500 people took to the water at the inaugural Exmoor Open Water Swim on Saturday at Wimbleball Lake. In this first event ever of its kind at Wimbleball, the weather played ball as more women than men swam the single loop lap of this magnificent reservoir.

Mike Morris, Event Director, says: “Open-water swimming is a massive growth activity and it is so great to see kids aged 12 swimming with 70 year olds – we are so grateful to South West Lakes Trust for allowing us to put on the event.”

Top GB athletes competed in an Elite Wave followed by the rest of the entrants who were a mixed array of seasoned open-water swimmers and first-timers. Entrants could choose between the 2km and 4km course and about 50 kayakers from Bideford and Exmoor Canoe Clubs plus 5 safety boats ensured that all entrants were well looked after.

First place in the men’s 4km went to Channel swimmer Nils Young from London, with a stunning time of 51 minutes and 31 seconds, who beat  Mark Richards from Bristol by 30 seconds. They swam side by side for the whole race, both having tacitly decided not to draft each other, with Young edging ahead in the last 800m. “An enjoyable swim in a stunning location,” was how Young described it. “It was a big yet really friendly event and I’ll definitely be back to defend my title next year!”

Vikki Thompson from Exeter took gold in the women’s 4km, with a time of 53 minutes 40 seconds, giving her third position overall.

The surprise of the day was the winner of the 2km: Oliver Heard who is only 12 years old and is fresh from breaking the record on completing the Solent Swim on 17 September 2017. Race Director Pete Wright said: “An absolutely stunning swimmer who cut through the field with a really smooth swim stroke – he led from the outset and beat Ben Haslett from Bristol by at least 25m.”

The women’s 2km was taken by Kathryn Saddler from Exeter. Second place was another 12-year-old pupil from Taunton School: Macey Barrett. Mike Morris says: “I am not sure what sort of porridge Taunton School give their pupils but I want some!”

There were also about 40 non-wetsuit-wearers who braved the elements, including GB former international swimmer, Londoner Nuala Muir-Cochrane, who took gold in her category.

Vicky Raybould Taunton who came in seventh in the super vet category commented: “Great work on the planning and carrying off a safe fun event – definitely back next year.”

The event organisers also had the pleasure of welcoming Giles Long MBE, one of the most successful paralympic swimmer of our time to hand out medals and prizes.

In excess of £20,000 has been raised for charity from The Exmoor Open Water Swim and its sister event, The Croyde Ocean Triathlon (see our summer issue, which featured the event). Money went to Children’s Hospice South West, the Red Cross, the RNLI, the Syrian Refugees and Surfers Against Sewage.

All results and photos can be found at www.exmoorswim.co.uk and there are also video clips of everyone who crossed the finish line!

The organisers would like to give a big thanks to all the volunteers including the Rotary Club, Childrens Hospice South West, Exmoor Canoe Club, Bideford Canoe Club and all the other and a massive thanks to the sponsors: Dryrobe, Alpine Elements, Exmoor Gin, Discover Chocolate and Zoggs UK,

The event was a sell-out and is set to double in size next year. Next year’s Exmoor Open Water swim in association with The Pickwell Trust will take place on 29 September. On line entries will soon be available at www.exmoorswim.co.uk.

PHOTO: Helen Hounslow (on the right) from Taunton School aged 12 – 4th in her category in 2km. Courtesy Howaboutdave Photography