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How did the “Burghead Boxing Day Swim” start?
This was the question asked recently by Russell “Buff” Main when he came to speak to me about the imminent 25th anniversary of the event. Russell told me how he reads the stories of how other clubs and organisations have come to be and wishes there was as good a tale in relation to his beloved harbour dip. The short answer as to the inspiration for the annual event is a jar of pickled eggs! More of that later. First a little history lesson to set the scene.
The venue is the Harbour Inn Burghead, the time a Sunday afternoon in Mid October where the then landlords George, who has sadly passed away, and Kath Kiloh, let us away with murder. The “Burghead Boys” would have spent the previous Saturday night at the bottom bar in Joanas where any barmaid with over a month of service could pour a round for up to twenty of us without having to ask for any information. There are too many names to mention with almost everyone having a nickname and although we had the occasional spats we were a very close group who were tremendously loyal and supportive of each other. I truly believe that our combined privilege of benefiting from membership of the Planet’s finest Youth Club, superbly run by Pat “pipe” Knowles and others, made us better young men than we might otherwise have become. Pat was a genius. He was the finest teenage physiologist you could ever meet but none of us knew that, or how good that Youth Club really was, until we were old enough to look back through adult eyes.
Sunday was about sore heads, reliving the previous night, post-mortems on the women who didn’t appreciate our finer qualities, a hare of the dog and much more. The slow start could lead on to cards, drinking games and our self convincing that the Elgin economy would suffer greatly if we didn’t go back there that Sunday night. This particular Sunday a conversation began about the pickled eggs which were supplied by a staunch regular, Allan Currie, and sold behind the bar. Those were classy times. Allan’s eggs were not for the faint hearted and the strength of the pickling vinegar along with the resulting after effects were put under great scrutiny. My contribution was the admission that I was very partial to all things pickled and before I knew what was happening money was accumulating on the bar, immediately nominated for the ever present lifeboat collecting can sitting on the Bar, on the condition that I would “down in one” a pint of the aforementioned “pickled egg juice”.
Raising money for the RNLI in Burghead is simply a given and this scenario did not offer me an option. This was something that would have to be done. The deed was done the sum, almost £40, was stuffed in the RNLI box. Now I would be lying by reporting the experience as pleasant but for what then was a not inconsiderable donation to a deserving charity, the price seemed very small. So small in fact that I got around to thinking that us young lads could do something else to raise money for a charity. Dooking in the pier, something that was a right of passage for all Broch loons seemed an obvious medium. New Year day was the first thought, quickly dismissed, quite simply because none of the likely participants would have been sober, followed with a fleeting notion for Christmas Day. The final choice of Boxing Day was decided upon because at that time there was nothing else really happening that day and this seemed as good a reason as any for the event to take place.
The idea was generally met with disbelief but there was enough of us mad enough to say we would do it and so the RNLI or “Lifeboat” as we refer to it in the Broch was the obvious choice for the proceeds which we thought may total a couple of hundred quid. The rest is history as they say but it all began with a bet and a pint of “pickled egg juice.
Now twenty five years later, in no small part due to Russell Buff who kept things going when enthusiasm waned as it inevitably does, “the swim” goes from strength to strength and many people have benefited from the cash that has been raised.
To record these thoughts without mention of absent friends would not be possible and I will mention three important names. David Davidson, “Gusher,” Generous, modest entertaining and reassuringly loyal. Sandy Main, Tootens, hugely entertaining, eccentric, fearless and bewilderingly full of surprises . Neil Sutherland, “Needle”, unassuming, old fashioned, laid back and reassuringly predictable and ultra dependable in always. Three of our band of brothers, all lost at sea, all so very different, all very normal but extraordinary in their own way. Memories of all three sometimes sad for their loss but often tempered with the laughter of happy times of which they all were a fundamental part.
How fitting it would be to give the twenty fifth anniversary swim proceeds to it’s original recipient “the lifeboat” and afterwards raise a glass to three sorely missed but fondly remembered “absent friends”
By Lawrence Fraser
For the 30th Swim the proceeds were split between the charities of the very first swim. Following the distribution of funds, many of the original committee members decided to step down. A huge thank you to those who for 30 years gave up their boxing day to help raise thousands for many different causes, it simply could not have happened without you.
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