bald man in wetsuit eats a pasty with pint in hand

Since the event started in 1970, the Padstow to Rock Swim has seen over 12,000 swimmers cross the Camel Estuary, raising more than £700,000 over the past 50 years. The money accumulated goes to Marie Curie, a charitable organisation which provides care and support to people living with a terminal illness and those close to them.

Every year a gaggle of keen swimmers line the sea wall in Padstow, at the beginning of the Camel Trail. Swim hats, goggles and wetsuits of all colours can be seen excitedly jostling alongside the estuary, backed by views of the iconic Iron Bridge guarding the entrance to Little Petherick Creek. With the promise of a pasty and a pint on the other side, swimmers tackle the 1-mile open water swim eagerly.

 swimmers in the water wearing wetsuits

The Padstow to Rock Swim, that runs during mid-summer at high tide, attracts swimmers of all abilities, from Olympic champions to swim-loving novices. The first race is for the ‘Elite’ category, and must be completed in 30 minutes or less, whilst the ‘Non-elite’ swimmers have a leisurely hour to make the crossing. Olympic Gold medal winning swimmer, Cornish born athlete Calum Jarvis, who has been known to complete the swim in record time, said:

"Last time I took part in the swim I remember the atmosphere being full of nerves, anxious people staring across the water to the destination. But there was also a lot of excitement, as people were swimming with their friends and enjoying it all. There was a real positive buzz in Rock, on the ferry and all around Padstow!" 

It’s a personal challenge, rather than a race, and participants take part for multiple reasons. Whilst many swimmers join in purely for the thrill, fun and exercise, others have more personal reasons. The swim challenge allows those people to give back to a charity that is often very close to their hearts. Marie Curie operate nationwide, running day and night to offer care for terminally ill patients and time off for their family and live-in carers. “Our night shifts start at 10pm and finish at 7am, this gives the carer a chance to rest knowing that their loved one is being cared for,” a spokesperson for the charity explained, “In West Cornwall we also have a day service where nurses visit many patients during the day to reassure them and make them comfortable. These are shorter visits and much appreciated by patients and families.” The swimmers who take part in the Padstow to Rock challenge are expected to raise money for the charity through sponsorship. All funds raised go towards the Marie Curie Nursing Service, enabling the team to continue with their incredible work. £20 raised will pay for a nurse for one hour in a patients home, £160 covers the whole shift, and £800 will pay for the cost of caring for an in-patient in a Marie Curie Hospice for a day.


sea swimmers wearing yellow hats, goggles and wetsuits, smiling

The Padstow to Rock Swim dates back to the 1970s, and it has run continuously since then (minus the pandemic year in 2020). It was started by local enthusiast Sarah Hawkins who decided to raise money for charity (Marie Curie was officially appointment as the sole beneficiary in 2011) by persuading friends and family to swim across the Camel estuary from the harbour wall in Padstow in the early 70s. Popularity for the event grew rapidly with numbers rising year on year. With Health and Safety regulations having an increasing impact on the organisation of the swim, a small group of local people then took on the challenge, with Sarah managing the event until 2006. The present swim committee now shares the task of administration of the swim to meet all Health and Safety obligations. The Hawkins Cup, donated by Sarah Hawkins, is a trophy awarded annually to the person who is considered by the Committee to have contributed most to the swim in that particular year.

If you’re considering taking part in the Padstow to Rock Swim next year then you’ll need to be quick to secure your place. 2023 entries are open between the 17th October and 30th November, and places for the non-elite swimmers fill up fast. You can get your name down via the website by clicking here. Safety is a big, considered factor at the event, with safety boats, canoeists, rescue boards, and qualified lifeguards in the water, and first aiders and full medical aid on land. The swim is also route marked by buoys, so you’re unlikely to get lost! The minimum age for participants is 10 years old, and swimmers between 10-14 must be accompanied by an adult. If you don’t fancy the swim but want to watch, head down to the Sea Cadet slipway in Padstow to see the participants jump in, or wait on the beach in Rock to cheer as they finish!