Mavis Grind chilly dippers

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These brave souls made it a Boxing Day to remember – plunging into icy waters for an ancient tradition, but a relatively new one in the isles.

Intrepid swimmers (from left): Toby Flint, Richard Ingrey, Richard Duree, Alan Price and Havard Johnsen. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Intrepid swimmers (from left): Toby Flint, Richard Ingrey, Richard Duree, Alan Price and Havard Johnsen. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Pilots, engineers, air traffic controllers and locals travelled to Mavis Grind north of Brae for “Haagdyve” – an ancient cleansing festival dating back about 1,200 years.

Any fears of feeling lethargic after too much Christmas pudding were soon washed away as swimmers swapped between the North Sea and the Atlantic in what was thought to be Britain’s most northerly Haagdyve swim.

Alan Price, of the Haagdyve Association, hails from Wales and is an avid fan of the tradition, which he says was reborn in Unst in the 1980s.

According to the foundation, mercenaries from Pembrokeshire in Wales were brought up to Shetland by the Vikings.

On arriving in Shetland, the Welsh folk found local women initially unfriendly, as they claimed they were not clean enough.

To address this and prove their masculinity, they decided to have a ritualistic cleansing festival.

Mr Price said he was re-enacting the chilly swim of his ancestors.

Numbers involved have varied – with Mr Price even braving the task on his own in the past – not letting snow on the ground and the odd bit of ice put him off. 

A wee dram was offered to warm him up – as he crossed between the two expanses of water.

“The Atlantic is a bit cold but its not too bad,” Mr Price said. “The North Sea is hugely colder.”

That he said was down to shallower waters and the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic.

But Mr Price makes sure he is well prepared – he pulls on a pair of shoes to protect his feet and makes sure he has a hot bath ready for when he returns home.

And is there any attire for those who fancy the challenge?

“You can go as you like,” he said. “Some people come in swim or immersion suits.”

The next Haagdyve will take place on New Year’s Day 2015.

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