Cold shock for festive swimmers

Like the turkey and the tinsel - the Christmas and Boxing Day swims are part of the festive tradition in Norfolk - but how will they be affected by one of the coldest Decembers on record and temperatures barely registering above freezing?

The festive dips, which help raise hundreds of pounds for good causes, take place all along the coast from Mundesley through to Hunstanton and Lowestoft, and always attract a wide range of colourful characters.

But weather forecasters, Weatherquest, have warned that this year's the swimmers could be in for a very cold shock - with sea temperatures dipping much lower than usual.

A spokesman from Weatherquest said that on December 10 the temperature in the North Sea measured nine degrees Celsius, within five days, that had dropped to eight.

The spokesman said: 'We would expect by Christmas for the sea temperature to be around five and six Celsius, whereas normally around this time of year it would be nine or ten.'

That figure is above the freezing level for sea water, which decreases as salt concentration increases, and usually freezes at about minus two degrees Celsius, but it is a far cry from soaking up the sun on the beach at the height of summer when the sea temperature off the coast would usually be about 17 degrees Celsius.

But organisers of the swims have remained resilient, vowing to take a dip in the sea no matter what the weather.

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Clive Hedges, who is helping organise the Cromer dip, in aid of The Matthew Project, said: 'We are hardy north Norfolk runners, we will be there whatever the weather.'

He said they would also be making sure everyone was safe with St John's Ambulance and lifeguards on standby.

The Matthew Project was chosen by the membership as the Boxing Day Dip charity having received the most votes in a recent club meeting.

Liz Payne, chairman of Mundesley Lifeboat Friends Commitee, who is helping with the Mundesley dip, said: 'We always try and keep everyone together and the lifeboat crew are on standby and will be in the sea in their wetsuits, and do not let people stay in the water for very long.

'Going for the dip goes against the advice we would usually be offering, so we make sure we keep strict control over it, and afterwards people are offered the chance to get warm and have a warm drink at the boathouse.'

In fact Lawrence Chapman, who is organising the Lowestoft swim, which has been going for 33 years, said it is not the temperature of the sea which causes problems necessarily.

He said: 'Often the sea is warmer than the outside air, the worse bit is if it is particularly windy or the sea is rough.'

NHS Norfolk said the advice they would offer people is to make sure they take proper precautions and do not swim when they have been drinking alcohol. They added anyone feeling unwell should seek a lifeguard or organisers of the event.

A spokesman for Great Yarmouth Coastguard said as the dips were usually well managed by organisers they were not often involved, except for being told of the times they would be taking place.

But they added; 'The advice we would give is for people to check the weather on the day, and the same advice we given anyone using the beach, if you get into difficulties, call 999.'

Festive Swims

Christmas Day

Lowestoft Christmas Charity Swim, – swim at 10.30am, swimmers need to register at the Hotel Hatfield by 10am at the South Beach Lowestoft.

Hunstanton , organised by the Hunstanton Round Table since 1973, has been running since 1957, swimmers assemble around 10.30am and the swim commences at 11am from the Central Promenade.

Boxing Day

Mundesley – dip at 11am next to the lifeboat boathouse on Beach Road. Guests this year are Mundesley Scouts and Youth in the Community. Prize for the best fancy dress outfit. Refreshments served from 10.30am. Proceeds will be split between the lifeboat and the Mundesley Scouts.

Cromer - North Norfolk Beach Runners will organise the Cromer dip with bucket rattling in aid of The Matthew Project with a run along the beach at 10am, meeting at the pier forecourt and the dip at 11am, on east side of Cromer pier.

Overstrand at 11.30am on the prom below the Cliff Top Caf� - a bucket collection will be held for the upkeep of the Millennium Group playground.