An epic attempt by two swimmers to be the first to cross the treacherous waters of Bardsey Sound off the coast of North Wales without wetsuits will be shown on television next month.
Teacher Wyn Rowlands and artist Natasha Brookes spent nine months preparing for the challenging two-mile swim through the churning currents of the Irish Sea between Bardsey Island – Ynys Enlli – and the rocky cliffs off the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula.
Their efforts were followed by a camera crew for a major new three-part television series, Llanw (Tide), made by Caernarfon-based television company Cwmni Da.
They filmed on four continents, taking in 10 countries and the Arctic for the £600,000 series about the world’s tides which is being screened on S4C next month (June) as well as in Ireland and Scotland and in the Far East.
The is a first ever collaboration between Celtic television channels, S4C, TG4 in the Republic of Ireland, BBC Northern Ireland and MG Alba in Scotland as well as LIC, the largest independent television production company in China.
The first programme in the three-part series will be shown on S4C at 8pm on Sunday, June 2.
Over the centuries Bardsey Island has been a popular destination for Christian pilgrims and 20,000 saints are said to be buried there but the island’s monastery was dissolved and then demolished by Henry VIII in the 16th century.
It’s also been claimed that King Arthur was buried there and the island has a special place in the cultural life of Wales, attracting artists, writers and musicians to its shores.
Bardsey is now just as famous for its wildlife and rugged scenery and is an important nesting pace for Manx Shearwaters and Choughs, as well as being one of the best places in Gwynedd to see grey seals, dolphins and porpoises.
Wyn, 62, a former lighthouse-keeper who learned to swim as a boy on nearby Nefyn beach, and Natasha, 40, from Anglesey, an experienced open water swimmer and surfer, made their attempt last July but even in the hottest summer for years the sea waters were still chillingly cold.
Wyn, whose work often took him to Bardsey as a relief lighthouse-keeper, said: “It was a lovely day for a swim, the conditions couldn’t have been better but it’s a big lump of cold water, something that one’s not used to.”
He said: “It was a lovely day for a swim, the conditions couldn’t have been better but it’s a big expanse of cold water, something that one’s not used to.”
Mum of two Natasha learned to swim in South Africa as a child, said: “The water between Enlli and the mainland is iconic in Wales and a few people have swum it but not without a wet suit.
“It’s treacherous and unpredictable and whether we will make it across is an unknown.
“The water is so cold. It looks so inviting and warm but is isn’t. When I first hit the current it was as if someone had hit me and I was fighting against it.”
Spending a long time in cold water can cause a swimmer to become disorientated and hypothermia is also a risk.
The pair, who were accompanied on their attempt by safety kayaks as well as a camera crew, also enlisted the help of Dr Matt Lewis of Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences, who used computerised data to help the swimmers plot possible courses across.
He said: “Tides generate currents but currents can interact with the surface of the sea bed and these small scale currents had a big effect on the swim.
“We also worked with local boatman Colin Evans who knows this patch of sea better than anyone and I wanted to find out how my computer modelling compared to his local knowledge and I don’t mind admitting his knowledge his was much superior.
“But it was a fantastic project to be involved with. The swimmers had GPS trackers on them so we will be able to use the data to track where the flow of plastic in the sea will go and where invasive species like the Chinese Mitten Crab which has hitched a ride here on tankers into Liverpool will end up.”
Series producer Emyr Gruffudd, from Cwmni Da, said: “Although this was close to home, the swim was one of the most fascinating challenges we witnessed.
“Ynys Enlli is appropriately named because it means the ‘island in the tides’ and has an iconic status as a destination for pilgrims and nature lovers.
“It can be difficult to reach even by boat but attempting to swim across is an almost impossible feat – almost.
“To get there from mainland Wales and to return you need to navigate the dangerous tidal flows of the ‘swnt’.
“The swim required a superhuman effort by Wyn and Natasha, along with some sophisticated computer modelling and the local knowledge of Colin Evans and military-style planning.
“The first programme in the series goes on air in in Wales and BBC Northern Ireland on June 2.”