Penguins Blog

Beard 365 - The BIG swim!!

March 28th, 2014 by Chris Stallwood

I have never swam so far in all my life, to be honest I didn't even think I could.  It is amazing what you can achieve with some training and a little bit of self-belief.

Two summers ago I took my two children Isabella (12) and Charlie (8) swimming and was appalled at their ability or rather inability, despite having been on a course every autumn half term since they were little, and resolved to get them up to a decent level.  So I booked them onto weekly lessons with Aquazone at the Magnet leisure centre in Maidenhead.

For the first few weeks I sat at the side and twiddled on my phone with all the other parents, watching them have their lessons, and then one day I thought what a waste of time this is, I could be in there getting fit and better still set an example. The next week that’s what I did, I took my trunks, we all got changed the kids went to their respective lessons and I started doing lengths.  Just 30 minutes, no more, no less, the rule was to see how many lengths I could fit in before the kids finished.
My first goal was 30 lengths, and I really struggled to do that, after every two lengths I was dying, and would spend more time resting than swimming.  By the end of the third term, I had really improved and I was aiming at 50 lengths in my 30 minute slot, sadly I did not make it but I was getting close.  I was massively inspired by this chap called Ian, I had got chatting to him once and found out he did a lot of marathon swims, in the river for miles. It didn’t seem to matter what time the kids lessons moved to, as they do each term, he was always there up, down, up, down, just non-stop, awesome really. He gave me some really useful tips to help improve my stamina.
Back in the autumn, when I started thinking about the challenges for ADCCT, 100 lengths in an hour seemed like a pretty steep mountain, despite the fact that I had reached my goal of 50 in half an hour.  I really had to push to do that and the thought of doubling the distance seemed really too much.

One lesson this term, I started swimming, and because I had got in late and was short of time I decided not to stop every 4 lengths for a breather and just carried on, up and down up and down, I was gob smacked at first, bosh 20 lengths just like that, I made myself stop, it was a real confidence boost, if I didn’t need to break every 4 lengths the 2500m seemed like a real possibility, the following week I swam 30 lengths back to back, It wasn’t that long ago just swimming 30 lengths was an achievement, and still felt great, I did it again and completed 60 lengths in 34 minutes, this was the week before the challenge, but wow, the 100 really was on.

My last training session I decided I was going for 80,’ I set the goal in my head, and completed it in  46 mins. Each 20 was taking me 11 minutes, definitely possible, as long as I don’t cramp up, I had managed the 80 well and still felt good so I was feeling confident about the 100 now.

On the Friday, the day of the challenge, the lovely ADCCT ladies had brought me a pop-up banner to put up at the end of the lane, and I checked in with Jes the Windsor Centre manager, and he put it up for me.  There was nobody to cheer me on, despite telling everybody at work and my wife had phoned and said she wasn’t going to make it, Jes started the stopwatch and I set off on my first 20, still no body, a 30 second break, and then into the second.
I had just started the second set and was getting really bored, when I noticed that someone had sat in the seats and was watching I realised that it was two people a woman and a child, Fiona Devine and her son.  Wow what a lift that was, I doubled my efforts I was so chuffed and so inspired and really remembered why I was doing this crazy thing.

At the end of the set I waved and said ‘hi’ but I couldn’t stop so was straight back into the third set. After the first couple of lengths I noticed one Amanda from work had arrived and again I felt a real lift at just the right moment. Again at the end of the set I waved and said ‘Hi’, and then carried on again.

And then right at the same point in the fourth set I looked up and my wife had made it.  I redoubled my efforts yet again, and then I was at the final set and still no cramp. I had a vague idea that I was on time but I could feel myself tiring and slowing down but I figured I had been consistent enough through out to make it as long as I didn’t cramp up.

The cramps in my legs came eventually and I have swam for quite a while with them before, being really careful not to put any pressure on them even just kicking off the sides on each turn. It really takes it out of the arms because they have to do all the work, but….it was length 99, I figured I’d make it.

I was shattered but the stopwatch read 57:29 by the time I had got the goggles off and worked out which was the right button to press. So 100 lengths/2500m and 57½ minutes of continuous swimming, February's challenge was complete!


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Our day at the Savoy

March 18th, 2014 by Amanda Turner

It was a surprisingly sunny afternoon in March for our FAM trip to the Savoy hotel. Having never been to the venue before I was looking forward to the visit with much anticipation to see how the infamous name lived up to it’s luxurious expectations…

As I’d hoped the Savoy is quite simply stunning in every way and exudes traditional British elegance. After a £220 million restoration project you’d expect it all to take your breath away, however I hadn’t quite imagined how spellbound it would leave you feeling once you’d left the hotel and jumped back into reality!

