Matt Dawson's Record-Breaking Achievement in The13 Challenge

Matt Dawson’s Record-Breaking Achievement in The13 Challenge

In Wadi Rum desert in late 2018, Danny Longman and Tom Elliott, two strangers turned friends, pondered a question by a campfire: Could they swim the entire length of every lake in the English Lake District?

Tom Elliott, having previously conquered Windermere, England’s longest lake at 17.7 km, had some experience to lean on. Danny Longman, on the other hand, was accustomed to the confines of his local pool than open water.

Their research revealed 13 publicly accessible lakes in the district, cumulatively spanning 71km. While individual lakes had seen swimmers traverse their lengths, no one had ever attempted to race through all of them consecutively. Fueled by the allure of this new challenge, the duo embarked on this journey. It didn’t start off smoothly. Danny detaching his right pectoral muscle while weightlifting. Despite the setback and a challenging recovery, the two pressed on, and added a twist to their adventure by cycling between the lakes.

Danny completed the 13 lakes in a time of 3 Days 6 hours (78 hours), but Tom got hypothermia during the final leg and had to withdraw. Their efforts though set the stage for others. The following year, George Taplin, opting for the comfort of a car over a bicycle, set a new record of 2 days 11 hours. Inspired and undeterred by his previous attempt, Danny returned in 2021, completing the challenge and setting a new fastest time of 41 hours 7 minutes.

Matthew Dawson on July 8, 2023, shattered the existing record in a time of just 33.5 hours, surpassing the record by 7.5 hours. It was not just a personal milestone but a mission to raise funds and awareness for Access Sport CIO, a charity that champions the transformative power of sport for young lives. The charity is particularly focused on addressing the decline in sports participation among low-income individuals and combating the rising obesity rates among UK children. Access Sport is also launching an Inclusive Swimming initiative, targeting disabled children under 18, aiming to equip them with essential swimming skills and the confidence to be safe around water. Matthew’s cause raised over £5,053, surpassing his target, thanks to the generosity of 125 supporters.

The lakes, each with its unique charm and challenges, ranged from the vast expanse of Windermere to the quaint waters of BrothersWater. Some, like Elterwater, offered picturesque views but also the repetitive curiosity of dog walkers. Others, like Grasmere, tempted with the promise of world-famous gingerbread. Each lake presented its quirks, from navigating islands in Rydal Water to dodging yachts in Bassenthwaite.

  1. Wastwater
    • Distance: 5.5km
    • Description: Deep with a stone bottom, perfect water quality, and can be windy.
  2. Windermere
    • Distance: 17.7km
    • Description: Long with steam boats, chain ferries, and hire boats.
  3. Elterwater
    • Distance: 1.2km
    • Description: Unique shape, shallow middle, frequented by dog walkers.
  4. Grasmere
    • Distance: 2.3km
    • Description: Great access, famous for Grasmere gingerbread shop.
  5. Rydal Water
    • Distance: 1.5km
    • Description: Small gem with a beach, islands to navigate.
  6. Coniston
    • Distance: 9.2km
    • Description: Straight lake with a lovely car park at the Village end.
  7. BrothersWater
    • Distance: 0.6km
    • Description: Small, good parking, sharp stones at the end.
  8. UllsWater
    • Distance: 12.9km
    • Description: Banana-shaped, scenic, affected by wind direction.
  9. Bassenthwaite
    • Distance: 6.7km
    • Description: Yacht club presence, has a ‘direction flow’.
  10. Loweswater
  • Distance: 2.0km
  • Description: Part of The13, quieter Lorton Valley, simple navigation.
  1. Crummock Water
  • Distance: 4.3km
  • Description: Largest in the valley, path between here and Buttermere.
  1. Buttermere
  • Distance: 2.3km
  • Description: Beautiful, shallow start, good access.
  1. Derwent Water
  • Distance: 4.8km
  • Description: Middle distance, varied features, access can be tricky.

The challenge now is formalized, inviting others to take the challenge of the English Lake District. The goal is simple: Swim the full length of all 13 lakes as swiftly as possible. Take the plunge?