Bill Pickering

‘Big’ Bill Pickering was a noted vegetarian channel swimmer, who broke the world record for the England to France crossing in 1955 with a time of 14 hours and 6 minutes. In 1969, journal The British Vegetarian reported on another of his triumphs, the fastest ever crossing of the Bristol Channel.

Record breaker, report from Philip Keeler

Another chapter in the long history of athletic achievements by vegetarians has been written by the famous Channel swimmer Bill Pickering.

Not content with conquering the English Channel (England to France) in record time Bill has now set up another record in crossing the Bristol Channel, from Penarth (Glamorgan) to Weston-Super-Mare, in the magnificent time of 6 hours and 20 minutes.

It was the first crossing by any swimmer for forty years, and the fastest time ever, beating the previous time by 15 minutes.

Those who saw him step out of the sea at Weston-Super-Mare were amazed to see how fit and fresh he appeared, and the Daily Telegraph of August 8th presented a magnificent photograph of him wearing a broad grin, which seemed to show he was just entering the water instead of completing a gruelling six and a third hours battle against strong currents. Seamen familiar with the Bristol Channel know only too well how swift and fierce these currents can be.

Once again vegetarian athletes – few in number compared with the vast number of meat-eating athletes – have shown that they can more than hold their own. Bill is 48 years of age, teetotaller and non-smoker [The British Vegetarian Vol II, 1969]

Bill would complete the Bristol crossing again 2 years later and attempt a crossing of the Irish Sea at the age of 58, being thwarted only by bad weather. He counted among his famous friends the comedian Ken Dodd, who he taught to swim. Bill passed away in 2014 aged 93.