Thursday, December 03, 2015

Swim Social: Meet Christine Howson who swam coast to coast across Scotland

A few years ago a drive across Scotland planted the seed of an idea in 60 year old Marine Biologist Christine Howson’s mind. She wondered if it would be possible to swim from coast to coast across Scotland swimming through all of the country’s rivers, sea lochs and fresh water lochs.  In 2013 Christine set about planning the adventure with her friend Saarjtie.  It would last six days over two weekends and take in Loch Laxford to Bonar Bridge through several little lochs, the huge Loch Shin and the rapids of the River Shin.

Christine said, ‘We took six months to plan the trip.  We realised quite quickly that if we jumped in at point A and swam to point B, we would need somebody to follow us with the car and some dry clothes.  Then we realised there were stretches of the journey which would be in open water quite far from shore. Also, Loch Shin is simply huge and we would be swimming for quite a distance. So we organised kayak support, with one of my sons and his friend paddling alongside us, ready to pull us from the water if things went wrong, and then another friend following with a van and, really importantly, food to keep us going during the challenge.”

While the logistics were being planned, Christine and Saarjtie realised just the extent of the endeavour they were attempting and made sure they were training hard in both open water and in swimming pools – to build stamina and fitness and to hone their techniques and skills for the challenge.  Christine says ‘We trained quiet hard over that summer, but we didn’t do enough! A friend said to us you couldn’t ever do enough training, which is probably true, especially if you’ve got family and work commitments‘.

When it finally came time to start the challenge Christine and Saartjie found it hard going at first ‘We did it over two weekends. We thought we would swim three 2-hour blocks a day, but that was too much and we cut it down to 4 90 minute session, which worked much better.”

As if swimming from once side of Scotland to the other wasn’t enough of a challenge, rough weather took it to another level. Christine said ‘There was one day when it was really quite windy at Loch Shin, which made it hard to swim. On the last weekend there were gales as well. We had finished all the main lochs and we were doing the river shin and the stretch down to Bonar Bridge. It was just white water and it was really wild. We nearly had to call it off. Thankfully the wind dropped a bit by the time we went out and we managed to do it, but it was very tough and very cold. Having a wetsuit made it possible.’

It was also physically and mentally challenging. Christine says, ‘After the first day there wasn’t a bit of me that wasn’t aching. Saartjie actually hurt her shoulder quite badly the first weekend, but managed to keep going. The really difficult bit was getting out of bed and doing it again the next day. Neither of us had swum more than a couple of hours in a day before that. ’

But Christine says there was a huge sense of achievement when they completed it, ‘It turned out to be quiet a big family event really. We just had such a great time. There was even a great sense of achievement for the support group. Apart of Saartjie’s shoulder I don’t think there was a low moment’.

As well as being a huge personal achievement, Christine and Saartjie also raised thousands of pounds of charity. Christine has had a long battle with cancer and half of the money went to Scottish cancer charity Maggies. Christine said ‘I have had cancer since 2007 and at the time we did the swim I’d had two rounds of chemo and surgery. Maggie's was local to me and means quite a lot to me as well.’

Christine remains very modest about completing her amazing achievement despite her illness. She says ‘I don’t really think of it like that.  If I didn’t do things like that it would be very easy for life to just be about being ill, which is no good to anyone I don’t think, certainly not to me’.

And Christine says she has a plan for another big challenge ‘Saartjie and I have been talking for a couple of years about swimming around the East Lothian coast. We would swim from Edinburgh down to the borders. It has an open rocky coast so it will be quite different. The challenge is getting the logistics together, getting boats and so on. We’re also going to have to plan the tides so we’re swimming with them rather than against them. We may do that next summer.’

Good luck to Christine – we’ve no doubt she’ll manage it!  

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