Pickie to Pier Swim returns with original race route from 1910

The Pickie to Pier Swim returns to Bangor, Northern Ireland, on Saturday 6 July, with 200 participants swimming an original route dating back to 1910

The Pickie to Pier Swim will return to Bangor on Saturday 6 July for its fifth outing as part of Open House Festival’s Seaside Revival initiative, and there’s a significant change to this year’s route. In a nod to the original race, which ran from 1910 until the mid-1980s, the 200 participants will now swim an 800-metre course from Skippingstone Beach at Pickie to the tip of the Eisenhower Pier, and then loop back to the starting point at Skippingstone. 

After a 30-year absence, the legendary swim was resurrected by Open House in 2019 to spectacular success, and, following a break in 2020 due to Covid, has become a regular summer event with hundreds of onlookers gathering each year to cheer the swimmers on. 

A change of course

For the previous four races, the participants swam a straight course from Skippingstone to the RNLI slipway at Bangor Marina, but the organisers decided it was time to revert to the original race route. The new route will create more of a carnival atmosphere at the event, especially as the spectators will be able to watch the entire race from the beach and adjacent coastal path. 

“When we brought the event back to life in 2019 we thought a direct route from the beach to the pier would be best,” says event organiser Sharon Matchett from Open House. “But to mark the fifth year of the new race, we decided to step it up a notch with a U-turn back to the starting point. In reality the course is only an extra 50 metres in length, but it will probably look more to the swimmers.”

Swimmers will be treated to free yoga classes from the Salty Yogi, and breathwork lessons from Scott Riley, who trained with Wim Hof. Olympian Andrew Bree from Helen’s Bay, who represented Ireland in the breaststroke at the Beijing and Sydney Olympics, will provide commentary.

Will it be another all-female podium?

Last year saw an all-female podium for the second successive year, with two visiting elite open water swimmers from the USA, Catherine Breed and Felicia Lee, taking first and third places respectively. Bangor’s own Jessika Robson, who had previously won the race in 2022 and 2021, finished in the runner-up spot. Jessika went on to become the youngest swimmer to cross the North Channel in October 2023, and she’ll be sure to get a rapturous welcome from the crowd if she returns to try and reclaim her Pickie to Pier crown.

“Of course, this event isn’t just about the winners,” said Sharon, “It’s about the joy of taking part, the camaraderie, and the sense of achievement for the swimmers when they walk out of the water. Our final swimmer home will receive just as big a cheer as the winner will.”

For the third year in a row, prizes will be provided and presented by Cosimac Ltd, the Bangor-based outdoor clothing company who specialise in swimming robes and towels. 

“As a local Bangor brand, we’re thrilled and proud to be supporting this brilliant event once again,” said Angela Skarmoutsos of Cosimac. “It fits perfectly with the Cosimac ethos to get into the water and have an adventure! We are so grateful to Open House for bringing this joyful event back to Bangor again, and wish all the swimmers the best of luck.”

Tickets for the swim go on sale at 10am on Thursday 23 May. Spaces are limited to 200, and the organisers are encouraging anyone who wants to take part in this popular and iconic event to secure their place quickly. Visit the Open House Festival website to purchase a ticket and view this year’s full programme. Find more open water swimming events.

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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.