South Queensferry is my hometown. I have not lived there since the late 1980s, however my parents still live there, so I still call it home. This time I am returning home to swim. Growing up with these iconic Bridges as a back drop to daily life, they have had a huge impact on me, and that stretch of water has always intrigued and fascinated me. It has been an absolute dream of a lifetime to swim across the Firth of Forth, from South Queensferry to North Queensferry in Fife.
I now live in West Cork in Ireland, and have been open water swimming for over 3 years, mostly in the very beautiful Lough Hyne, which is only ten minutes from my house. I have become steadily braver, stronger, and fitter, and with my swimming pal Anne- Marie Green, and The Lough Hyne Lapper’s, I have overcome many fears. I am absolutely under a “Sea Spell” which has led me to blog about my all year swimming adventures. With my underwater camera, I try to capture the amazing visuals I see when swimming, which will inspire my future work as an artist.
I heard from my parent’s neighbour Billy, on a previous trip home, that there was an organised swim, across the Firth of Forth. I later told Anne- Marie after a swim one day, and she said “Well we just have to go and do it”. I have discovered over these three magical years, that it is not just the water that inspires me, it is the people I swim with too. It made it even more fitting to experience this”home swim” with the friend I started my swimming journey with.
The swim coincided with the opening of the third bridge, The Queensferry Crossing. It was open to the selected public to walk on, over the Saturday and Sunday. We walked over the Forth Road Bridge, to North Queensferry to register, as my Mum was worried we would be stuck in traffic. In fact, I worried that our names would be highlighted as trouble makers when we registered, as there were many phone calls, and e-mails to Vigour Events, over the possible grid lock an occasion like this could cause. We need not have worried at all, as they brought the time forward, to allow us plenty of time to be bussed over. I cannot thank Vigour Events staff for such a well organised swim, and my Mum for doing all the worrying. I am on the left with Anne- Marie on the right. The spectacular Queensferry Crossing is in the back ground.
It is the longest three-tower, cabel-stayed bridge in the world. This bridge cleverly mixes design with science. It gives the engineers, contractors, locals, and Scotland another icon to be proud of and fascinated by. My Uncle, George Bowie was an engineer on the Forth Road Bridge. He was on many news broadcasts on Monday, as he was invited to attend the opening by Nicola Sturgeon. George said in an interview on the news ” To me the bridge is not just a bridge, it’s a statement, of beautiful engineering”. He along with my Auntie Caroline will be at the opening, on the 4th of September, by the Queen. My family are, all very proud of George. The Forth Road Bridge has served Scotland’s commuters since 1964, and will continue to do so, but only by taxis and buses.
On our arrival at the Albert Hotel, we were welcomed by the Vigour team, given numbers and all the essentials we would need for the swim, including the compulsory yellow float. We chatted with a few swimmers, who were just as excited and nervous as we were. I met a lovely lady, Helen from Aberdeen in the toilets. She told me just to relax and enjoy it, great advise thanks for that. We changed outside on the beach, the sun was shining, it was warm and the water looked calm, just perfect conditions, it began to sink in that this was actually about to happen.
On the bus over the Forth Road Bridge, Anne- Marie is pointing out the route.The distance is a mile and a quarter and looks longer that that from the bus. Yikes..
All swimmers need a good support team. My husband Richard, sent hourly updates of the weather from his ship in Aberdeen. Good wishes from texts, whats app, and face book messages were pinging from my phone. My first ever landlady Gladys and Art College friend Maureen, Sister in law Julie, Mum, Dad and my brother Craig came to cheer us into the water. My neighbour Billy his wife and children came down too . Thank you all for the great support, at this stage I was pretty nervous, so you were all a great distraction.
As always at swim events, I meet lovely people.There is that instant connection, and while others might think we are mad, we know that we are not. So we already understand each other, and the need to be in the water. We chatted with four ladies who had travelled from England to swim. They met on a Swim Trec Holiday and are called the “Dardanelle Darlings” after the swimming holiday. They meet up and swim together regularly. They also met Curtis who travelled all the way from San Francisco to swim the Firth of Forth. Which beats West Cork hands down.
We listen to the briefing, and are told to look directly across to North Queensferry, to the orange blow up arch which is the finish line. However with the current, we are to swim more over to the left towards the Forth Road Bridge, and then swim across towards the finish. Thanks Craig for the photo, I used to work in the Historical Hawes Inn, many moons ago. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote parts of Kidnapped while staying there.
