Are there alternatives to Dover?

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Dover, naturally, is the home of English Channel swimming and anyone with an interest in the sport should pay a visit. Even if you’re not a swimmer you’ll be awed by the dedication of those who have set themselves open water swimming’s most famous challenge. Swimmers will plough up and down between the harbour walls, sometimes for seven hours on a Saturday followed by six more on Sunday. Many of the swimmers will have also driven hours to be there. The team on the beach is equally dedicated – monitoring swimmers, mixing feeds and helping them warm up post swim.
For some though, Dover is simply too inconvenient to reach for regular training sessions. Consequently, other Channel swimming groups have emerged around the UK (and probably elsewhere in the world). Last weekend I joined such a group at Durley Chine, Bournemouth, for a lovely swim in the sea.
The group at Durley Chine consists of a number of Channel and prospective Channel swimmers. They are mostly local and since last year have been meeting at weekends throughout the summer as an alternative to making the four hour trek to Dover. They also welcome a few swimmers from further away who find the journey to Bournemouth easier than the one to Dover. Very explicitly the Durley Chine Swimmers are not a club but a group of people who choose to swim together for mutual support. So, while new swimmers are welcome, they must swim at their own risk as there is no club insurance or official lifeguard cover. On the other hand, the group is well organised, safety conscious and has the support of the regular beach lifeguards.
For those who haven’t been there, Bournemouth has a long, sandy beach, which is incredibly busy and popular on hot days. However, for those in the know, and who get there early enough, there’s free parking and once you get in the water there’s always plenty of space.
The Durley Sea Swimmers set up camp next to the lifeguard station and always let the lifeguards know what they are doing. The majority swim with tow floats, which the lifeguards say they appreciate as it helps them see where people are. On the beach, a volunteer keeps a list of swimmers in the water, how long they’ve been in and when they want feeding. The swimmers are equally dedicated to those in Dover, starting early and swimming as long as necessary. On the day I swam, the volunteer on the beach was Scarlett Little, the incredibly supportive girlfriend of Marcus Wadsworth, who is one of the group’s originators and who swam the Channel in 2013.
Starting from the lifeguard station, swimmers turn left and swim past three groynes towards Bournemouth Pier. They then reverse direction, swim past the start point and continue on for another four groynes before returning. This takes the average swimmer about an hour. Slower swimmers can turn sooner while faster swimmers can add extra distance and if it all goes to plan they arrive back on mass at the start point for a quick feed and chat before continuing. The aim is to follow the same feeding structure used in Dover – i.e. first feed after two hours and hourly after that.
I only swam for two hours, which was plenty for me, but other swimmers were still at it long after I’d re-warmed and had a snooze on the beach. They’re as dedicated in Bournemouth as they are in Dover.
So while Dover may be the spiritual home of Channel swimmers, and I doubt there’s anything quite like it anywhere else in the world, alternatives do exist. Bournemouth may lack Dover’s gritty charm, its Channel swimming history and clinking pebbles but it’s a delightful spot for a swim and certainly worth checking out if you’re in the area.
You can find out more about the Durley Chine Swimmers through Facebook – search for Durley Sea Swims. Alternatively, contact Marcus Wadsworth on Marcus.Wadsworth@ceutahealthcare.com.
We’d be interested to hear from other Channel training groups and how they are set up.

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Issue 42 October 2020

  • Q&A with Jaimie Monahan - marathon swimmer and Queen of the Ice
  • Autumn swim adventures around the UK
  • The science behind cold water acclimatisation
  • Reviewed: The Best Open Water Goggles
  • The often deadly history of unsupported marathon swims

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