WITH the forecast spitting out high winds and rain, it was never going to be a walk in the park for this year’s participants of the Dartmoor Open Water Swim at Roadford Lake last Sunday.

The organisers were forced to cut distances by half which although disappointing was the right decision and led to a ‘really amazing’ day allowing over 350 people to take to the water, all raising money for the Children’s Hospice South West.

Race director Pete Wright said: ‘It was fantastic to watch these swimmers do their thing and for me it will go down as one of the best swimming events I have witnessed in some pretty challenging conditions.’

There was a wide range of participants, from top international athletes and Channel swimmers to the leisurely swimmers who were just there for the fun of it. They came from West Devon, all over Britain and even from California!

There were more women than men and the average age of participants was over 40. Also participating was Cliff Lee, who had a stroke six years ago, who competently completed 1km with the use of only one arm and one leg.

The 4km race saw Neil Gilson (Ilfracombe) take an early lead but cramp led to him stopping at the halfway stage to take on board a drink and some well earned jelly babies, allowing Joe Osborne (Exeter) and lead woman Francesca Haywood (St Buryan, Cornwall) to catch up. Gilson turned up the gas on the second lap and started to pull away once more, to take a comfortable lead over Osborne of 1min 27 seconds. Hawyard finished third overall and was first female across the line five minutes behind, beating second placed 18-year-old Gemma Owen (Cullompton, Devon) and third place Helen Richards.

Skins (people wearing swim suits and no wetsuits) were out in force and performed brilliantly. First place and now currently hot favourite to take the Ice King of the Moors if he wins Exmoor Open Water Swim in September was Alan Edmondson (Exeter), beating Paul Smith (Nottingham) by only 43 seconds.

The massive range of age from 12-72 was emphasised in the 2km race, with second place going to 19-year-old James Hudson from Bow deferring to his elder 56-year-old Andre Varinskiy (Exeter).

Gold for women went to Kitty Hollingsworth, (Wellington, Somerset) beating Andrea Norris by 30 seconds. The 1km was a sprint, dominated by youngsters with the top overall eight places going to 16-year-olds and under. Gold for men’s went to Ben Grainger (Mount Kelly School) and Ladies Millie Downes (South Chard).

On an environmental note, event director Mike Morris said: ‘Being involved with our major sponsors The Pickwell Foundation has meant that we have had the chance of creating the first ever single use, plastic free event in the UK. Together with North Devon Plastic Free, we have developed a tool kit for other event organisers to make all events more environmentally responsible.’

Dartmoor Open Water Swim in association with The Pickwell Foundation will be back next year. For more information go to www.dartmoorswim.co.uk