Moats, rivers, the sea and even a trout lake – nothing was off limits for a watersports enthusiast as she set out to complete an unusual challenge.
And as Jane Hardy submerged herself in the chilly River Till earlier this month, she basked in the glory of achieving her quirky mission – to swim to, near, or around 50 castles in her 50th year, (not to mention eat as many slices of cake!).
The Alnwick mum’s quest took her near and far, from Northumberland to the other side of the world.
Along the way, the intrepid open-water swimmer has ticked off castles such as Warkworth and Norham, as well as the likes of Dunnottar, in Scotland, and Lichtenstein Castle, in South Africa.
And it was back in Northumberland where she brought up her 49th and milestone 50th fortress – the castles of Ford and Etal.
Jane, joined by a group of other hardy swimmers, reached her half century at the start of October, firstly swimming down the Till from Ford to Heatherslaw and then descending on Etal for a grand-finale dip in the weir.
It was the end of an unforgettable challenge for Jane, who has had some amazing experiences.
She said: “It has been a wonderful journey and it has been so much fun because I’ve got an amazing group of wild-swimming buddies who have joined me along the way.
“I can’t single out my best castle, however, the one that made the most difference has to be the swim in the moat of the Castle of Good Hope, in South Africa, with a local man and friend, Arafat Gatabazi.
“We were able to raise funds to help provide a much-needed classroom for some of the most poverty-stricken orphaned children in Cape Town’s township Khayelitcha.
“Another superb swim was in Alnwick. It was extra special because groom Richard Canterbury spent the morning of his wedding swimming in the sea and the River Aln – in the shadow of Alnwick Castle – before tying the knot.
“I have to say, I owe a huge thank-you to the owners of all the castles where I’ve swam. Every single castle owner has granted permission and supported my challenge.
“Sir Humphry Wakefield allowed us to swim in his trout lake at Chillingham Castle, while Lord Armstrong greeted us on the beach with Champagne after the swim from the Farne Islands to Bamburgh Castle.”
Jane has also had boat support from numerous people, including Billy Shiel, who helped her when she swam from the mainland to Lindisfarne Castle, on Holy Island.
For all the fortresses that have been ticked off the list, several passed Jane by – but it wasn’t for the want of trying.
She said: “While I was in Sweden, I tried to swim at Drottningsholm Palace where the country’s King and Queen live, but the water was frozen solid. I also asked for permission to swim at the Magic Kingdom, in Florida, to tick off Cinderella’s Castle, but they said I could only swim in a hotel pool if I checked into their hotel!”
For Jane, the 50 castles feat has showcased the joys of open-water swimming. And she insists that you’re never too old to start. She said: “I had my first proper swimming lesson when I was 41 – and I’ve been making up for lost time ever since.”