By Liz Morrish
Set in the larger division of the Appalachian chain, the Hudson Valley follows a course from north to south. Our swim odyssey starts 35 miles south of Albany, the capital of New York State, at the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Up on the escarpment we see Olana, the home of Frederick Church, an artist of the Hudson River School. If you make the journey up to the house, you will quickly realise why he and other painters were so inspired by the sublime views of the river. To the west, swimmers will see the blue majesty of the Catskill Mountains; “relentlessly beautiful” wrote Karen Throsby who swum all 7 stages in 2015.
Along the Way
The Catskill Mountains: Deeply wooded mountains which occupy a plateau in the southeast portion of New York State. The flourishing 20th century tourist trade in the new Catskill resorts was made possible by the growing number of bridges across the Hudson.
The Palisades: Closer to New York City, on the northern New Jersey side of the river are the Palisades – impressive cliffs that signal the approach of the George Washington Bridge
The railroad is another constant companion on the east side of the river, with frequent trains plying between New York and Montreal.
The river gives its name to a group of artists known as the Hudson River School founded by British –born Thomas Cole (1801-1848) whose work depicted the Hudson River Valley, and the neighboring Catskill and Adirondack Mountains. The painters Frederick Church (1826- 1900) and German-born Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) are among the best known. The group was influenced by the British artist JMW Turner, and the work of the European Romantics. They grew to be part of a movement known as the American Sublime whose artists “celebrate the splendor of nature as a resource for spiritual renewal and an expression of national identity” .
Many towns in the valley owe their names to the Dutch settlers; others to the Algonquin Native Americans who were the original inhabitants.
In the Revolutionary War, the British tried to maintain control of the Hudson in order to cut links between New England and the rest of the colonial states. The resistance took the form of a chain across the Hudson, at the point where today West Point Military Academy is situated.
During the 19th century the Hudson River allowed links to be opened up between New York City and other industrial centers connected via the Erie Canal.
The Hudson Valley was a route for fugitives from slavery to northern states on the underground railroad in the 19th century. Many slaves from both the southern states and from plantations along the Hudson benefitted from the protection of the large number of Quaker communities residing in the valley. Fugitives from Philadelphia and New York City made their way north sheltering in the homes of Quakers all the way to Burlington VT. The river offered safe and speedy passage north to freedom. Abolitionist and women’s suffrage campaigner Sojourner Truth, herself born into slavery in 1797 near Hudson, fled to freedom in New Paltz.
Some major landmarks as we swim
Olana: Home of Hudson River School painter Frederick Church. The house incorporates the influence of middle-eastern architecture – a region in which Church had travelled extensively.
Springwood Estate, home of 32nd President Franklin D Roosevelt, Hyde Park: The estate is operated by the National Parks Service and offers guided tours of the home of one of America’s most revered presidents, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Culinary Institute of America: The Hyde Park campus specializes in French food and offers training and experience in all aspects of the food industry. Students graduate with degrees in culinary arts.
West Point Military Academy: The granite buildings of the Academy sits at a high point above the narrow “S” curve in the river which enabled the continental Army to string two chain booms across the river to prevent the British from sailing further up the river in order to divide the colonies. The academy today is highly selective and trains the elite of the US Army’s officer corps.
Indian Point Nuclear Power Station lies of the east bank of the Hudson just south of Peekskill. The current two pressurized water reactors are over 40 years old and slated for decommissioning in 2021.
Sing Sing Correctional Facility at Ossining: This is 30 miles north of New York City and so the metaphors ‘up river’ and ‘the big house’ were coined here. The prison currently houses 1700 inmates.
Spuyten Duyvil where the Harlem River meets the Hudson. Translated from the Dutch it means ‘spouting devil’. Swimmers will see why, when they swim past the turbulent tidal currents.
Manhattan Island: Left breathers will enjoy a superb view of New York City’s iconic skyscrapers. Right breathers get a good look at the oil refineries of New Jersey. The Empire State Building is easily identifiable, as is the Chrysler Building with its distinctive art deco spire. The One World Trade Center (1WTC) stands at the location of the former World Trade Center. From here, swimmers head to The Statue of Liberty and on to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.