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Digital Subscriptions > Outdoor Swimmer > December 2017 > THE NORTH CHANNEL


This monumentally challenging swim has thwarted many swimmers, one fatally. By Elaine K Howley

Mercedes Gleitze 1928

Four unsuccessful attempts to swim the channel in 1928

Ten-degree Celsius water. Nearly 22 miles. Dozens of the biggest and perhaps meanest jellyfish you’ve ever seen in your life. And countless complicated tides and swiftly shifting weather patterns. These are the variables that swimmers must navigate en route to a successful crossing of the forbidding North Channel, also called the Irish Channel, that blustery stretch of water separating Northern Ireland from Scotland.

Infinity Channel Swimming, one of three escort organisations for swims across the North Channel, lists 52 swimmers as having made the arduous journey between the two British Isles to date. Many dozens more have attempted, at least one fatally. Thwarted by tides, weather, cold water, sea life and their own demons, this channel can transform even the toughest swimmer into a puddle of goo in just a few hours.


In the first attempts at swimming the North Channel, swimmers aimed to cross at the narrowest point, between Ballycastle at the northeastern corner of Northern Ireland and the Mull of Kintyre, a dangling Scottish peninsula stretching a bony finger into the Irish Sea. Appropriately known as the Mull of Kintyre route, the challenge here is that a vast volume of rushing water is forced through a bottleneck only 12 miles wide, creating fierce currents that can easily sweep a tired swimmer irreparably off course.

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About Outdoor Swimmer

Welcome to our Christmas issue! The December issue of Outdoor Swimmer is packed full of awesome features to inspire your swimming adventures. Master the medley; full listings for festive dips around the country; Christmas gift guide; plus, nutrition, technique, events, destinations, interviews and more of your stunning photography and swim stories.