Brave swimmers take a Christmas Day plunge

Stephen PullingerFor more and more people it is clearly the cool way to start Christmas Day.Stephen Pullinger

For more and more people it is clearly the cool way to start Christmas Day.

So cool, in fact, as to be positively freezing.

In what has become a festive tradition in Lowestoft, thousands of warmly wrapped-up spectators lined the South Beach promenade to watch other folk strip off and brave the elements for the town's 32nd Christmas Day charity swim.

Some of the participants were already parading in their bathing costumes half an hour before the frenzied 10.30am rush to the waves.

Less hardy individuals left it to the last possible moment to bare the flesh and brave a bitter wind and temperature of 2LC.

Mingling on the beach with bathers seemingly attired for a summertime dip were swimmers in a crazy mix of fancy dress, including several Father Christmases.

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The instruction over a loud-hailer to take the plunge prompted a charge along the beach, accompanied by a crescendo of shrieks as the swimmers ran into the North Sea under the watchful gaze of the Lowestoft lifeboat crew.

Making an impression in his first swim was Colin Close, 42, who dressed up as Batman in a charity fundraising venture with three of his colleagues from the Gorleston-based Fraser Offshore company. They hoped to raise more than �200.

Pakefield's Linda and David Stead, dressed as pirates, and their son Leo, clad in Thunderbirds gear, were also motivated by charity in their second dip and looking to raise at least �250.

Organiser Laurence Chapman, who has completed more than 20 swims, admitted that yesterday's was one of the colder ones. But he added: 'This year we have attracted 250 swimmers, one of our best entries. That included 180 who entered online, double last year's figure.'

Mr Chapman, deputy head at The Ashley School in Lowestoft, said proceeds from sponsorship and bucket collections would benefit 13 local charities.

'Last year we raised �13,000, which was a splendid effort. This time, we are certainly looking at between �10,000 and �13,000,' he said.

On Gorleston beach, near the Pier Hotel, spectators far outnumbered swimmers as a family-inspired dip raised nearly �460 for the Palliative Care East appeal for a palliative care centre at the James Paget University Hospital in the town.

Jenny Mallion, a palliative care specialist at the hospital, shook her charity bucket as husband Tony, 59, a former Radio Norfolk presenter, and sons James, 24, and Tom, 21, took the plunge at noon, joined by a handful of friends.

James had pledged to stay in the water for 10 minutes and quickly realised the folly of his promise in the bitter conditions.

'Despite reviving cups of tea I was shivering for at least an hour,' he said.

Hunstanton's Christmas Day swim looks set to be a record-breaker this year with the largest number of people taking part and the most sponsorship raised.

A total of 115 swimmers braved the freezing temperatures and ventured into he choppy waters wearing a variety of colourful fancy dress outfits.

There was an assortment of creations, including many Father Christmases, Christmas trees, pantomime characters and even food to be found on a traditional Christmas dinner plate.

The swim was watched by an estimated 2,000 people and was the 52nd event to be staged in the town.

It is now organised by Hunstanton and District Round Table and this year it was co-ordinated by Gary Waddison.

Mr Waddison was delighted with the numbers of swimmers taking part and believed it was a record.

'We are hoping that this year we may raise around �10,000 through sponsorship, but we won't know the final result for a couple of months,' he said.

One of the swimmers was John Harris, from Heacham, who was taking part in his 26th swim and this year raised �1,000.

Traditionally the swimmers are led into the sea by the Table chairman, who this year is David Daley and the vice-chairman, Nathan Daley, David's nephew.

The winner of the individual fancy dress outfit was Aidan Gollaglee , who was dressed as an old-fashioned gentleman.

The team prize was won by Charles and Sarah Loughlin, Robert Wiltshire, Zoe Chambers and Owen Bubb. They wore home-made costumes making up the ingredients of a traditional Christmas dinner. The group generously donated their �100 prize money back to the Round Table. The proceeds are distributed to local charities.

'We are over the moon at the number of swimmers and spectators and we would like to thank everyone who contributed either by taking part or as sponsors. We would also like to thank the Waterside Bar for providing the hot soup when the swimmers came out of the water and the Oasis for use of their complex,' said Mr Waddison.

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