21 Miles

Jessica Hepburn Channel SwimmerJessica Hepburn is a SwimQuest veteran and author of 21 Miles: Swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood
(out 3rd May from Unbound, £14.99). In this blog she tells us a little bit about her first SwimQuest experience, and how her 21 miles began. 

The first time I spoke to John from SwimQuest the conversation went something like this:

‘Hi, is that John?’


‘I found your details on the internet. I was wondering whether you might be able to help me?’

‘I’ll try,’ he says gamely. His voice is positively plummy.

I take a moment before speaking.
‘I think I want to swim the English Channel . . .’
‘Do you?’ he says. ‘What makes you think that?’

‘It’s a childhood dream,’ I say and then add: ‘Turned mid- life crisis.’

He breaks into a chuckle. ‘If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?’ he says.

‘And are you a swimmer?’
‘Well, I can swim. I wouldn’t call myself swimmer’

‘Did you swim competitively as a child? For your county or a club?’


‘Have you ever done any open-water swimming before?’


‘Well, how many times a week do you swim?’

I pause, wondering whether this is the sort of moment that justifies a fib…

It was a conversation that was to change my life and has become the inspiration for my new book: 21 Miles which is published this week on 3 May.

My dream to swim the English Channel had come out of a lot of sadness – eleven rounds of unsuccessful IVF, multiple miscarriages and a pregnancy which almost proved fatal. After a decade of ‘Project Baby’ I needed to do something different, something BIG. And one of the best things about that first conversation with John was that I learnt if you want to be an ‘official’ Channel Swimmer you can’t wear a wetsuit so the best way to keep out the cold is a bit of human padding. I.e it’s a licence to eat!

This information then led to another idea: what if I were to write to a collection of inspiring women and ask it they would meet and eat with me to help me get fat to swim the Channel and at the same time answer the question does motherhood make you happy? It might help me decide what to do next.

Jessica Hepburn and Freda Streeter in DoverThe response was overwhelming. From baronesses to professors; award-winners to record-breakers; household names to people who have done something quietly amazing. Incredible women from different walks of life – some mothers, some not – each with compelling truths to tell about female fulfillment and the meaning of motherhood.

SwimQuest was instrumental in the journey I undertook from England to France. But that first conversation with John ended something like this:

I don’t quite know what to say next. I’m starting to think this wasn’t the right big idea after all. I half-heartedly enquire about the training camps John organises for aspiring Channel swimmers, which were the reason for my call. He tells me that he’s running one in a couple of months for people who are doing their six-hour qualifier. I tentatively ask what this means, dreading the answer, and he tells me you need to be certified as having swum six hours in water below sixteen degrees Celsius before you can attempt the Channel.

‘You mean you can’t just go down to the south coast on a nice day and start splashing?’

He laughs. ‘Why don’t you come along and see how you get on?’

‘OK, I’ll have a think about it,’ I say. ‘It sounds good.’

I’m just saying that. It doesn’t sound good. It sounds hard. I put down the phone feeling slightly sick but then do what I can to rally myself. I’ve been on a six-hour walk. Surely swimming for six hours is just the same thing, but horizontal. How hard can it be?

I was about to find out!

Thank you Jessica! We are proud to have been a part of your Channel journey and can’t wait to read your new book. 21 Miles is out 3rd May 2018 and available from Unbound for £14.99). Find out more about Jessica’s journey here:


If like Jessica you are intrigued by the Channel or keen to find out if long distance swimming is for you, we are now taking bookings for our 2019 Channel and Distance weeks in Croatia. Click here to find out more and book, or feel free to give John a call!

If you’d like to return to the blog homepage, click here

At SwimQuest we’re proud to embrace all forms of open water swimming. Whether you have just discovered the joy of dipping in for the first time, or are training for a huge challenge, we’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to blog for us, please email with your idea.

More inspirational posts, pictures, swimming advice and adventures to follow via our BlogFacebookTwitter and Instagram. Don’t forget to sign up to our e-newsletter at the bottom of this page to ensure you never miss a post.