27 swims for my 27th birthday

Rory Southworth By Rory Southworth

When it comes to setting challenges, GetOutside Champion Rory Southworth throws himself into the wild and wondrous kind! Had he bitten off more than he could chew attempting 27 swims in a day for his 27th birthday?

Rory overlooking Lake

My birthday challenges are never easy. Running the 24 Lakeland summits was particularly tough. The 25 outdoor climbs for my 25th took a long time to complete on a work night, finishing at 2:30am the next day. But 27 swims for my 27th, whilst sounding like a lovely day out in Snowdonia when we planned it, was far tougher than I imagined.

I pitched the idea to a good friend of mine that works as a wild swim guide in Snowdonia the week before, asking if she was free on one of the days on the weekend and fancied a day out swimming?

I was still somewhat new to swimming, having only really started wild swimming 5 months previous after picking up a running injury and wanting to still get out. The idea of going to 27 different swim spots seemed feasible. In the past Laura and I had swum up to 5 different swim spots in a day. But I had no idea what laid past the 5-swim threshold.

Rory and Laura head-deep in a small lake
Rory entering lake for swim

Arriving at Laura's house the evening before, we drew up a list of 27 different swim spots in Snowdonia, got snacks, packed our bags and told ourselves it can't be that hard. Laura did mention that this sort of thing isn't done normally in the swim community. That should have been a warming sign.

We woke at 4:30am, got ready and hit the road with the plan of working our way back towards the house swim by swim in a slightly clockwise fashion. Just as the sun rose, we had wetsuited up and entered the first swim spot, a mountain Llyn with just a short walk from the car park. With far too much faffing we headed back to the car and repeated this process albeit refining it as we went along, swim after swim.

Rory swimming in lake with mountains as backdrop

Laura's local knowledge, our experience of the mountains and a good buddy system made the experience enjoyable and manageable, knowing that we both were looking out for each other, checking for signs of hypothermia throughout. Getting cold each time, especially as the challenge went on really started to wear us down. Going from warm to cold to warm again is hard on the body.

However, the swim spots were incredible, and whilst we were limited on time, if we liked a particular spot, we would stay longer enjoying the swimming, the location and the challenge.

Rory swimming at sunset
Rory on his back floating in a lake

The comfort zone was surpassed at about 9 swims for me. By this time my body was starting to struggle getting warm again. Fuelling it with cold pizza, SIS bars, gels and cola after each swim I would keep it going. The longer drives and hikes in between would get me warmed up again and towards 16 swims in I started to feel good again.

There is no doubt that multi-dip swimming is dangerous, wild swimming in itself is a dangerous hobby with currents, the cold water and objects lurking in the water. But with experience, a good guide and planning it is one of the best ways to enjoy the mountains.

Bio security is also an incredibly important issue to be aware of in swimming. Making sure you check your clothing and kit before each swim in a new water source for any weeds or objects that you may have brought from a previous swim. Regular washing of your suit at the run-out of each of the water sources before moving on can help to insure not to contaminate swim spots.

Rory below waterfall in a small pool in a rocky surround
Rory entering a lake in green-surrounds

27 swims is a lot. But after 15 hours and 10 minutes we completed 27 swims in Snowdonia for my 27 birthday. Would I recommend it, no definitely not in one go, nor would swim guide Laura. Would I recommend it over a year, definitely.

Go on one of the outdoor swimming courses available to gain the skills for wild swimming including self-rescue, assessment of swim spots and start enjoying the mountains in a different way.

Published 14/01/2020

Rory Southworth By Rory Southworth

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Rory is a red race short wearing mountain runner, climber and long distance hiker.

Find out more about Rory Southworth.

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