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Moville to Portstewart: Heather Clatworthy becomes first person since 1929 to swim between beauty spots

Published 27/07/2016

Charity worker Heather Clatworthy 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 ever 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.

Heather was expected to take 8 to 10 hours to complete the swim but did it in 4 hours 15 minutes.

The charity manager kissed goodbye to husband Ian and children Lily, five, and Basil, two, before entering the sea at 12.45pm on Wednesday.

An inquisitive pod of dolphins joined her on part of her challenge, jumping alongside as she powered on toward Portstewart, her childhood home.

"Two hours in I just didn't think I was going to do it," she said.

"I just felt so ill, I was getting really beaten by the waves. They weren't that big but it was very choppy.

"I am just so pleased I did it."

She was hugged by her husband Ian as she walked on to the rocky shore at Portstewart. Crowds of well-wishers cheered and clapped, among them her proud children Lily, five, and Basil, two.

Handout photo of Heather Clatworthy as she began her 13 mile swim from Stroove in Co Donegal to Portstewart in Northern Ireland. PA
Handout photo of Heather Clatworthy as she began her 13 mile swim from Stroove in Co Donegal to Portstewart in Northern Ireland. PA

An official from the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association monitored the attempt while volunteer sea kayakers and a support board accompanied her for every stroke.

"I just want to thank everybody for the support because I couldn't have done it without everybody here and all the guys on the boat and kayaks," she said.

"It's amazing."

Handout photo issued by the RNLI of Heather Clatworthy alongside a dolphin during her 13 mile swim from Stroove in Co Donegal to Portstewart in Northern Ireland. PA
Handout photo issued by the RNLI of Heather Clatworthy alongside a dolphin during her 13 mile swim from Stroove in Co Donegal to Portstewart in Northern Ireland. PA

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.

Handout photo of Heather Clatworthy with daughter Lily before she began her 13 mile swim from Stroove in Co Donegal to Portstewart in Northern Ireland. PA
Handout photo of Heather Clatworthy with daughter Lily before she began her 13 mile swim from Stroove in Co Donegal to Portstewart in Northern Ireland. PA

"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.

"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.

For more information visit: swimforportstewart.com

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