Colourful characters take North Sea plunge

CHRIS BISHOP A crowd of more than 1,000 spectators lined the beach in Lowestoft yesterday morning to watch a record 200 swimmers brave a murky-looking North Sea for the 29th Christmas Day dip. A similar number of spectators watched another event at Hunstanton.

CHRIS BISHOP

A crowd of more than 1,000 spectators lined the beach in Lowestoft yesterday morning to watch a record 200 swimmers brave a murky-looking North Sea for the 29th Christmas Day dip.

Meanwhile, along the coast in Southwold, around 100 hardy souls - led by mayor Michael Ladd in full regalia - simultaneously entered the water at 10.30am for the town's third Christmas Day swim.

Swimmers ranging in age from nine to their mid 80s took part at Lowestoft, many wearing fancy dress costumes, from Father Christmas to fairies and even a stray Robin Hood.

The event brought no surprises to Joe Annis, 51, for he has competed in all 29 - and even did a dip on his own for two years before it started.

This year taking part with his son Tom, 12, Mr Annis, who runs Waveney lifeguards, said: “It was rough one year when they only allowed people to go in the sea in small groups, and I remember two frosty swims, but we are nearly always lucky with the weather, like this year.”

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Swimmers to catch the eye included motor engineer Graham Orpet who donned a formal suit and tie for the occasion and strummed a banjo.

Project manager Paul Chilvers, 47, dressed up as a clown for his ninth swim but was deadly serious about raising £200 from sponsorship.

Mark Attenburrow, one of the organisers, said: “We are delighted with the turnout which we believe is a record.”

It is hoped the swim will raise up to £12,000 for Waveney charities, the biggest single fundraiser being Keith Hunter, a teacher at The Denes High School, Lowestoft, who has been pledged £700.

Community police officer PC Mike Gard was among those braving the sea at Southwold to raise funds for Beach Radio charity Help an East Coast Child. Meanwhile, a colourful contingent of fancy dress swimmers, admired by hundreds of spectators, included Blues Brothers lookalikes.

Organiser Dudley Clarke, whose wife Marion launched the swim three years ago as a challenge to local business people, said: “We are delighted how it went and hope to raise around £3000.”

t Thousands gathered on Hunstanton Prom for one of the resort's more eccentric Christmas traditions.

The Wash looked grey and foreboding but cheers rang out as around 200 brave souls jogged down the beach, led by two cricketers - Shane the Past and Monty the Future.

Spray flew as an assortment of Santas, nurses, schoolgirls and other costumed die-hards took to the water.

Led by the cricketers, they stayed in almost as long as England stayed in contention for The Ashes, before fleeing the waves for a hot toddy.

“It was rather fresh,” said John Hilton, who traveled from Southery to take part in his first-ever dip.

“My father died earlier this year and he'd always wanted to do it, so it was his Christmas present.”

Andy Simms, from King's Lynn, was another first-timer. “It's a wonderful thing to do on Christmas morning with 200 other idiots in there with you and many hundreds more watching you,” he shivered.

“It was freezing, I came because my brother wanted to do it,” said Catherine Harvey, from King's Lynn, who was taking part in Springwood High School uniforms with her brother Luke and friends Emma and Elliot Rasberry.

Luke said: “It's a lot warmer than last year, but I did have a lot less on then.”

The annual swim, organised by Hunstanton Round Table, raises thousands of pounds for charity.

The local lifeboat appeal was set to benefit from this year's event.

t Three schoolboys whose close friend died after bravely battling a brain tumour will be joining the Boxing Day dip at Cromer today to pay tribute to him and raise cash for a charity tackling cancer.

Gifted young sportsman Andrew Stringer was just 13 when he died last month, after five operations and 11 months of chemotherapy failed to beat an aggressive tumour.

Before his illness, the teenager from Reepham played football and golf at Dereham, and was drummer in his band, Static.

Friends Dean Johnson and Robert Dixon, both 13, and Joe Wright, 14, were all at Reepham High School with Andrew and, like other pupils, were deeply affected by his death.

But today they will join other swimmers taking a dip into the North Sea next to Cromer Pier at 11am for the traditional Boxing Day swim organised by the North Norfolk Beach Runners.

Dean has already been pledged £1000 for the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust, a charity raising funds for research and support in memory of another bright youngster struck down by the disease, a 14-year-old girl from Hampshire.

“We were really, really good mates with Andrew and I thought this was a really good way to raise money. It will help get a bit of the grieving off,” he added.