Now into its 10th year, the Scilly Swim Challenge is a swim tour of the largest Isles of Scilly, either over 2 days or, for those wishing to challenge themselves further, a single day. The route for both is approximately 15km of swimming, interspersed with walks across the islands, and each event hosts c. 150 swimmers.
The organisers are firm that it is *not* a race, but a fun way to see the islands from water and land. Skins and wetsuits are both very welcome – and I would say you would need to be a confident skins swimmer.
I picked up a fairly last minute ticket for the 2-day challenge on impulse (my favourite way to attend events). As I headed down to Penzance to catch the Scillonian III, I could not believe my luck that the summer weather had finally arrived!
The exact route each year will depend on tides, weather, boat availability etc but the below is a brief summary of our 2023 itinerary.
Day 1 – Arrive St Mary’s
The 150 swimmers attended a briefing on the white sands of Porthmellon Beach, after which we swam a short 400m loop around the bay. A few weeks before, we had been asked to provide approximate swim speeds so that we could be divided into three “pods”: red (fastest), amber and green (more leisurely). The 400m loop gave the kayakers and safety teams a chance to check we could all swim, at our estimated speed, and let the swimmers get a feel for the water temperature. I’m told it was about 16C, but personally felt it was cooler than that!
Day 2 – Bryher to Tresco to St Martin’s to St Mary’s
Two boats took the swimmers to Bryher, from where we had a nice short leg to start the day: 800m to Tresco, followed by a similar distance to walk across Tresco to our next entry point.
Leg 2 took us on a 2km swim across to St Martin’s, with a 2.6km walk to Higher Town. The final leg of the day was a 2.6km swim back to Bar Point on St Mary’s. From here we walked the 3km back to our base at Hugh Town.
Day 3 – Bryher to St Agnes to St Mary’s
Another boat trip took us back to Bryher, from where we were to start the longest swim leg: 5.9km, skimming past Samson and onto St Agnes. I had been a bit wary as this was also the most exposed section, so the swell could be a bit bigger and by this point I had heard horror stories from previous years. However, the weather gods were with us and we had a beautifully smoothe crossing – sure, you knew you were in the sea, but we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. Seals were seen playing around us, although I have to say I was so focused on following my lead kayak I didn’t notice…!
Unfortunately, because of the duration in the water, this was the leg where some swimmers struggled with the cold, but the team of safety boats and medics were really quick to respond.
Landing on St Agnes, I had a fantastic view from the headland back to Samson where you could see the long line of swimmers: a great sight!
After getting so warm and snuggly in my DryRobe, getting back into the water for our final leg was the biggest challenge yet. But knowing it was the home straight spurred me on and soon we had finished the 2.9km swim, and were welcomed by a large crowd on Porthcressa beach back on St Mary’s.
In the evening, we had a beach party hosted at the local Gig Shed with a beautiful sunset over the harbour as a back drop. An evening to eat, drink and share our stories of a great challenge accomplished.
The organisation of this event could not have been better – each pod had someone checking us into and out of the water, boats would take our bags to each landing point while we were swimming so we could take food/drink/warm layers and there were plenty of kayakers and motorboats accompanying us all the way so we felt safe at all times. Whether you’ve been to the Scillies or not, I cannot recommend this challenge enough for those who seek open water adventures 🙂
Now, when do the 1-day tickets for 2024 go on sale I wonder…?