On the 1st of June 2016, I began my journey down Britain’s longest river, the River Severn. The adventure took 18-days to complete and I raised about £2,000 for Motor Neurone Disease Association during the trip. All blogs and videos from this adventure are listed at the bottom of this page.

River Severn Swim

Summary: River Severn Adventure
The freezing cold water ran down the back of my neck. The water was dark and murky. The River Severn was narrow and full of obstacles. It was only my first day of swimming down the longest river in Britain.

Ross O Sullivan Swimmer
Trying to stay upbeat, while I was battling the River Severn 7-hours a day

From the 1st of June to the 18th of June I travelled down the River Severn covering 360km. “Why did I attempt this?” you may ask. I just simply love wild swimming adventures.

I was dropped off near the source of the river on the 1st of June, with no support, no money, and a very light bag on my back. For the next three days I would have to walk to my swimming start point in Pool Quay, which was an 80km trip.

The first two days went smooth sailing, until on the third day, my right ankle went after only 10km. I still had 25km to walk in order to get to Pool Quay. I had a sharp pain wrapping around my ankle whenever I planted it on the ground. I hopped for a few kilometres, before walking barefoot for a while. I gritted my teeth, which was something I got very used to doing over the next 15 days.

On the 4th of June, I met with my river and land support. I was already looking like a mess and I’m sure they looked at me saying to themselves, “Is he really going to swim the remaining 280km of the River Severn?” They weren’t the only ones saying this. I questioned what a mammoth task I had set myself, and wondered if I could even do it. I never showed my team any doubt though.

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Going through Ironbridge was special

Over the next 13-days, I would travel 240km down the River Severn, averaging 18.5km/day, and never took a day off. My longest day on the water was just over 25km.

Swimming down the River Severn was one of the best moments of my life. In Shropshire the river is at its most pleasant, with every bend more magnificent than the last. The wildlife was in abundance, with swans, signets and ducks in sight at all times. The upper stretches of the river were unspoilt by mankind. I felt privileged to be swimming down this wonderful river that Britain has to offer.

As I was approaching Shrewsbury on Day 8, I could see all the developments either side of the river along with all the people around. It felt very strange. For the past seven days, I had seen more swans than people. I went from one of the remotest places I had ever been, and now I was back in an urban area.

Ross O Sullivan River Severn
Getting in by Shrewsbury Weir

On Day 10, I noticed that the morale of the team had dropped significantly. The team started off very enthusiastic and positive, and now all of a sudden it felt like they were doing choirs. I wanted this to be a fun adventure. I had to try and keep the morale of the team high whenever I could, which is tough to do after swimming over 20km over six or seven hours in freezing cold water.

On about Day 11, I very nearly pulled the plug on the adventure. It was putting too much of a strain on my fiancée and land support. I asked her if she was ok to continue, and she wasn’t sure. Caitriona was the backbone of the operation and without her we couldn’t do this adventure. I told her we could stop if she likes, so she decided to sleep on it. The following morning, she said she would plough on, since we came so far.

Stroke “J”, stroke “P”, breathe “O”. This was my mantra when I was swimming and battling with my mind at the same time. “JPO” (Just Plough On). It is a saying that I have used for many years whilst carrying out marathon swims. Every time I undertake an endurance swim, there comes a point where you have to dig deep and JPO. Everyday I was battling the cold, an aching and sleep deprived body, fast water, rapids, obstacles in the river and trying to lift the spirits of a battered team.

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JPO. JPO. JPO!!!

We are only humans at the end of the day and I have great respect for my team for everything they done on this adventure. We encountered many obstacles along the way and one by one these obstacles were slowly starting to eat away at us. We were wild camping, with very little gear. I way lying on rock hard ground every evening as my inflatable air mattress had a hole in it. The most sleep I got over the whole adventure was six and half-hours. Every morning I woke with an aching pain in the arch of my lower back.

Day 14 was my favourite day of the trip. Mr. Kev Brady (the first person to swim the River Severn) came out to join me for the day on a Standup Paddle Board (SUP). Kev had been such a help to me in the run up to this adventure and I was thrilled to have him join us for the day. The first thing he said to me was, “Slow down Ross, your making me look bad”. I laughed, and took no notice of this. Kev was someone I looked up to before I started this crazy endeavour. But only after a few days of swimming, I had a full appreciation of what he went through and had even more respect for him.

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Thrilled to spend a day with Kev on the water. What a top man!

Day 15 was the start of the extremely dangerous sections of the swim. It was the day that we went over Gloucester Weir, where the river turned into an ‘angry monster’. The river up in Shropshire was a very gentle creature enticing you to go for a swim or a paddle. But now this river had turned into a very angry possessed demon, screaming at me to stay out. When I approached the weir I said to myelf, “Uh Ohh, this is after getting very real, Thank God my mother and father are not on the riverbank watching this”. The river was travelling at around 10km/hr just after the weir. I had no choice but to jump in, cross my fingers, say my prayers and hope I would be spat out the other side. I was moving at an uncontrollable speed. I was at the mercy of Mother Nature, and she could have taken me there and then if she wanted to. Thankfully I got through this very scary couple of kilometres. Looking back, I deeply regret not finishing the swimming section at Gloucester Weir. I risked my life and the life of my support paddler over the next two days.

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I entered the world of the unknowns after Gloucester Weir

Towards the end of Day 15, I was fully beaten for the first time on the entire trip. I was physically drained but more importantly I was mentally drained. I couldn’t go on. I had swam about 24km and my body was shutting down fast. I told my support paddler that I was done. We had to pull over at the next suitable exit and finish for the day. We didn’t reach our intended end point. I came out of the water, and just fell to the ground. I had over exerted my body and it was shutting down fast. The physical toll of swimming 24km along with the stress of constantly trying to stay alive had been too much. I prided myself on my ability to “soldiered on” during the tough times of this trip. But at this point, I felt and looked like a weathered old man. I didn’t know if I could continue.

