A12 swim journey June 2016: I did it!

This is a round up of my journey in which I did about 30 swims or dips over 3 days in places along the A12 road with relevance to our lives, to remember my parents one year on and also  to raise money for charities relevant to the ends of their lives, St Elizabeth Hospice (Suffolk) and the Stroke Association. (See also A12 swim journey 2016: 33 FB POSTS)

After months of thinking about it, rather rushed weeks of planning, and days of frantic preparations, the date of my challenge was upon me. I didn’t know if I had the stamina, or if anyone would turn up to support me (apart from my closest and loyal friends), or if my complicated itinerary would work. I was very touched by all the kind donations and messages, which encouraged me to achieve my challenge.

3 supporters and sister swimmers (one with dog) sit at table on pier
Loyal supporters and swimmers, Fiona, Anita and Tina (and Mr Spencer) on Southwold pier

In the event, it all went marvellously, pretty close to the planned schedule, and with no problems apart from having a cold and losing my voice for a few days. I missed a couple of places and added another. Some were much nicer than expected, others a bit of a challenge, especially getting into cold water in the early morning mist on my own.

The whole experience was wonderful, and what made it special was the support of friends, family, new friends and strangers, in the water, on the shore or bank, and online.

I had little time for reflection, even when I was swimming alone, as the trip was so hectic and I often needed to be looking at the time. I played CDs of music by my dad and a compilation of pieces loved by mum and dad in the car, and I looked at or visited places and roads we often travelled as a family, especially on Day 1. And I wore mum’s swimming costumes at a couple of places (including Sizewell, where she taught me to swim) and thought about her love of swimming and dad’s love of rivers. The whole journey was a contemplation of our lives, though, in planning and writing about it, doing it, and thinking about it afterwards.

In preparation, I wrote these notes about the places I hope to visit and their significance:

Swim Journey 2016 Day 1 places and significance
Swim Journey 2016 Day 2 swim places & why they matter
Swim Journey 2016 Day 3 swims and why I am doing them


I had many people join me throughout my journey: starting with Bridget coming down to a foggy Gorleston beach at silly o’clock to see me disappear into the water (having kindly put me up the night before), and Tina fearlessly going into the sea before me there and at Lowestoft and Covehithe. Ending with Fiona greeting me at my last swim at London Fields with a hug and a cake, and in between many more swimmers and supporters.

Two wetsuited swimmers on beach in fog
Foggy Gorleston beach for 645 am, day 1, swim 1, with Tina and Imogen

Tina also swam at Dunwich, Blythburgh, Eastbridge and Sizewell.

Fiona joined us at Southwold and swam there, Dunwich, Blythburgh, Eastbridge, Sizewell, and Aldeburgh, with support from Joe (and Mr Spencer).

Celine and Chris supported at Lowestoft and Covehithe, (and Celine paddled at Lowestoft), and took photos.

Anita joined me from Covehithe and stayed all through Day 1 and part of Day 2, swimming with me at Aldeburgh and Fore Street, providing loads of support and taking photos.

At Dunwich, we met up and swam with Philip Nice, Claire and others on their swim walk (going the other way up the coast).

Pauline and John were at Sizewell, but unfortunately we missed each other.

My brother was very helpful in many ways on my overnight stop Day 1/Day 2.

On Day 2, Clive came along to Ufford to offer support.

In Ipswich and into Essex Emma swam at Fore Street, West End bathing place, Bramford and Stratford St Mary, Rachel at West End bathing place and Bramford, and Jon at Stratford St Mary, with support from Jill.

I was on my own at Lexden, Kelvedon, Witham and Langford, and at Ulting and Boreham on Day 3.

river with tree reflection under bridge
Lovely Lexden, under the A12, where I swam alone

Peter joined me to support at Sandford Mill lock, then came in to swim at Galleywood. On his advice based on local knowledge (and because I was running late) I skipped the Roding.

I had helpful support at the Old River Lea from Mick.

Saraka joined me to swim at the London Aquatics Centre and Kings Hall baths, and Fiona at London Fields (with a wonderful cake to celebrate the last swim).

two women smiling with Aquatic centre behind
Saraka and me at London Aquatic Centre

I met many other supportive people on the way, who took photos, waved, cheered, donated, and offered or gave support in various ways. I didn’t always get their names.

A woman took photos and cheered at Southwold, while the lifeguard had a chat and offered support to us or any other swim parties (and gently said he would have rather we hadn’t swum so near the pier and groynes). A Dunwich an angler and a rambler each gave a donation. Dom was very helpful at Iken (where he runs Iken Canoes and let me swim off his jetty and wash off the mud with his water and brushes).

