The Cross Bay Swim
Walking is not the only way people used to cross the treacherous Morecambe Bay. The long-distance swim across Morecambe Bay was held between 1907 and 1991.
After the excitement of the first attempt in 1907, the Cross Bay Swim immediately became a regular event. The contest was limited to men at first but a women’s championship was added just a few years later, in 1912.
The swim was only made possible by the Morecambe Bay fishermen, who acted as pilots; the only people to truly know the eddies and currents and the extreme dangers of the Bay. The intrepid swimmers, pilots and the timekeepers were all ferried to Grange-over-Sands in the escort trawlers. These also towed the rowing boats that would accompany the swimmers across the Bay to Morecambe.
Large crowds would gather on Grange Promenade to watch the start of the race and likewise at West End Sands in Morecambe, to see the swimmers come in to land. At the signal, the swimmers took to the water and started to swim, following the pilot boats.
The length of the route from Grange-over-Sands to Morecambe varies, thanks to the shifting sands of the Bay, but it’s usually about ten miles long and takes most swimmers around four hours to complete. The record times for both men and women were both set in 1914 and are a little over two hours. (The currents must have been favourable that year!)
Ethel ‘Sunny’ Lowry
In 1933 there was a special swim by Ethel ‘Sunny’ Lowry MBE, the first British woman to swim across the channel. The event attracted the largest crowd ever to watch a swim (according to news reports at the time) with an estimated 20,000 people. Many paid a small pier toll to watch, but the spectacle ended in disappointed as Sunny stood up on a sandbank thinking she had reached the shore. Morecambe Bay was, according to Sunny, ‘more difficult than the Cross-Channel swim.
One can’t help but think of the Victoria Wood sketch about the young channel swimmer.
Professor William Stearne – Not one the locals will forget!
41-year-old Professor Stearne of Manchester was the first person known to have swum across the Bay, on 13 July 1907. He was in training to swim across the Channel and was asked to try the route. Now, we are told never to swim after eating, but not Stearne.
It is said that before swimming across the Bay he ate an enormous meal consisting of soup, bread, steak and potatoes, two helpings of boiled salmon. He even managed to eat between 12 and 15 eggs, drank a quart of milk from a sippy cup, a quart of beef tea, some chunks of chicken. During the swim he took off his costume. He said it was too heavy. When he arrived in Morecambe after 3 hours 45 minutes and 41 seconds, it was said that he left the water backwards!
Other Notable Swimmers
The youngest competitors were May Adams, who was only 13 years old when she swam the race, and Alan Gorton, who was 14 years old, both from Chadderton.
Manchester seems to have produced a series of winning Cross Bay swimmers.
We have a number of photos in our collection, that show several competitors from the mid-20th century. It is possible that the image of the lone female swimmer is Sunny Lowry, though we cannot be sure, and the young boy is possibly Alan Gorton.