Bog Snorkeling Race for Glory in Wales

The spectators root for the competitor in the bog (Photos by Peter Barnett)
The spectators root for the competitor in the bog (All photos by Peter Barnett)

Bog Snorkeling – A Wacky Sport Event in Llanwrtyd Wells

By Chin Liang Teh
GoNOMAD Senior Writer

The rolling green hills undulate in a wave pattern. Rustic wooden fences cut across the bucolic countryside. In the distance, a grove of trees stands clustered against a blue sky.

Bob Greenough from Green Events
Bob Greenough from Green Events

This charming town in Wales, Llanwrtyd Wells, with its picturesque landscapes and quaint architecture, is usually sleepy and laid-back.  But on a sunny day in August, when a large crowd throngs the town, the serenity gives way to cheers and laughter buzzing everywhere.

Large tents are spread across the grassland, and people congregate around a peat bog dressed in quirky costumes such as sharks, Santa Claus, and superheroes.

A head bobs in and out in the bog as a snorkel tube emerges from the murky water, trailed by a whirl of foamy waves.

This is one of the peculiar athletic events Llanwrtyd Wells is famous for the World Bog Snorkeling Championship.

Fun Challenge for Everyone

Pretty much like what it sounds, bog snorkeling is not for everyone, especially if the idea of murky bog water is a turn-off for you.

“Certainly not for me! I wouldn’t stay afloat for two seconds,” Bob laughs. “Negative buoyancy, you see. But it’s an amazing sporting event nonetheless.”

Bob Greenough, who works for Green Events, has been on the committee organizing the Bog Snorkelling Championship since 2007.

The first snorkeling competition was held in 1986. The year before, a group of locals met at the Neuadd Arms Hotel to brainstorm ideas for events to bring more visitors to the area.

The Idea Came after a few Pints

“Before Bog Snorkeling came along,” Bob says, “there was only a racing event called Man vs. Horse in this town.”

“People wanted something different from a running event. A few beers into the conversation, it seems the idea of a swimming event was brought up,” Bob adds.

The problem was that Llanwrtyd Wells had neither a nearby sea nor a swimming pool. There was a river, but it was not viable—either too shallow in dry weather or too rapidly flowing after heavy rainfall.

Just as the idea was about to be dismissed, someone shouted from the back, “I’ve got a bog in my garden you could swim in!”

A few rounds of drinks later, the idea began to take shape. Somehow, more people preferred snorkeling over swimming.

A trench was carved into a peat bog to create a competition course. Following excavation and careful measurement, the path was defined as two consecutive sections, each 60 yards long.

Two competitors dressed up as Barbie and Ken
Two competitors dressed up as Barbie and Ken

A Quirky Variety of Costumes

The competition is divided into male and female categories, with sub-groups for over-50s, internationals, and juniors. A category is also dedicated to the most outstanding costume.

On the day of the competition, participants in dazzling costumes gather at the bog’s edge. This is not a typical Halloween party. Their challenge? To take a plunge of faith down the bog, likely ruining their costumes. Competitors in costume are only required to complete one length of the bog.

“Last year, there was a couple dressed as Barbie and Ken, inspired by the Barbie movie, with them enclosed in cardboard boxes,” Bob laughs. “Needless to say, the boxes did not survive the water very well!”

“A few years ago, two young ladies were dressed as a pantomime horse, with one at the front and the other at the back. They were trying to figure out how the person playing on the hind legs of the pantomime horse managed to breathe.” Bob adds. “It was a sight that could have come straight out of a sitcom, but it also shows how people work as a team.”

Bog Snorkeling is a wacky and fun family event
Bog Snorkeling is a wacky and fun family event

No Swimming Strokes are Allowed

Like every competition, the World Bogsnorkelling Championship has its own set of rules: A snorkel is a must, along with a mask and goggles. No swimming strokes are allowed. Keep your head in the water. Fins are recommended for propulsion.

And … try your best not to drink the water.

Snorkel Your Way through the Bog

Competitors must submerge their faces and breathe through their snorkel tubes.

“The only arm movement allowed is the doggy paddle. Most participants will snorkel with their arms by their sides or their hands clasped and held straight ahead,” Bob explains.

The competitor who completes the 120 yards fastest is crowned the winner. Typically, those with good balance and leg strength perform the best and are the fastest.