At Wilford Bridge I had supportive onlookers (though one couple were quite puzzled). The manager and lifeguard at Fore Street (the friendliest pool ever) were great, as were the staff at Marshall Jaguar in Ipswich (which was built on the site of an early river swimming place), and a man asked if we need rescuing at that unlikely urban swim spot. At Bramford Kirstie took photos and talked about fundraising she and her family had done in memory of relatives that had passed on, and the other mums and kids enjoying the water cheered us on.

boy with net and swimmers in river
Bramford with Emma and Rachel, with one of many children having fun in the river

I had an interesting chat with the farmer with an enormous tractor who owns the river meadows by the Stour at Stratford St Mary. There two boys looked on but weren’t persuaded to come in to swim, Jax who runs solar boat trips from Le Talbooth was interested and supportive when we swam up under the bridge to have a chat, and several pub customers waved. The campsite manager at the lovely Retreat Farm was interested to hear what I was doing.

At Kings Hall, my Hackney local pool, Karen took photos and had a chat, and Linda explained its importance as a fun community pool for local kids. At London Fields the manager let us take a photo at the busy poolside, and after our swim Ben took a photo of Fiona and me and the cake.

two women selfie, and photo of them with cake iced with ‘Well done Imogen’
Fiona and Imogen and the cake, at London Fields, the last swim of the journey


Over three days I went to 33 swim locations. I did 28 dips/swims (one a double dip (sea and broad), two 2-rivers-at-a-time swims); and had four paddles. At two of my planned stops I looked but couldn’t get in the water. I skipped a couple of  locations, but added one spot for a paddle.

My swims were short, most 5-10 minutes, though a few were longer.

Temperatures in the sea ranged from 13.2 to 15 degrees, in rivers 14.5 to 19.9 degrees (the tidal ones generally warmer at around 17 degrees)  and in heated pools from 26.4 to 30.1 degrees.

I did 7 sea swims, 1 brackish broad, 3 tidal rivers and one semi-tidal, 13 other river swims, 3 swims indoors and one heated outdoor pool/lido.

The rivers were the Blyth, Minsmere, Alde, Ore, Deben, Orwell, Gipping, Stour, Colne, Blackwater, Brain, Chelmer, Wid, Old Lea. (missed Roding)

I drove 200 miles, ironically not all on the A12, especially Day 1, though as I was going to and from places I crossed it and did short stretches along it. Seven swims or paddles were literally under the A12 and two were very near it.

People swam with me at 17 locations, and supported me at 27 (I was alone at only 6).

People who swam with me: 12; paddled: one; bank/shore support/photos: over 30.

Thanks to all who joined and supported me in my challenge.

two women swimming in river with grassy banks and buildings in background
Emma and Rachel at West End bathing place in Ipswich

I first published this story on my Facebook page, and did some Notes on various groups of swims, but these were altered in a FB update. Most are still available, here:

Day 1 places and significance 2016, https://www.facebook.com/notes/347602999858600/

Day 2 swim places why they matter 2016,  https://www.facebook.com/notes/1291224597884810/

Day 3 swims and why I am doing them 2016, https://www.facebook.com/notes/336728197392641/

Great Yarmouth well Gorleston actually 2016,  now https://www.facebook.com/notes/648706752485443/

Southwold and Hen reed beds 2016,  https://www.facebook.com/notes/775901143254604/

Eastbridge and the Minsmere river 2016, https://www.facebook.com/notes/676513489646363/

Aldeburgh Thorpeness etc 2016,   https://www.facebook.com/notes/624562064879910/

some videos,  https://www.facebook.com/notes/2099652243501772/

Ipswich and around swims 2016,  https://www.facebook.com/notes/2844493685827623/

london west middlesex and thames swim trip plans, https://www.facebook.com/notes/647823052569277/

Posts on trips here, most recent – the London West and Thames first, https://www.facebook.com/ImogensA12swimjourney

Road map with pins showing swim spots along A12 from Great Yarmouth to London
Map showing swim locations on Imogen’s A12 Swim Journey, link to location information

Location information for A12 Swim Journey

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I have put these articles on this website, too:

Swim Journey 2016 Day 1 places and significance
Swim Journey 2016 Day 2 swim places & why they matter
Swim Journey 2016 Day 3 swims and why I am doing them

Also A12 swim journey 2016: 33 FB POSTS