Write-up by Niall Vaughan
In 2014 myself and two friends decided to register for the River Dart 10k swim. This swim is organised by the Outdoor Swimming Society in the UK. It starts upstream in the market town of Totnes and finishes downstream in an area called Dittisham. We were looking for a swim with a bit of distance but one which wouldn’t take over our lives in terms of training. In 2012 the three of us swam the Straits of Gibraltar and while we all completed it without any major hitches the training which was required for this took up a significant amount of time. Ed, one of the three of us, lives in England and he suggested the Dart 10k swim. Considering the shorter distance in comparison to Gibraltar and the assistance from the tide this appeared to be what we were looking for.
The cost of the swim wasn’t cheap at about £100 but to be fair there is a lot of organisation and cost involved. I was surprised at how quickly it filled as when we did it registration was full after about five hours. Therefore, if you intend to do it you will need to register very quickly.
While this swim did demand a reasonable amount of training to build up to the distance I considered it far more relaxed than for a sea swim of the same distance. This is for two main reasons; firstly, the swim is tide assisted so you get a free ride from this and secondly, as it takes place in an estuary there isn’t the possibility of encountering waves or chop like you might in open water sea swimming. I did most of my training on the River Lee (across from the County Hall…then generally upstream to start – always testing the current before returning) as this got me used to a river environment and it was also very handy as I live in Bishopstown and when time was tight it meant I didn’t have to drive to Kinsale or Crosshaven.
The swim took place during the month of September on a Sunday and in terms of getting there from Cork it was relatively painless. We flew direct to Bristol on a Friday, rented a car and drove down to where we were staying in Dartmouth. We were flying back out on the Monday. The drive down to Dartmouth takes about two and a quarter hours and it’s an easy drive as it takes you through nice countryside. We had booked accommodation with Dartside Holidays (http://www.dartsideholidays.co.uk) and while I can’t recall the cost, for the three days it was very reasonable. The accommodation may not have been five star but it was clean, safe, functional and literally a two minute walk to the centre of Dartmouth which is itself a nice town. If you decide to stay outside Totnes I would reckon a car is a must for getting to the swim but there are regular buses organised taking people from the finish back to the start.
There is an option to do the swim without a wetsuit but take note that you must make this know well in advance of the swim. I like my comfort and wore mine. Initially I reckoned it might be a bit chaotic at the start as I though there were two hundred people doing it. In actual fact there were sixteen hundred! The swim is broken into four waves with the slowest going first and finally the fastest start last. It was a bit of an obstacle course at the beginning for the first fifteen minutes but then it thinned out as it is quite a big river. There are two feeding stops on the way and these consist of pontoons moored in the river with volunteers on board offering energy drinks and sugary sweets. It’s not compulsory to stop or alternatively you can stay for as long as you want. There is no problem either with hanging onto the pontoon. The swim is quite leisurely and there’s no pressure to keep up a pace. The pace you decide on is your own and there were plenty of paddle boarders, kayaks and RIBs available to provide support if the need arose. At the end of the swim your name and number are taken as you get out of the water and the organisers have a reception area in a field with food and drink laid on. The entry fee covers one’s food and drink at the finish.
This swim might suit someone who is keen to increase their distance in a safe and well controlled environment or someone who wants to incorporate it into a family holiday. It’s located in a very nice part of England with many other areas nearby such as Salcombe which are worth visiting.