Nigel Downing


Nigel Downing and Bernard Tarifa

If Peppard News had an Old Achievers’ column, Nigel Downing would certainly feature in it! At 64 he is the oldest Briton to complete the 18.7 kilometre swim across the Gibraltar Strait. He did it in 4hrs 37 mins enjoying the dolphins but not the 270M container ship crossing his path.

Inspired by his daughter, who lives in Spain, Nigel spent time there acclimatising and training before undertaking this amazing feat, which she was able to arrange with the Spanish authorities. Five years ago, when swimming from Henley to Windsor, people queried which charity he was swimming for. Subsequently he found a charity which suited his fascination with aircraft called MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) supporting poor, isolated communities and missions around the world, flying in medical aid and supplies and even helping in war evacuation.

Nigel came to the UK from South Africa as a nine year old. His natural ability was encouraged at his school, Stowe, but he disliked the cold lake and has an aversion to swimming in cold water. Despite this, he participated as pace swimmer in the Bridge-to-Bridge swim and completed the dawn Henley Classic along the Regatta course. He’s undertaken triathlons where he has an advantage as the weakest discipline for most triathletes is swimming. Further afield he has swum in Cornish events and the Padstow to Rock swim is where he took our Young Achiever, Henry Bell, under his wing. However, the English Channel holds no attraction for him because, unlike the Gibraltar Strait, wetsuits are not allowed. Nigel explained that technique is more important than strength and, to this end, he continues to receive coaching. He is competitive but his main foe is cold water.

Nigel has a Wallingford based business training company and enjoys his work. He is able to swim during the week and attributes his good health to swimming in the Thames for ten years. Ultimately he aims to swim to whole length of the river – in chunks.

Retirement gives him the flexibility to indulge his triathlete sports. Accompanied by his daughter, he recently cycled one of the Tour de France stages; three separate routes to the summit of Mont Ventoux in one day.

Nigel is also a keen skier and a house in Switzerland affords the family the chance to ski each winter. Here his ambition is to complete the famous Chamonix to Zermatt ski trek in 2016. Perhaps we’ll feature our ‘Older Achiever’ again when he has completed this.

If you would like to give a donation to Nigel’s favoured charity then see and see Nigel’s blog ( for more detail of his swim.

Rita Hadgkiss