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Hats off to Jule Harries, who’s completed her One Hundred Hats swimming challenge!

Charity swimmer Dr Jule Harries has completed her One Hundred Hats Challenge, undertaking 100 open water swims while wearing a different hat each time to raise money for Surrey Young Carers and Alzheimer’s Research UK

On Sunday 25 June, charity swimmer Dr Jule Harries completed her One Hundred Hats challenge, undertaking 100 open water swims while wearing a different hat each time to raise money for Surrey Young Carers and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Jule completed her 100th swim at the Surrey Hills Adventure Company lagoon in Buckland Park watched on by family and friends and representatives from both charities. Some of her fellow swimmers even joined her on the beach to model her most flamboyant headwear, all of which she made herself.

Jule, who has collected hats since she was a teenager, started her challenge with conventional hats – such as vintage fireman and police hats – but her attention quickly moved to more elaborate inventions. Her masterpieces have included a Carmen Miranda-style mountain-of-fruit headpiece, a giant lunchbox, an anatomical heart with wings to mark the death of Meatloaf, a Dali-style lobster phone weighing over 2kg and a genuine frying pan with a flying pancake for Shrove Tuesday.

Safety was always a priority for Jule, who completed all of her swims in a supervised lake. Unsurprisingly, she also had to adapt her swimming style for the cumbersome headwear, switching to breaststroke instead of front crawl.

For each swim Jule aimed to complete at least one lap of the lake, which is approximately 400m in summer and 200m in winter. “On occasions where the hat presented a safety issue, for example the cosmonaut helmet, I swam up and down the edge of the lake on one side only to make sure I was always well within my depth and could exit the water easily if necessary,” Jule told us.” Sometimes if the hat was light and easy to swim in, and the weather conditions pleasant, then I might swim up to three laps in the summer months.”

Throughout her challenge, Jule has been fundraising for two charities close to her heart. Surrey Young Carers (part of Action for Carers), provides support for carers under 18 with drop-ins, activities and groups to give young carers time out from caring. “I work in a school where a number of pupils are registered as young carers,” she says. “The charity provides support and gives them opportunities to meet others in similar situations, share their experiences and take time out from their caring role.”

Her second chosen charity, Alzheimer’s Research UK, is the UK’s leading charity specialising in finding preventions, treatments and a cure for dementia. “I have seen firsthand the devastating impact of dementia and have also worked as a research scientist, so I know how important their work is in finding a cure for this horrible disease.”

We spoke to Jule after her 100th swim to find out how she got on.

Jule, congratulations on completing your One Hundred Hats challenge! How have the last 18 months gone for you?

It’s been hugely enjoyable, and I’ve loved every minute of it, even when I haven’t enjoyed every minute of it (cold water swimmers will understand exactly what that means!).

Of the 100 swims there were probably about 10 when the weather was unpleasant, usually involving driving rain and strong winds. That makes it particularly difficult to swim against when the hat is very large and acts like a sail! I’d say about a third of the hats were either very heavy, or very uncomfortable to wear. But they are minor issues compared to the fun I had thinking up the ideas, creating the hats and then wearing them at the lake.

One of the high points of my challenge was successfully swimming through a winter season without a wetsuit. The water got down to 2C, with an air temperature of -7, and I’m very proud of that. I don’t think I would have managed it without the impetus of my challenge driving me on.

I was also very pleased to be invited on to Steph’s Packed Lunch (Channel 4) to talk about my challenge and I was asked to swim in Leeds Dock with one of my hats. It was an interesting day seeing behind the scenes of daytime TV. I met the presenters and got to showcase quite a few of my creations, including the giant lunchbox hat I’d made for the occasion.

How are you feeling now the challenge is over?

A mixture of happiness and relief that I successfully completed what I set out to do and raised a significant amount of money for the two charities, but also a bit of sadness that it has come to an end.

Eighteen months is a long time to be focussing on one thing, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the creative challenges it presented plus, of course, the amusement and delight it brought to my fellow swimmers. It will definitely feel like something’s missing next time I swim, but I am looking forward to finally getting my face in the water and swimming front crawl after so long.

What was the most difficult hat to wear while swimming?

There were a couple that were very tricky. The gladiator helmet was made of raw-edged steel, which was sharp and pressed on my cheeks. I had bruises for several days afterwards.

My penultimate hat, the 99 ice cream cone, was about 1.3m tall and quite unstable. It kept lurching backwards and forwards and I was worried it might propel me face down in the water, so I had to make sure I kept within my depth at all times.

There were also a few that completely enclosed by head, such as the space helmet, the Darth Vader helmet and the welding mask. The build-up of condensation inside made it impossible to see where I was going. I had to stop frequently to take in fresh air.

Which hat was your favourite?

That’s difficult to answer, I had a new favourite each week! I really liked the movable Rubik’s cube and the tin of SPAM just because of their size. They are absolutely enormous!

I enjoyed wearing the unicorn head because of the reaction it got from my fellow swimmers. People walking past who hadn’t seen me getting in were suddenly struck with the sight of what appeared to be a life-size unicorn swimming around the lake.

There were many that gave me huge structural challenges, like the 99 cone and the giant Mad Hatter’s top hat, but perhaps my favourite was the one I made in honour of Philip Treacy’s galleon hat. It is elegant and understated and I’m hoping I can find an opportunity to actually wear it out as a proper hat.

What will happen to the hats now you’ve completed the challenge?

I don’t know, is the honest answer! I used top hats as the base for many of my creations because they are intrinsically strong and can support large and heavy structures on top. However, they are hard to come by without spending a lot of money so I tended to recycle a lot of my early creations. Having said that, I still have about 20 around the house that provide a talking point for my husband’s video work meetings. It has been suggested that I auction them for the charities. I’m open to offers!

Do you have any more crazy fundraising ideas in the pipeline?

I would love to keep going with this but don’t want it to become boring, so might morph it into a One Hat More Challenge where I create an amazing hat to wear when I’m feeling inspired or when there is something noteworthy to celebrate, but without the pressure to make one every week.

My charity pages will remain open so if anyone wants to donate in the future they can visit Jule’s One Hundred Hats Challenge on the JustGiving website and choose between Surrey Young Carers (part of Action for Carers, Surrey) or Alzheimer’s Research UK to donate to.

My journey over the last 18 months can be seen on my Instagram @Jule.Harries where there are photos of each of the 100 hats, plus pictures of me actually swimming in them as proof!

Since completing her charity swim, Jule has been shortlisted for JustGiving’s Creative Fundraiser of the Year Award! To vote for Jule to win, click here.

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