MORE than 550 brave swimmers will be taking the plunge into Windermere's icy water this weekend for the 2014 Big Chill Swim.
The swimmers, who are not allowed to wear wetsuits, will race over distances of 30, 50 and 450 metres, enduring water temperatures of below five degrees.
The event, which takes place at the Low Wood Bay Marina near Ambleside, has attracted experienced winter swimmers from as far afield as Latvia, South Africa, Italy, Germany and Russia, France and Finland.
Among the amateur swimmers and fundraisers will be Estonian winter swimming endurance world champion Henri Kaarma and the head of the International Winter Swimming Association Mariia Yrjö-Koskinen.
There will also be relay races, and a 1000 metre extreme event for very experienced cold water swimmers.
Among the amateur competitors are teams from the Lake District National Park, the BBC and English Lakes Hotels Resorts & Venues.
The event has been organised by Chillswim, which is run by Colin Hill and Steph Cox, from High Wray near Hawkshead, who are also both accomplished winter swimmers.
Colin Hill, who also set up the Great North Swim, was the technical operations manager for the marathon swimming events at London 2012 and is the World Age Group Champion for 450m Cold Water Swimming.
He is also the first UK man to swim the ‘ice mile’ - known as the toughest swimming challenge on the planet.
"I think The Big Chill 2014 will be a fantastic event," he said. "I am very pleased by the number of people who are taking part.
"Winter swimming has really taken off in the UK in the last year, and we are proud to be at the forefront of this movement with our International Winter Swimming Association event.
"Winter swimming can seem like a very odd idea to the uninitiated, but the sense of wellbeing and exhilaration you get when you have finished the swim is quite incredible. All your endorphins kick in. It is an amazing, life-affirming experience.
"Also, the camaraderie amongst winter swimmers is fantastic, and one of the joys of this type of event is that you can make new friends from all around the world."
Spectators have been encouraged to come along to cheer the swimmers on and visit the winter swimming expo at Low Wood Bay.
Although parking is only available to hotel guests and marina members there will be a park and ride service from Brockhole and Waterhead at Ambleside, which will drop off participants and spectators at the venue.
Councillor Ben Berry of English Lakes Hotels Resorts & Venues, said: "We are absolutely delighted to be hosting this exciting event at Low Wood Bay Marina.
"The Marina is a fantastic setting for many events but to hold an international winter swimming event with views of the snow topped mountains in the background will be something really special.
"I am actually competing in the race myself as part of the English Lakes relay team. We have some pretty strong swimmers, so we’re hoping to do well and certainly expect to enjoy a really exhilarating experience."
Entries are now closed for this year’s Big Chill Swim, but people who want to try the sport, or get more information about future events can read more and join the mailing list at www.chillswim.com
The next Chillswim event takes place in Coniston in September 2014, for more information see www.chillswim.com
To find out about English Lakes Hotels Resorts & Venues go to englishlakes.co.uk