to The Infinite Monkey Cage, with Robin Ince and Brian Cox, podcast during lockdown
I’ve been listening to Etherwood right now, chilled drum and bass music which I can use to fire a workout while also lulling the twins to sleep.
Also, a lot of podcasts, including The Infinite Monkey Cage, with Robin Ince and Brian Cox; Greg Jenner’s You’re Dead To Me, so I can cheat my way through history; and The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread?, which looks at the facts behind fads.
Our Cornish craving
Cornwall is home for Helen – her family are from Penzance and Newlyn, and she is tenth generation Cornish, so she treasures all of it.
We’ve kayaked the entire coast from Mevagissey round to St Ives, and it is some of the most stunning scenery on the planet.
The wildness of Bosigran, the coves around Porthcurno, the tide races at Land’s End and Lizard – all rate as the finest sea kayaking in the world, with astounding wildlife.
Logan Rock at Sunrise on Porthcurno Beach, near The Minack Theatre, Treen, Cornwall, in the UK
Just can’t wait for wales
I’m a massive fan of Wales, and can’t wait to take the kids to Snowdonia [pictured], the Brecon Beacons and Skomer Island.
My favourite route in Snowdonia takes in all the 3,000-foot peaks, which gives you a huge breadth of landscape.
You feel as if you’re a million miles from anywhere when you reach the summit of Snowdon.
Only a small percentage of people go climbing, so you instantly get away from the crowds, and find a little bit of paradise on the rocks.
The view back along Crib Goch (Red ridge) with hikers at the start of Snowdon Horseshow in Snowdonia, Wales
The dish i’m missing
We’re not going to pubs and restaurants at the moment.
I work in science, I’ve got a lot of friends who are professors and understand the situation inside out, so we’re saving our risk for when we need it.
But we’re really looking forward to getting back to Anong Thai on Cookham High Street, near where we live; their aubergine salad is the best dish ever!
- Steve Backshall’s Nature Knowledge Expert course can be found here.