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Bog snorkellers take the plunge

The only way to really test your mettle is taking up the challenge posed by one of Northern Ireland’s most popular new sports — bog snorkelling.

You’ll never know what extreme sport is all about until you’re battling the mud, slime and mucky water of a freezing cold 60-yard bog drain. And if you want to add that extra challenge to the experience — try it in fancy dress.

The Northern Ireland Bog Snorkelling Championships are now in their sixth year and the organisers are seeking fresh blood. Competitors travel from all over the world for the event at Peatlands Park in Co Tyrone on International Bog Day — falling on July 25 this year.

Competitors must complete two lengths of a 60-yard water-filled drain cut through a peat bog in the shortest possible time wearing snorkels and flippers. They are not allowed to use conventional swimming strokes.

The World Bog Snorkelling Championship is held in Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales every August and Joanne Pitchforth is the current world record holder with the time 1:35:18s, having shaved fractions of a second from the 2003 record.

Current men’s world champion is Northern Ireland’s Conor Murphy, who is also Northern Ireland Bog Snorkelling Champion, having completed the Peatlands Park course in 2008 in a record 1:30:66s. He smashed that time in 2009 with a new time of 1:25:87s.

Colin Gates, who organises the event, said: “This energetic sport is very popular and gets people literally into the bog.

Competitors have to swim two lengths of a 60-yard bog drain with the aid of a snorkel, mask and flippers and without using any conventional swimming strokes.

“Anyone over the age of 12 can have a go. It’s brilliant craic and it’s free to enter.”

The event has surged in popularity since it started in 2004 and organisers always have to turn people away because only 70 competitors can take part.

“We’re trying to get a few new people this year because it’s mostly the same old faces,” Colin said. “The two lengths can be very very tough — we did have people saying it was too much for them.”

A recent addition is a non-timed class where people can snorkel in fancy dress.

Last year a competitor dressed as the Lough Ness Monster complete with humps struggled to go the distance, but others managed to overcome the limitations of their costumes. “One person dressed as a carrot made it the whole way to the end,” Colin said.

The aim is to raise awareness of peat bogs. Entry forms can be got from the visitor centre at Peatlands Park, at www.ni-environment.gov.uk/peatlands or by contacting 028 3885 1102. The closing date for entry is June 30.

Belfast Telegraph