Great British Swim athlete Ross Edgley: I still miss being back in the sea

The only person to have swum the entire coast of Great Britain said he was “an idiot” for attempting the feat – but admits he misses the gruelling challenge.

Ross Edgley wrote his name into the history books several times on his way to completing the endurance adventure, setting records for the longest staged sea swim and becoming the first person to swim the length of the English Channel.

He finally reached his goal when he thundered onto the beach in Margate on November 4, after 157 days at sea during his 1,791-mile odyssey.

The 33-year-old athlete said that despite the strain placed on his body during the Great British Swim – such as crippling jellyfish stings, chronic muscle fatigue and extreme chaffing –  he still pines for the challenge.

He told the Press Association: “Do I miss it? Yeah, I do. And that’s weird.

Ross Edgley swimming challenge
Ross Edgley swimming off Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast of Scotland during his Great British Swim (Red Bull Media)

“You almost look back on the stories about the jellyfish with as much fondness as the sunrises and sunsets because it all melds into one experience, like a weird dream. You think at the time that this is horrendous – what am I doing?

“I was swimming in my own sick, the waves were washing it into my mouth, I was getting stung by jellyfish – but even the darker moments I find myself reflecting on them fondly, which is weird. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome.

“What I do miss, there is something liberating about waking up and having a specific purpose. All I had to do was eat, swim and get stung in the face by jellyfish. I only had to worry about tides and the weather.

“But then when I got back on land, I realised I had to renew my car insurance, I had to catch up with what was happening – babies, divorces – in the social circle. I miss having that purpose that I had in the Great British Swim.”

Every moment of Mr Edgley’s swim was tracked by GPS satellite, meaning he could resume each leg from the exact spot he stopped at.

He would spend roughly 12 hours in the water each day, and slept on board his support boat.

While his challenge captured the imagination of many – boosted in part by daily updates on his progress using the #GreatBritishSwim hashtag – there were plenty of others who failed to see the merits of the feat.

Mr Edgley, originally from Grantham in Lincolnshire but now living in Cheshire, said: “You could draw a line down a room and half of them got it, and half said: ‘What’s the point?’

“I wanted to get back to Mother Nature, to find solutions to things. Now I’m back on land, I’m still trying to find out the legacy of the Great British Swim.

“But it wasn’t even about the swim really.

“Someone said when they saw me scrape ice from my wetsuit in Aberdeen on the first day of autumn, they said I was overcoming the same obstacles they have to when they need to do things they don’t want to do. That was an amazing thing to hear.

“When I was on the swim I said about being naive enough to start and stubborn enough to finish.

“But I was an idiot. I was stood on Margate beach saying: ‘Yeah, I’ll be alright, I’ll be back in 100 days,’ and then after 157 I’m still going. But I was stubborn enough to finish.”

Ross Edgley swimming challenge
Ross Edgley breaking the world record for the longest staged sea swim as part of his Great British Swim challenge in 2018 (Red Bull Media)

The strongman and author is turning his attention to his next sporting challenge, the details of which remain a secret, but said there are still some hurdles to overcome as he adjusts to life back on land.

He said: “The aftermath now is learning to walk again. The ligaments and tendons had forgotten how to function.

“On the boat I walked from the shower to the bed to the galley – that’s five metres – then I was horizontal sleeping. It was pure muscular atrophy.

“For days afterwards I remember I was on the Tube trying to walk up the stairs and I had to stop halfway up because my calf muscles and my Achilles were in bits.

“Some sweet old lady stopped and asked me if I was OK- we just had to laugh about it.”