Over 1,000 swimmers enjoyed the waters of the Thames last Sunday at the annual Henley Swim Festival. Swimmers and dippers from around the country descended on Temple Island Meadows to enjoy a day of fun.
Organised swims in the river ranged from the 200m splash to the 4 x 1 mile challenge. The Swimming Teacher’s Association supervised a free cordoned-off section of the river for festival goers to enjoy a free dip. Many took the opportunity, some river-swimming for the first time. This Lido was also host to a Red paddleboards demo and a water-roller experience and children had a lot of fun on the bouncy castle.
40 swimmers were taking on the challenge to raise money for Henley Swim charity partner Macmillan Cancer Support. Macmillan said: “We were thrilled to meet and greet charity place swimmers over the weekend, hear their stories, thank and cheer them on! Their fundraising will make a real difference to those we support.”
There was plenty of energetic entertainment aside from swimming across the day contributing to the lively atmosphere. Crowds flocked to the lido when Almost Synchro, an open water synchronised swimming group from Bristol, took to the water with their elegant routine. The 60-strong Rock Choir had swimmers singing along with their uplifting numbers and 3-piece band The Curious Few ensured there was a real festival vibe at the event village.
Vix Ellis from Almost Synchro said: ‘It was an amazing day spent at this amazing place with an amazing bunch of women. A veritable who’s who of outdoor swimming. We did two synchro performances, listened to the superb Rock Choir then swum The Henley Mile. Loved every second. Thank you to everyone who crossed my path. Pure Joy.’
In the UNLTD challenge, where teams or individuals swim as many miles as they can across the day, an unbelievable 30 miles was covered. ZONE3 athletes Josh Carr and Olly Oakley clocked up 17 between them, Henley Mermaid Laura Reineke swum 7 in training for her upcoming channel crossing, and the team from swimwear brand Deakin & Blue totalled 6. Sports presenter Ben Croucher provided commentary all day, keeping swimmers on time for their start waves and chatting to punters, authors, interesting guests, volunteers and exhibitors all day. Laura said, “I was delighted to be asked to take part in the Henley Swim invitation only UNLTD event. I had worked out a vague game plan and decided that cycling between swims would be best. It was great fun and I managed 7 miles in the time with my swim butler Claire racing back and forth with the bike and food for me. With channel training I have huge swims on the weekends, 5-8 hours at a time, so this was great training with just 6 weeks to go. The event was fantastic and as with all Henley swim events beautifully organised and a lovely atmosphere.”
Olympic Open water medallist Cassie Patten led an open water swimming workshop in the Lido with around 25 competition winners and stayed around to talk to Ben and festival visitors about her Olympic experience.
The Bluetits, a swimming group with ‘flocks’ across the country, were out in force with a designated camping area and their distinctive red and white spotted kit to be seen everywhere. Sian Richardson, who founded the cold-water dipping movement back in 2014 was onsite to lead the warm-up for the Zoggs-sponsored Half Mile, which got everybody moving, including an actual blue tit mascot! They commented: “We had a fantastic day! Can’t believe it was our first Henley. We’ll definitely be back!”
Poppy the dog completed her third mile-long swim swimming behind Bryan Avery wearing a special dog float cot. Bryan himself is a keen open water swimmer, who swims regularly at Lake 32 on Cotswold Water Park, and is often accompanied by Poppy. She completed the swim in 30:22. Poppy was being sponsored to raise funds for SwimTayka, which runs programmes around the world, teaching children to swim, to help combat the alarming annual statistic of 360,000 global deaths from drowning. Bryan said, “This is the third time Poppy has taken part and we’re grateful to the organisers of Henley Swim Festival for allowing her to do so.“We joined the last wave of the event, and she really enjoyed it. She loves the fuss people make of her and it is a great way of raising awareness of SwimTayka too. We’ve trained hard, and the fact that we are raising money for SwimTayka gives us even more incentive.”
Henley Swim Operations Director Juliet Hume said: “We’re so pleased to have welcomed so many swimmers to this beautiful stretch of the Thames and are delighted to be getting such positive feedback on the event. Open water swimmers are generally very supportive and friendly people and I think that shows in the atmosphere that we have at this festival. Huge thanks to everyone that came and particularly our brilliant volunteers.”