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Swimmers brave cold to cross swollen Thames
Published 06/01/14

THIRTEEN swimmers plunged into the swollen Thames for a Boxing Day dip.

Six of them completed the 70m swim across the river from the landing stages near the Red Lion Hotel on the Henley side to the Berkshire bank near Leander Club.

Beatrice Heller, 27, did the route first as she is the group’s strongest swimmer and she finished 150m downstream, climbing out on to the flooded towpath.

She was followed by her brother Douglas, 29, and friends Henry Collett, 27, from Russell’s Water, Chris Gee, 28, from Singapore, James Bowkett, 29, from London, and David Thompson, 29, from Fife.

About 40 spectators, including friends and family, watched as they braved the 6C water. The remaining seven swimmers had a quick thrash around in the water close to the Berkshire bank.

The event, now in its fourth year, went ahead despite the Henley reach being on red boards due to a strong flow. Last year’s swim was cancelled because the river was deemed unsafe.

The swimmers, who took about three minutes to cross the river, were not accompanied by a safety boat. Mr Heller, from Skirmett, said: “It was a case of not swimming against the stream and just swimming to get to the other side. Beatrice set out first because the stream was very fast and she is the strongest swimmer.

“I think everyone watching thought we were insane and they were almost silent. Perhaps they thought we were swimming to our deaths, so it would be inappropriate to clap. There were a few whoops when we got out though.”

When the swimmers got out of the water, they were wrapped in towels and given mulled cider, hot mince pies and hot water bottles.

Mr Heller added: “Invigorating is one word I would use to describe the swim as it gives you a bit of an adrenaline rush.”

Before the swim, there was a safety meeting at which some people who had planned to take the plunge decided against.

Mr Heller said: “There were initially 35 people who wanted to do the dip but we wanted to make sure everyone was aware of the possible dangers. Those who took part were strong swimmers and 100 per cent confident of being able to get across.”

Published 06/01/14

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