OVER 570 hardy souls from around the world will be braving the icy waters of Windermere set in the stunning scenery of the Lake District this weekend for the 2014 Big Chill Swim.
The Low Wood Bay Marina near Ambleside in the Lake District National Park will be a hive of activity as the swimmers take on the elements and each other.
The swimmers, who are not allowed to wear wetsuits, will race over distances of 30, 50 and 450 metres, enduring water temperatures of below 5 degrees. There will also be relay races, and a 1000 metre extreme event for very experienced cold water swimmers.
Top level competitors include Estonian winter swimming endurance world champion Henri Kaarma and the head of the International Winter Swimming Association Mariia Yrjö-Koskinen.
The Big Chill Swim has attracted experienced winter swimmers from as far afield as, Latvia, South Africa, Italy, Germany and Russia, France and Finland but many are amateurs, swimming for fun or to raise money for charity.
Among the amateur competitors are teams from the Lake District National Park, the BBC and English Lakes Hotels Resorts and Venues, which is hosting the event. The event has been organised by Chillswim, which is run by Colin Hill and Steph Cox, from High Wray near Hawkshead, who are also both accomplished winter swimmers.
Colin Hill, who also set up the Great North Swim and is the World Age Group Champion for 450m Cold Water Swimming, said: “I think The Big Chill 2014 will be a fantastic event. I am very pleased by the number of people who are taking part.
“Winter swimming has really taken off in the UK in the last year, and we are proud to be at the forefront of this movement with our International Winter Swimming Association event.
“Winter swimming can seem like a very odd idea to the uninitiated, but the sense of wellbeing and exhilaration you get when you have finished the swim is quite incredible. All your endorphins kick in. It is an amazing, life-affirming experience.”
He added: “Also, the camaraderie amongst winter swimmers is fantastic, and one of the joys of this type of event is that you can make new friends from all around the world.”
Spectators are being encouraged to come along to cheer the swimmers on and visit the winter swimming expo at Low Wood Bay.
Although parking is only available to hotel guests and marina members there will be a park and ride service from Brockhole and Waterhead at Ambleside, which will drop off participants and spectators at the venue.
Councillor Ben Berry of English Lakes Hotels Resorts and Venues, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be hosting this exciting event at Low Wood Bay Marina. “The Marina is a fantastic setting for many events but to hold an international winter swimming event with views of the snow topped mountains in the background will be something really special.
“I am actually competing in the race myself as part of the English Lakes relay team. We have some pretty strong swimmers, so we’re hoping to do well and certainly expect to enjoy a really exhilarating experience.”
The next Chillswim event takes place in Coniston in September 2014, for more information see www.chillswim.com and for more information about English Lakes Hotels Resorts & Venues go to www.englishlakes.co.uk.