Darrin Roles is Eynsham man and boy. I have lived in Eynsham only since 1999, and have met him a number of times, increasingly so in the past few months. You know when you have been introduced to someone at a Christmas party, then you meet them again at next year’s Christmas party, and you ask that person again who they are and they patiently let you know? And then you do it again the following year? And they are patient again.
Well, over a coffee in the market square in a lightly-falling snow in February 2021, Darrin had the grace to inform me, gently, that I had done this to him five times across the five past years or so. The air temperature was minus one, the gentle snow was settling slightly, and my face was red, not with cold, but with embarrassment.
I am so glad he said something though, because it allows us to move forward. And I am so glad Darrin had the time for me on this crisp morning, after having been snubbed by me repeatedly across the years (how else would you interpret it? Face amnesia?). The conversation that followed was a journey of Darrin’s swim life, from his early years in the village, to his travels, to returning to the village he loves, to staying and putting something back into his community. What he has put into the community is immense – the swimming especially.
He started the Lock-to-Lock event, which has grown and grown. In the first year from Eynsham to King’s Lock (4 kilometers), then in subsequent years from Farmoor to King’s Lock (6 kilometers) and from Farmoor to Godstow Lock (10 kilometers). In the course of setting up and running these swims, he revived the Oxford Mile (renamed the Oxford Classic Mile) and set up two swim-runs, along the same stretch of the River Thames as the Lock-to-Lock swims.
The story of the initial Lock-to-Lock event is one of Darrin responding to barrier upon barrier – administrative, bureaucratic, personal – and patiently informing those in authority with lack of knowledge of distance river swimming, with information and good hard data. The phrase he heard over and over again from administrators was ‘it can’t happen’, as he tried to put his vision of this extraordinarily beautiful swim series into action. He responded with patience and with hard data. I am sure he must have quietly embarrassed at least one official into agreeing to his vision and offering permission. ‘Just the once’, perhaps, the administrator may have thought.
Well ‘just the once’ has become an annual event, and then some more. The Lock-to-Lock events are now regular features in the swim calendar, and they show-case the River Thames as it flows through Eynsham and towards Oxford, this little corner of paradise. Darrin’s paradise – a man who sees the beauty of the local, of the thing before him, rather than chasing a far-off butterfly. And the local, the Thames at Eynsham, is astonishingly beautiful, growing more so the more you look at it.
In this podcast, we discuss Darrin’s swimming life history so far – he is in his fifties and has much swimming in him yet. We discuss the Lock-to-Lock, its origins and its development, and his plans for future swimming events in the River Thames in Oxfordshire.
Find out more about the Lock to Lock Series
Swimmingpod is a podcast series from Stanley Ulijaszek, life-long swimmer, speaking with outdoor swimmers of many persuasions, about their swim-projects, how they got into swimming and what the get out of it. Across all seasons and all outdoor swimming pleasures.