Day 16, was our last day of swimming. We were terminating the swim at Newnham after extensive communication with SARA (Severn Area Rescue Association). Newnham is only about 25 miles from the end, but from Newnham onwards, the river turns into a treacherous environment even in a boat. I was told that no one could stop me from swimming it though. For the whole trip I couldn’t decide whether or not to attempt it. I consulted SARA numerous times on my way down the river. I decided in an effort to stop future River Severn swimmers doing it and to promote safe wild swimming, that I wouldn’t attempt it. I didn’t set out on this adventure to be a hero. I simply have a love for wild endurance swimming, mixed with adventure. I had no interest in dying a hero.

Ross O Sullivan Swimmer
Swimming in very silty water past Gloucester Weir

Over the next two days, Caitriona and I walked to the finish line at Severn Beach. It had been 18 days of living in the wilderness and swimming around seven hours a day. It was an adventure of a lifetime, and some the memories I have will last forever.

Wild endurance swimming is one of the most remarkable and satisfying activities you can ever undertake. Everyone is capable of more than you think. I’m a great believer in putting yourself into uncomfortable situations and see how you manage. You’ll be surprised every time. Say ‘Yes’ more often. Go for it, and don’t leave anyone and anything hold you back. Think JPO!

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Thinking back at how far we came

Blog List: River Severn Adventure

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Day 18 – River Severn Adventure (The END)

Today was the day this adventure would end. Even if we had to crawl to the end, we were going to finish this today. We just had too much Criminal Minds to catch up on back in Cardiff. I woke

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Day 17 – River Severn Adventure

We woke up in Shelly and James’ house once for the third time. These two have been incredibly nice to Caitriona and myself over the last few days. We both woke up thinking that today was our last day. A few

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Day 16 – River Severn Adventure

Isolated and eerie, the River Severn had drastically changed over the last two days. Its only a couple of kilometres from the finish point for the swim on Day 16. The river was moving very very fast. I only had

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Day 15 – River Severn Adventure

What a strange feeling waking up with a soft mattress under my back. I finally had a good sleep. Shelly Brady and James Hughes kindly allowed us three stinking river rats to sleep in there beautiful house. We headed to the Red Lion

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Day 14 – River Severn Adventure

I woke up after a very rough sleep, which only lasted six hours. In my everyday life, I usually get ten hours of sleep every night. So far on this adventure, the most sleep I’ve gotten has been six hours.

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Day 13 – River Severn Adventure

The rain was pelting it down the night before. Caitriona attempted to pitch the tent herself last night on her own, and I was praying it was done correctly. Thankfully the tent stayed dry, but it was bucketing down this

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Day 12 – River Severn Adventure

I’m getting quite sick of starting every post with “it was 5:30am when I woke and I was wrecked”. But the reality is, every morning I have been feeling tired and sore. The feeling of tiredness is simply terrible. Your

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Day 11 – River Severn Adventure

During the night we had our first spells of heavy rain. It had been bucketing down all night! The first thing I thought about, was the fact that my wetsuit was on top of my tent drying (or in this

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Day 10 – River Severn Adventure

It was so nice waking up at 5:30am and the first thing you see is the River Severn about 3m away. We had slept in Tom and Emma’s front garden, which was on the riverbank. Their hospitality had been ridiculously

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Day 9 – River Severn Adventure

Another rude 5:30 alarm clock went off. I was getting a bit snappy in the morning for some bizarre reason. I think the stresses of carrying out an adventure like this played its part. I tried to keep my crankiness

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Ross O Sullivan River Severn

Day 8 – River Severn Adventure

We woke up at 5:30am in the morning, as we checked the weather forecast the following evening, and it said that torrential rain was scheduled for about 2pm. We wanted to get on the river at 7am. We started started

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Ross O Sullivan River Severn Swim

Day 7 – River Severn Adventure

That feeling of complete tiredness was back again when I woke. I was lethargic and feeling very heavy. This was becoming the norm for me in the mornings. We left the Isle early in the morning and headed for Shrewsbury.

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Ross O Sullivan Swimmer

Day 6 – River Severn Adventure

It was 7am and the alarm went off. I turned like an old man of at least 90 to turn it off. As i turned off the alarm, i was worried for the first time on this trip. I was

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Day 5 – River Severn Adventure

5am in the morning. “Caitriona I’m going have to get rid of this air mattress”. “Please do” she replied. We slept on an air mattress that was slowly deflating for the first five hours of the night. I can honestly

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Day 4 – River Severn Adventure

It was 6am, and I needed air, fast. Patch and I had slept in a small tent together the night before. The idea of rolling over in tent to get comfortable during the night never crossed my mind. A pivoting

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Day 3 – River Severn Swim

I woke quite late this morning, due to a great nights sleep. I walked down the stairs, with surprisingly fresh legs. I wolfed down three Weetabix’s with some homemade honey. We got up to leave for Newtown at 9am, where

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Day 2 – River Severn Swim

I woke at about 7am. My shoulders and neck where freezing cold. I had slept with the window wide open, in order to air out my clothes, as the same ones where in action again for Day 2. I gingerly crawled

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Ross O Sullivan River Severn Swim

Day 1 – River Severn Swim

The day started with a rude 5:45am awakening. All the planning and preparation was finally over, and today was the day, that marked the start of the River Severn Swim. I was quite nervous on the way up in the

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