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Best swimming challenges: Open-water adventures for triathletes

Looking for something a little different than your standard open-water swim? Dive into our pick of the best swimming challenges in the UK...

Swimmers in water by lake

One of the beautiful things about Great Britain is that although it’s small (600 miles by 300 miles at its longest/widest points) it’s perfectly formed for triathletes in that it includes pretty much everything you could want for a swim, bike or run adventure.

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Choose from rocky mountains or lush lowlands; rugged trails or smooth roads; crystal-clear lakes and lochs or fast-flowing streams; and wild or tranquil coastlines. Plus, give or take a few hundred miles and they’re all on your doorstep…

Best swimming challenges in the UK

1. Frog Graham Round, Lake District 

7. Anna Carter FGR Buttermere Swim_bw

You might have heard of the Bob Graham round – the brutal 42-peak loop of the Lake District – but the Frog Graham adds a watery dimension to the challenge, making it perfect for more experienced swimrun enthusiasts.

Split into four ‘legs’ and beginning and ending in Keswick, the round takes in lakes including Bassenthwaite, Crummock Water, Buttermere and Derwent Water as well as 40 miles of hike/ runs up Lakeland peaks including Skiddaw, Grisedale Peak and Catbells.

Most rounds are self-supported and, although a guide map is available, the exact route is up to you. Make no mistake, this is a very tough challenge and only for those experienced in fell running, mountain navigation and open-water swimming.

The FGR Club are also keen to stress the need to be sensitive to environmental concerns and biosecurity to protect the Lake District National Park from invasive species. Find out more on the Frog Graham Round website.

2. Round St Michael’s mount, Cornwall 

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Sea Swim Cornwall

Cornwall’s surrounded by a stunning coastline, so why not see it from a different angle? Swimming round St Michael’s Mount gives you a swim of 2.5-3km (low or high tide) and Sea Swim Cornwall, who offer regular guided swims, tell us: “The best view of the Mount is from the back, as you can view the sub-tropical garden.” There are safety factors to consider and you need to be mindful of harbour traffic and tides, but the Mount makes for a spectacular backdrop. Visit the Sea Swim Cornwall website for more.

3. Cross-country swimming, nationwide 

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Find a swim adventure anywhere in the country by planning a spot of cross-country swimming. How does it work? Simply load up your kit on a Ruckraft (see kit panel, below), swim across your chosen stretch of water and wild camp under the stars before swimming back again the next day. Even if you’re only 10 miles from home, it’ll feel a world away. But if you want to explore further afield, we can recommend the Wild Swimming website for inspiration.

4. Solent Swim, Isle of Wight

Aspire Solent Swim
Aspire Solent Swim

Ever dreamed of swimming the Channel, but daunted by the distance? We don’t blame you. But as a friendlier alternative, the Solent between England and the Isle of White offers a channel swim experience but is just three miles in length – long enough to challenge you, but not so long you need two years to prep. Guided swims are available on several 2021 dates if you’re able to raise a minimum sponsorship for the charity Aspire.

5. Swim a swoosh, nationwide 

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Ever heard of ‘swooshing’? Traditionally these are swim races that incorporate a strong current that ‘swooshes’ you along, giving you free speed (and we know triathletes love that). The Outdoor Swimming Society has announced dates for 2022 events, but local swim groups will also have the information you need to swim safely in the tides and currents. Plan a longer swim with a swoosh finish – or just turn up and do many swooshes for fun!

Key swimming kit:

Tow float/ruckraft

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For a true adventure, consider the new Ruckraft, which floats behind you with space to pack warm clothes, a tent and everything else you need for a night beneath the stars. It’s available from Above Below. After your own swim adventure companion? Here’s our top tow floats for open water swimming.

Wetsuit

Huub Aura 2 3-3 wetsuit

Your tri wetsuit’s fine for most adventures here, but you could consider a swimrun wetsuit. Not only will they speed up transitioning between swimming and running, they’re also easier to transport. Find your next suit with help from our in-depth reviews on the best triathlon wetsuits for all budgets.

Dryrobe 

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Even in the warmer months, open water can be cold and, once out, the priority is to get yourself warm. If you can have a changing robe waiting, that’s an easy way to cover yourself quickly and give you waterproof shelter to get changed in. We’ve reviewed 5 of the best swim robes to help you pick your favourite.

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Top image: Getty Images