A GRUELLING 14-mile swim through the icy waters of the open sea in Wester Ross has seen a hardy duo rack up a first for the area – and a huge boost towards a project encouraging youngsters to take the plunge.
Norman Todd (45) from Ullapool and Colin MacLeod (45) from Stornoway made good on a challenge they set themselves by completing the swim from Achiltibuie to Ullapool in nine hours – arriving in darkness to a heroes’ welcome from scores of well-wishers.
Their remarkable effort has raised awareness of the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Project and almost £3000 towards a scheme teaching local children to use snorkels before taking them out to see marine wildlife for themselves.
Mr Todd, who had to head for work offshore hours after completing the marathon effort, said: “The coast of Scotland is an extremely rich environment and encouraging people that live and visit here to get out and appreciate it is a goal of ours.
“The swim was a challenge and really took it out of us both but hopefully will attract attention to the amazing waters we have and the potential for others to take the plunge and get out there enjoying it.”
Even more impressive, his intensive training prior to the effort was limited to the gym as swimming off gas platforms is not permitted.
Both the start and end beaches selected had previously been cleaned by the SWT’s Living Seas Project and the swimmers were keen to support efforts to keep the coast and sea free from litter.
A fishing boat, leisure craft and kayaker accompanied the swimmers throughout their journey, supporting the pair with liquids, nutritional bars and drinks – and keeping a watchful eye out for fishing boats, ferries and naval craft currently taking part in Joint Warrior, the UK’s largest military sea exercise.
They were given a send-off from Achiltibuie at 11am by a number of small craft, rowing skiffs and yachts and arrived in Ullapool in the dark at 8pm to a reception of over 100 people sounding horns, flashing lights, playing bagpipes and cheering them.
Noel Hawkins from the Living Seas Project was aboard one of the support vessels. He said: “Watching the lads push themselves to such a limit was amazing.
"Even trained swimmers are pushing their boundaries over such a distance and time but the welcome at Ullapool was brilliant and really helped the guys ashore.
“The fundraising has currently raised almost three thousand pounds which will go a long way to help purchase wetsuits and equipment enabling us to get even more kids into the sea and learning not only to enjoy it but hopefully to appreciate it too and grow up helping to conserve and protect it.”
A live satellite system allowed the pair to transmit their position throughout the swim with messages of support on social media received from all over Britain and as far afield as France, the United States and Australia.
n More information about the swim and the dolphin snorkelers they are supporting can be found at dolphinsnorkellers.weebly.com The fundraising link is www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/bigswim