A lovely connection that we are swimming from the Hawes Pier, and we all line up ready to go into The Firth of Forth.
Ready, steady go…. All the racers at the front, nervous Lough Hyne Lassies at the back.We are also piped into the water.
We wade in, and Anne-Marie is right beside me. I tell her to be at my right so I get photos of her swimming with the Rail Bridge behind her, and hopefully a selfie in the middle.
Then we are in, and the water is a warm 15 degrees, I was not expecting that. As always at these events it is arms, legs, bubbles and a massive rush of adrenaline.
My first shot in the water, I have the camera tied around my neck and just have to shoot a few shots at a time and hope I get good photos, and then swim as fast as I can to keep up with the other swimmers, and not get left behind.
We are being well looked after, with lots of kayakers, many thanks to all of the support teams that make the swim safe.
I cannot see Anne-Marie beside me at all. I have lost her. I love seeing the bubbles underneath the water from swimmers kicking, and I try and draught as many swimmers as I can. I am amazed by the colour of the water as was expecting it to be grey and freezing. I am in my winter wetsuit and roasting.
I meet one of the ” Darling Dardanelles” who says “Hello Paula”. I get my first glimpse of the Road Bridges to my left.
The swimmers have spread out, and seem to span from the Road Bridge to the Rail Bridge. I cannot see Anne-Marie. Some times I am with other swimmers and then I feel as if I am on my own.
I always look back and to see how far I have swam. I am also delighted to see I am not last too. I know there is an hour limit to this swim. However I do not want to rush this swim. So I enjoy every minute, and keep saying in my head ” Wow, I am swimming the Firth of Forth”.
This is where I seem to be on my own, and everyone is ahead, just keep swimming.
In the middle now.
I can see over to Hound Point, where my school friends and I would swim and hang out at the “Shell Beds”. There is a lovely walk through Dalmeny Estate and beautiful beaches between South Queensferry and Cramond.
Looking Back to South Queensferry.
The weather, light and the water can change so much over a swim, although the weather stayed the same, the light changes throughout.
I love these half in half out shots and I am delighted to have one like this. They really give a true swimmers perspective.
There were a good few swimmers in skins. I am so hot in my winter wetsuit, I would hope in the future to lose the wetsuit. I know Anne-Marie could have done this no bother, so maybe next year..
I seem to have swam on and lost sight of the orange arch, and I am over at the pier near the Road Bridge. Luckily I am not the only one. I also hit a rock, there is only about half a meter distance between the rock and the surface with nothing to mark this. I am glad I am not sailing. I also notice the current, and I have to push hard to move forward. I do not want to go under the Queensferry Crossing and be on the news.
We are directed by the kayakers, and have to swim around this stone pillar.
I am realising my swim is nearly over, and snap away like mad.
I love these blurry shots.
The finish line and cheering crowds on the pier.
My cousin Ewan, Mum, Julie, cousin Louise, Auntie Caroline, Dad and Craig are all there cheering and clapping. Thanks again for the fantastic support that was really special.
There is lots of sea weed on the pier so I take more shots, I do not want to get out of the water. I wish I could turn back and swim to South Queensferry.
Anne-Marie was already out and we are just beaming with joy. Here we are with the piper who piped us in and out of the water, a lovely touch.
Anne- Marie with three of the “Darling Dardanelles”, Nette, Jan, and Sally. I have a feeling ladies this is just the start of more swimming adventures together. I hope so.
Laura Ormiston who swam in her togs and just started swimming only last July. She also just completed a 7 k swim recently. You are a true inspiration Laura. Helen who I met in the toilets was beaming with joy at the finish. If you could only bottle the feeling you get after a swim. I was very hyper and just ecstatic to have swam my dream swim.
Thank you to Vigour Events on such a great swim, we received rather beautiful certificates with our names and times. And thank you to all who took part, I will remember this for ever.
The Lough Hyne Lapper’s who I swim with have a Facebook page and post up swim events in Ireland. Sherkin to Baltimore is on the 30th September. Spanish Island is on the 14th October 2017. I post up my blogs regularly form there, or on my Facebook page Paula Brown Marten. Just keep swimming.