Each room has been reinstated to its original form, complete with beautifully designed furniture some of which had been there since the hotel’s inception in 1889! The two wings of the hotel have been themed completely differently to provide guests with the unique experience of stepping back in time. You have the option to take a trip to the decadent Edwardian era with lavish furnishings or delve into the roaring twenties with a sumptuous art deco feel, either way with the mattresses starting at a mere £4,000 you’ll be sure to sleep like royalty.

If the lavish surroundings aren’t enough to take your breath away the history of this magnificent venue certainly will! I couldn’t believe just how many significant events had taken place within the walls of the Savoy – Marilyn Monroe was pictured smoking for the first time, the UN formed in the Pinafore suite, the famous Manhattan cocktail was created in the American Bar, an attempted assassination in D'Oyly Carte room, Monet’s famous masterpiece of the Thames was painted there and many other historical landmarks, you can begin to see why this venue attracts a variety of customers.

For an awe inspiring venue like this it is probably every event organisers assumption that the Savoy is out of many of their budgets…however with rooms starting from as little as £275 and some surprising hire costs, this beautiful venue is in closer reach than you think!

To make an enquiry please get in touch 01753 833811 or


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1 man, 1 year, 12 challenges!!!

March 7th, 2014 by Chris Stallwood

Where it all began…

Back in 2006 a brave young lad called Alexander Devine sadly passed away after a four year fight with a brain tumor. Fiona and John his tireless parents had very little help and support during those difficult times and were wholly reliant on the limited resources of the local NHS Trust, which meant a nurse was required for as long as it took each morning to replenish Alexander’s drugs.

It was woefully apparent that there was nothing set up in Berkshire to help the families of terminally ill children to cope through these most horrible and stressful times so in 2007, in Alexander’s memory his loving parents devoted themselves to providing local care and support to families who find themselves in this sad situation.

For the last five years The Alexander Devine Charitable Trust has provided dedicated nurses to give assistance, advice and help to the many suffering families in East Berkshire and the surrounding counties. But their dream is to provide a place where respite care can be provided in a home away from home.

In 2013 the Trust was given a small piece of land on the edge Maidenhead and in October announced to a gathered media their intention to start building within a year a permanent four bed facility capable of giving the respite care so desperately needed.

Along with their patron Sir Michael Parkinson, many local people and companies have generously supported the Trust over the years, first raising enough for one nurse then a second, but the funds needed to build and staff the Hospice are in a different league altogether and the fund raising has to raise its game accordingly.

My story…

Since Penguins’ first involvement with the Alexander Devine charity back in 2008 I have always been moved by Fiona and John’s commitment to their cause and like many others have been inspired by their dream, though I am a little ashamed to say that I have done little to assist them achieve their goals.

Well that stopped in October 2013 with their pronouncement of the hospice build commencing in 2014, so I started thinking what can I do to help them in 2014 to raise the millions of pounds they need? And slowly a plan started to form… I shall grow a Beard!

For 365 days I am going to grow a beard, I will not trim and will only shave my neck (otherwise I may look like a tramp).  From the 1st January to the 31st December 2014, each Wednesday I will post its progress and even just 8 weeks in it is already getting quite impressive. But…

This is not all, each month I will be following The Beard on a different highly physical challenge which I fear will take me to the brink of exhaustion at times and the edge of fear at others. I fully expect to be a broken man by the end of the year; I am 47 this year you know! I will be posting, tweeting and blogging for you all to see how my adventures proceed and will hopefully produce a Go-Pro video after each event so you too can relive the pain and the joy.  I hope you will enjoy following my journey.

In order to keep your interest peaked I am not going to reveal all of the activities now, but I have based each one on a different discipline,  swimming, cycling, running, sailing, climbing, hiking, kayaking, etc. and with any luck there will be surprise waiting at the end of the year.

To whet your appetite, the first 3 challenges are;-

February – 2500m Swim in 1 hour

March – The 100km Surrey Hills Cyclone Ride

April – The 200km Devizes to Westminster Kayak


What I ask from you is your support, encouragement and whatever you can afford in the way of a charitable donation! You can sponsor me per event if you wish or just as and when you think I have really deserved it,  please be generous, share with your friends, whatever you can give will be greatly appreciated, after all I am putting myself through a considerable amount of pain/humiliation and what’s more it’s a really worthwhile charity…

Thank You very much for reading and hopefully your support!

You can follow me on my Facebook page, or twitter @beard_365,

or my blog at 

to sponsor me visit,

to find out more about the Alexander Devine Charitable trust visit the website

Yours truly,

The Beard


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