Meet the adventurer: Jasmine Harrison, the first woman to swim the length of the UK

In October 2022, the 23-year-old North Yorkshire native became the first woman to swim the 900-miles between Land’s End and John O’Groats. We catch up with Jasmine as she reflects on the feat.

By Josephine Price
Published 15 Dec 2022, 08:00 GMT
Jasmine spent up to 12 hours in the sea for more than 110 days.

Jasmine spent up to 12 hours in the sea for more than 110 days.

Photograph by Simon Price - Firstpix

Where did your appetite for adventure come from?

I think it’s a mix of being outside a lot when I was younger and wanting to travel. I’ve always loved the water and the sea. I’m just fascinated by it. When I was younger, the best trip ever for me was a visit to the beach. No matter what kind of weather, it would always be the best day out. I could sit there and stare at the waves coming in every single day and never get bored.

I’ve swum competitively in a pool my whole life and then when I was 14, I took up open water swimming, and it's become social, too, as more people my age are getting into it.

What were some of the best moments of your record-breaking swim?

Seeing so much of the UK from the sea. I’d never been to Cornwall — and I’ve still not actually been on land in Cornwall! But, to be able to see bits of the UK from a perspective that very few other people have experienced was a highlight. Also, it’s pretty cool to be able to say I’ve swum to Wales, or that I’ve swum to the Isle of Man. Oh, and having dolphins swim with me!

You spent up to 12 hours in the sea for more than 110 days. What were the challenges?

Physical pain. At the beginning, when my shoulders weren’t used to swimming so much, I could almost feel my muscles growing — and that was painful combined with the chafing from the wetsuits. I still have deep cuts around the back of my shoulders and my armpits from where my wetsuit rubbed.

The hardest parts were also the logistics. Organising the crew, understanding the tide and not being able to swim for a week because of a storm coming through.

I was also swimming at night quite a lot. I'd be getting up at 3am and putting on a wetsuit when I was tired, knowing I’d have to get into the freezing cold water in the dark and probably get scared by stuff — like when seaweed touched me or a dolphin came from underneath. That was tough.

How do you train for that kind of adventure, both physically and mentally?

I’ve swum my whole life, so I know my abilities. Training-wise, I knew I just needed to swim for longer than I had done: [in the lead up to the challenge] I was probably doing about ten hours of swimming spread out across a week. And I did one 12-hour swim about a week before I left.

I’d also shower with the temperature lower to get my body prepared. I don't like cold water, but I knew I needed to get over that. Doing the physical training prepared me mentally. I knew I was capable. 

Why did you choose the two charities you supported with your swim?

I thought I needed to select charities that were relevant to what I was doing, which would keep me motivated the further along I went. When I rowed across the Atlantic [becoming the youngest woman to do so solo, in 2021], I loved the wildlife I saw: the dolphins, the whales. It made me want to protect them. I knew Sea Shepherd and the activist work it does worldwide to stop whaling and fishing, so I chose them.

Another proactive charity is Surfers Against Sewage, which I also raised funds for. I want the water to be clean where I’m swimming. Some of the places we went to had signs warning people not to eat shellfish from their shores because it is probably polluted. I’d be swimming through shipping lanes, and I could taste the diesel in the water.

"I’ve always loved the water and the sea. I’m just fascinated by it."

Photograph by Rudderly Mad

Did you encounter much plastic pollution?

Yeah, quite a bit considering I had my face down in the water, so unless I swum directly over something I wouldn’t have seen it. We found all sorts: from cans to milk bottles. I saw lots of balloons and fishing nets and loads of little microplastics. People asked why I did Land’s End and John O’Groats and not the east coast as it would’ve been easier, but the pollution in the water is disgusting. The west coast is cleaner.

How did it compare to your rowing expedition across the Atlantic?

The two were just so different. Both experiences had completely separate challenges, and both were hard in different ways. I’d say the swim was more difficult in terms of the amount of people who had to be involved. With the row it was just me and my boat. But with the swim, it was somebody else’s boat, a skipper, a crew, kayakers... I’ve never been so emotionally tested by other people being around as I was on the swim.

What advice would you give other women inspired to try adventures like yours?

Just know what you want, ask for a lot of help, and talk to people. Don’t be ashamed of not knowing something. One of our sponsors on the row said: “Just take it all in. Don’t let things become normal. This is amazing.” So yes, “take a step back” is probably the best life advice I’ve had that allowed me to put everything into perspective.

Where is your favourite place to swim in the UK?

I love swimming around the Inner Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland. There are so many mountains either side of you. It’s just stunning.

What's next for you?

I need time. I've got ideas, but they need the chance to grow in my head, so I can find that drive and motivation to do it.

Rower, swimmer and motivational speaker Jasmine Harrison became the youngest women to row solo across the Atlantic in 2021. In 2022, she added a second world record to her collection, becoming the first woman to swim the length of the UK (and the third person ever to complete the feat).

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