“Interestingly, females often come out as the fastest snorkelers,” Bob points out.

Neil Rutter has consistently dominated the World Bog Snorkeling Championships for the past few years. He has often broken his records, pushing the limits from 1 minute 22 seconds to 1 minute 12.34 seconds. Now, he is retiring from the game.

Neil Rutter consistently sets new records in bog snorkeling
Neil Rutter consistently sets new records in bog snorkeling

Training for the Competition can be Tricky

Training before the competition can be tricky. Unlike regular snorkeling, you can’t just practice anywhere; you need access to a bog to replicate the conditions.

“What one needs to master is breathing through the tube. Some have even been seen riding bikes while wearing snorkels,” Bob explains.

Before entering the bog, anyone with cuts is advised to visit the first-aid station for guidance and possibly even a plaster. After snorkeling, you can quickly dip in the nearby river to clean up.

The event attracts participants from all over the world
The event attracts participants from all over the world

Bog Snorkeling Helps with Pollination

Here is a fun fact: in the bog, various wildlife share the space with competitors: newts, frogs, toads, water scorpions, etc. Snorkeling helps nature by accelerating plant pollination. Snorkeling in water can stir up plant pollen. This dispersed pollen can then aid in fertilization. Also, the event is recognized by the Guinness Book of Records.

Live music, refreshments, and an on-site bar are available for those waiting to participate or recovering from the race.

“The spirit of camaraderie, with strangers supporting each other, is what I love most about the event,” Bob says.

“Watching the competition is free, but there’s a parking fee if you come by car. A free mini-bus service to and from town is available. It’s fun for kids to see adults act in funny ways,” Bob mentions. 

Chapel World Bog Snorkelling Championships

The event is now named the Chapel World Bog Snorkelling Championships, sponsored by Chapel, a music technology company.

The ‘Chapel Bogathlon’ is held the day before the Bog Snorkeling event. It involves a 60-yard swim (not snorkeling), a two-mile cross-country bike ride, and a one-mile cross-country run, including crossing a water-filled ditch.

Fun costume at the competition
Fun costume at the competition

Historic Spa Town

Llanwrtyd Wells isn’t just about the Bog Snorkeling event; it’s also home to picturesque countryside that welcomes visitors for a chance to reconnect with nature and unwind. The town sprung up around the mid-1700s after the discovery of various spas. The primary industries are sheep farming and forestry.

In the 19th century, the town began attracting tourists who came for the spa. The construction of a railway line in the late 1800s further increased the number of visitors seeking the healing properties of its waters.

“While there are no longer operational spas in the town itself, there are remnants of the spa buildings, and the town’s history as a spa destination is still evident,” Bob explains.

Bob moved to Llanwrtyd Wells in 2007 with his wife.

“Having lived in and around London for the last 35 years,” Bob says, ‘I realized that I needed to find a quiet place to settle down. I also knew I needed something to keep me occupied, and that’s when I found a group called Green Events. They organize various events in town to attract visitors.”

Like many towns in the UK, Llanwrtyd Wells is small but packs a punch with three lively pubs. Within an eight-mile drive, you’ll find both the scenic Llyn Brianne reservoir and the Devil’s Staircase, an arduous hiking trail. The surrounding area is a haven of natural beauty, perfect for exploring on foot.

A contestant snorkels his way through the bog
A contestant snorkels his way through the bog

Give Bog Snorkeling a Try

“A few people said it was quite an experience,” Bob says. “While they were glad they did it, it’s not something they’d repeat. Yet, there are quite a few who return year after year.”

“Nobody here will judge your performance or criticize you in any way. It’s all about having fun and laughing with each other as we try our best.” Bob concludes. “Plus, you stand a chance to become a pukka ‘World Champion.”

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2 thoughts on “Bog Snorkeling Race for Glory in Wales

  1. Bog Snorkeling?? Now that’s something I have never heard of. Sounds like fun. This article by Chin Liang was very interesting and a fun read. Very well done Chin. When ever I see it’s written by you I know it will be good. I don’t know how you do it…but thanks and keep up the good work.

  2. As someone who lives in Wales I have heard about the bog snorkeling event but I have never been to see it. Chin Liang Teh’s entertaining and evocative article has inspired me. I am looking at the dates and thinking about going.

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