Sunday, 20 March 2011

Christmas Day Swim

Christmas Day usually provokes images of turkey and trimmings, The Queen's speech and family members exchanging gifts round the tree.
But Hunstanton has an extra Christmas tradition when, on December 25, brave swimmers flock to the resort to take on the icy temperatures of The Wash and support one of the town's biggest fundraising extravaganzas.
This year the annual Christmas Day swim celebrates its 50th anniversary and the Lynn News has taken a nostalgic look at the event and how it has evolved over the years.
When the Hunstanton Swim first started in 1957 the now-annual tradition was very different to what we recognise today.
The swim is credited as being the brainchild of Hunstanton stalwart the late George Raines, who organised the day as a social get-together for members of the Seagulls Swimming Club.
The early days saw a handful of brave souls accepting the challenge, changing at Cassies and later at the Wimpey Bar, before plunging into the water.
Over the years the day evolved into a fundraising exercise, with former Lynn News correspondent Ken Arnott helping to organise the fun.
He recalls early donations being made to the Smithdon School swimming pool appeal and the Heart Foundation but never managed to tackle the chilling waters himself.
He said: "I was always too busy organising it over the years.
"It got a lot bigger than we first thought. It started off very well and several thousand people used to come and watch."
For many years Mr Arnott (83) charted the exploits of the swimmers through the pages of the Lynn News but his early attempts at full coverage were thwarted by a "mystery man" who would not give his name for the newspaper.
In the early 1970s Hunstanton Round Table started taking an active role in the day and helped transform the swim into the charity-driven fundraiser we now know and love.
Richard Searle, the Round Table's ways and means committee chairman at the time, said: "We got some publicity for it. We had Christmas music and other attractions and people started doing fancy dress.
"It has just evolved from there, regular swimmers kept coming back and it grew all the time.
"I went in one year dressed as Margaret Thatcher and another year as a South Seas Island girl, with a costume made of Christmas tree branches.
"I think it is something which nicely fills the gap between breakfast and lunch. It is a social thing really, anyone coming to the area for Christmas would use it to meet up with people from years ago."
Since the Round Table became involved the swim has raised tens of thousands of pounds for local charities.
One swimmer who has helped raise such a phenomenal amount is Heacham man John Harris (65), He first accepted the challenge after moving to the area in 1984, having learned about the swim while at a local pub.
Mr Harris told the Lynn News: "I was doing a gig on December 23 and saw some forms for the Christmas Day Swim. I did not have any sponsorship but said if they could get 10 I would do it. They came back with 12.
"Now I manage to raise around 400 every year by cheerfully running into the sea, I would do it every day of my life if I could raise that amount."

Coalman David Gyton, from Hunstanton, raised a special cheer in 1987 when he walked three miles carrying a one hundredweight sack of coal on his back before plunging into the chilling waters.


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