Scilly Swim Challenge – social experiment and open water festival

Img 6849

I am so fortunate to have been associated with the Scilly Swim Challenge since its inception – it is a gem in the British swimming calendar and is inspiring a committed and fast growing following. ‘Six swims, six walks, one day’ the t shirt reads, but that hardly scratches the surface. You won’t find a more inclusive, levelling experience than the Scilly Swim Challenge.

The Scilly Swim Challenge started out as a personal challenge for Dewi Winkle and Nick Lishman – would it be possible to swim between and walk across the Scilly Islands? It turned out to be not only possible but also great fun, and so the Scilly Swim Challenge was born. Would others want to try? Too right they would…

The first year, 130-odd swimmers were put to the test – as were the phenomenal brigade of helpers – to see if it was possible to get that many swimmers of all levels of ability around the course in a day, from wetsuited elites to those that had never tackled open water before. All shapes and sizes of swimmer gathered together with the same mad glint in our eyes, chatting, swapping stories, sharing vaseline and favourite swim spots.

The vibe was laid back and all encompassing. It’s an amazing chance for people to experience the amazing things water does when it swirls between land masses. The microcosm of six channels over the space of a day means you see water at high, low, ebb and flow. And gin clear! We were so fortunate that first year – stunning weather meant we were sauntering in t-shirts between swims.

The next year, there were plenty of familiar faces at Penzance docks. The weather wasn't so kind, but the organisers helped every person to swim as much of the course as they were willing and able. The Challenge isn’t a walk in the park, but the incredible hospitality of the people of the Isles of Scilly mean that tea, cake and a variety of other hot and cold refuelling options are carried to random spots (including a church, where coffee and cakes are served on the altar to a congregation of swimmers).

In 2016, the event expanded and provided a more leisurely two-day option. Skins and suits rub along happily and there’s no pressure to compete – you are supported and encouraged by fellow swimmers, kayakers and organisers alike. It’s a festival of open water swimming.

The Scilly Swim Challenge is that – a challenge. And not one to be taken lightly. The water can be 12 degrees Celsius, although 14 degrees is more likely. Some people switch between wetsuit and skins, doing the early and longer swims suited and sneaking in a few shorter skins swims for the thrill. It's not a race, there aren't prizes for landing first. The party at the end celebrates everyone's swims – and it’s a chance for swimmers, kayakers and auxiliary crew to let their hair down.

The Scilly Isles are stunning. The craic is mighty and the community that is building around this mad idea dreamt up by Nick and Dewi is one that I am truly honoured to be part of.

(Beth French is proud to be the swim ambassador to the Scilly Swim Challenge and was sad to miss this year’s frolic owing to her own little adventure, taking on all Oceans 7 channels in a single year.)

Enter the 2017 Scilly Swim Challenge.

01 Cover May22 Low Res

Issue 61 May 2022

  • New faces in open water swimming
  • Swimming for Ukraine
  • Explore: London, Copenhagen and Bristol & Bath
  • Yoga for swimmers
  • Understanding the pool clock
  • On Test: Entry-level wetsuits

Swim Wild and Free

Sign up to our newsletter and receive a free five-part series on the fundamentals of freestyle by Olympic silver medallist Keri-anne Payne.