A geographical swimming challenge: 10 wild swims in 10 counties

A couple from Bedfordshire have completed an outdoor swimming challenge that was as much about geography as it was about the simple joy of swimming in open water. Kelly Dockerill and Richard Johnstone accomplished 10 wild swims in 10 different counties, with each swim being a minimum of 250 metres. 

Both Kelly and Rich have a passion for wild swimming, and so they decided to put it to good use with a creative swimming challenge. They wanted to raise money for MAGPAS Air Ambulance, who provide pre-hospital emergency care in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and across the East of England. 

The pair completed all ten swims on 13 July 2022. “We actually swam 300m plus each swim totalling 3.8km,” says Rich. “We chose the swim locations in a loop, which would end up in our home county, Bedfordshire. The furthest swim took us 1 hour 45 mins away to Nottinghamshire.”

They scoped out most of the swims beforehand, as many were new to them. “We wound up at our usual swimming spot, Great Barford in Bedfordshire,” says Rich. They chose 13 July to coincide with the full moon, so their local swim group The Hicca Dippers could join them. “We had a massive turn out, including a wild swimmer from MAGPAS!”

Their swims included some truly glorious locations such as Flatford Mill in Suffolk, Dedham Vale in Essex and Houghton Mill in Cambridgeshire.

“Our swim at Great Barford blew me away because of the number of people who turned out and cheered us on for our last swim,” says Rich. “It was an amazing atmosphere and we had such a warm welcome.” Flatford Mill was also a personal favourite, because of his love of John Constable paintings.

“My favourite swim of the day was the last one in the River Great Ouse at Great Barford, Bedfordshire,” says Kelly. “It was amazing to have so many members from our local swim group join us. Knowing they were going to be there helped to spur us on. It was a great atmosphere, with new and old friends keen to support us and the charity.”

Taking a creative approach

“MAGPAS is a fantastic service that receives no government funding and relies totally on donations,” says Rich. At the time of writing, the couple have raised over £800, exceeding their goal of £500. 

Their feat just goes to show you don’t need to be a Channel swimmer to embark on an exhilarating outdoor swimming challenge. “We didn’t do any special training for this event as we both regularly wild swim in rivers and lakes every week all year round,” says Rich. 

The pair faced challenges with travel times and unpredictable traffic and roadworks between swims. They also needed to factor in time to change swimwear after each dip to avoid cross contamination. 

“We felt very proud to have completed the 10 swims in 10 counties challenge,” says Rich. “The swims felt exciting, fuelled by adrenaline and it was great to be doing something to benefit others. The support we had was truly amazing. We’re both so grateful to everybody who has donated and made this outdoor swimming challenge a success.”

You can still donate to Kelly and Rich’s fundraising campaign on their Just Giving page. Be inspired by more swimming challenges, at all levels, on our news page.

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.