Saturday, 31 July 2021

Boxing Day dip more than a family affair

A RECORD 52 swimmers took part in a dip in the River Thames in Henley on Boxing Day.

A RECORD 52 swimmers took part in a dip in the River Thames in Henley on Boxing Day.

They swam 70 metres from the landing stages near Red Lion Lawn on the Oxfordshire side to Leander Club on the Berkshire bank.

They all chose to wear traditional costumes rather than wet suits as the weather was so warm and some also donned Christmas hats.

The swimmers met at the Angel on the Bridge pub for their traditional drink before the swim, which was watched by friends and family from the banks and the bridge.

The annual event, which is now in its sixth year, is organised by the Heller family, from Skirmett, who always take part.

In 2014 only six people participated as the water temperature was just 9C but this time the numbers were boosted by friends of the family, even though the water was only one degree warmer.

Beatrice Heller, 29, said: "I was a bit surprised at the number. I thought we might get 30, maybe 40 people.

"Clearly many people had decided 2015 was the year to take the plunge. Whether it's because of the increasing popularity of cold water swimming or the fact that the mild weather has made it not really cold at all, who can say?

"I thought it was a lovely day for a swim. There was a great crowd, great atmosphere, lots of fun and a manageable number of people.

"Just after midday, with crowds gathering on the bridge, we stripped off to our swimwear and lined up on the pontoons before throwing ourselves one by one into the water.

"Offering a display of nearly every swimming stroke possible to the spectators on the bridge, all the swimmers made it safely across the river to be greeted by plenty of bag carriers ready to help people out on the opposite bank.

"Even though it doesn't sound it, it did feel a lot warmer than a year ago and 10C is the warmest it has ever been for us on Boxing Day.

"For some of the participants it was their first time swimming in that water temperature. It was quite cold but everyone seemed to have a good time."

Ms Heller was joined by her sister Rosie, 25, brother Doug, 31, mother Mandy, 61, who was the oldest woman taking part, and her uncle William, 66, the oldest man.

Doug had returned from Japan, where he works as a lawyer, for Christmas and New Year, so the event was a good opportunity for him to catch up with friends.

Cousins Daisy and Henry Collett and Lucy Waugh and Fitzy Archdale and their husbands also took part.

The last person to make it across was Doug's girlfriend Momoko Endoh, who had not swum further than 50m previously.

"For her it was a challenge but she didn't have much choice," said Ms Heller. "I found it very easy because I swim in much colder water than that most of the time.

"Most people drifted a little bit down the river but not too far - nothing alarming. There were lots of shrieks of delight rather than pain!"

In 2012, the swim was cancelled due to flooding so the Hellers thrashed about in Hambleden brook instead.

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