A GROUP of friends completed a 10-kilometre swim past four islands off the coast North Berwick – a challenge they believe has never been done before.

The eight-strong group, called the Swimming Selkies, formed in January last year before lockdown and were due to complete their challenge on September 11 but, due to strong winds, it was postponed until the following day.

The experienced swimmers who took part were Meg Maitland, Jo Hood, Jeremy Milne, Bronwyn Macaskill, Norma Loudin and Claire Gardner from North Berwick, Linda Malcolm from Tranent, and Jo Lindsay from Tyninghame. All started training for the event in February, coached by Linda.

They left North Berwick Harbour on two boats, one crewed by Dave Cunningham and Elly Douglas Hamilton and the other by Derek Lawson, for their start at Bass Rock at 11.45am.

They were raising money for the Laura Hyde Foundation, which provides mental health support for the emergency services.

There was a support boat at the front of the pack and one at the back, with six kayakers supplying drinks, snacks and words of encouragement.

The first 5k leg from Bass Rock to Craigleith was completed in one hour and 45 minutes, the swimmers each pausing for a quick drink and some Jelly Babies.

They then swam on to The Lamb, owned by illusionist Uri Geller, where they enjoyed another pit stop for refreshments and bananas.

Mr Geller shared a picture of the swimmers passing his island on Twitter, adding: “Good for them, well done.”

The final leg was to Fidra, where the group were supposed to stop at the island’s small harbour; there was too much swell to stop there, so they swam to and finished on the opposite side of the island.

Jo Hood swam to Yellowcraig beach to see her family, who were waiting for her. She then got a lift in a kayak back to the support boat.

Sea sickness, goggle malfunctions, cold and cramp did not stop each of the swimmers from completing the whole distance.

Claire, 48, told the Courier: “The swim was amazing, it feels absolutely amazing and we’re all on cloud nine.

“Tide, wind and waves all came together to help us on our way. 

“We all did the whole thing – which ended up as a 10k swim in three hours, although Linda finished 30 minutes ahead of everyone else because she’s such a legend. It was one of the best experiences ever – such a sense of achievement after nine months of training and planning.

“We had to deal with some large swell, one swimmer with sea sickness, and some terrifyingly large lion’s mane jellyfish but we all made it and finished together, which was just wonderful. 

“We totally smashed our £5,000 fundraising target too.”

Meg, who swam the English Channel as part of a relay team last year, said: “I never planned to swim 10k. My aim was to get halfway.

“It often seemed like the odds were against us trying to understand equipment, the sea, tides and wind on training swims; but without us realising it, it was giving us confidence and experience and so, on the day, we all succeeded.

“We know the benefits of open water swimming and, despite having done many swims, I felt I couldn’t do a 10k a few weeks short of turning 65.

“Now I feel I can try anything and if I don’t succeed that’s OK, as I pushed myself to try.

“So here we are contemplating another challenge next year – further and longer, and I will be there with the Selkies giving it a go!”

Jo Lindsay, 43, added: “The most challenging part of the swim was the start when nerves, panic and adrenaline set in, the next island was about 5km away and all I could see over the swell was an enormous stretch of open water.

“Then it all came together and the best bit was reaching Craigleith, realising we were moving far faster than we expected.”

Donations can be made at justgiving.com/fundraising/saltyselkies