Northern Ireland news

Woman is first to swim north coast stretch in 90 years

Heather Clatworthy with husband Ian and daughter Lily before she began her 13 mile swim from Stroove in Co Donegal to Portstewart in Northern Ireland.
David Young, PA

A CHARITY worker has become the first swimmer in almost 90 years to cross a 13-mile stretch of sea between two coastal beauty spots off Ireland's north coast.

Mother-of-two Heather Clatworthy (34), emerged from the Atlantic as only the second person to traverse the waves between the idyllic Stroove beach on Co Donegal's Inishowen peninsula and the seaside resort of Portstewart in Co Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

The feat was first achieved in 1929 by famed English channel swimmer Mercedes Gleitze, who was asked to take on the challenge to help promote tourism on the scenic coastline.

The charity manager completed the swim in less than five hours, having anticipated the challenge would take between eight and 10 hours.

The charity manager kissed goodbye to husband Ian and children Lily, five, and Basil, two, before entering the sea at 12.45pm on Wednesday. She anticipates the swim, if she completes it, will take between eight and 10 hours.

Originally from Portstewart, the amateur swimmer now lives with her family in Leamington Spa in central England - not an ideal location to train for a sea swim.

"I grew up in Portstewart and would have played on the beach nearly every day of my life, and was very lucky to do so, and always looked over to Donegal and always wanted to swim it," she said.

"I just wanted to do it for so long and whenever I was nine or 10 I was in my grandparents' house when I was bored on a Sunday and was reading through some of their local history books and I read about this girl Mercedes Gleitze that had done the swim, and I said 'oh my goodness, someone has actually done it', so that planted the seed in my head and I knew I always wanted to do it but just never got round to it.

"I damaged my back quite badly when I had my children and I had tried to keep fit doing triathlons, but I'm not a good runner, and I'm okay on the bike, but I just kept injuring myself running so I just felt the one thing I am good at is swimming.

"I just looked across the sea and said 'stuff it, you know what, I feel like I am getting older and there's never going to be a good time to do this, so I am just going to do it now'."

Heather has been training and planning for the challenge for 18 months, during which time she made contact and befriended Mercedes Gleitze's 81-year-old daughter.

"Mercedes is the only person who has ever officially done the swim, we think there might have been two other people who tried it or did a bit of it, but, officially, as a recorded sporting attempt, there's only ever been one person done it. I really hope I can be the second and the first Irish one," she said.

An official from the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association is monitoring the attempt while volunteer sea kayakers and a support board will accompany Heather for every stroke.

"I might not be the fastest swimmer in the world but I have got endurance on my side and hopefully enough Irish genes to keep me warm and enough determination to get me across," she said.

Heather is raising money for Portrush RNLI and a fund she has established to promote outdoor recreation in Portstewart.

The feat was first achieved in 1929 by famed English channel swimmer Mercedes Gleitze, who was asked to take on the challenge to help promote tourism on the scenic coastline.

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