River Wyre swimmer says Nicola Bulley did not go in water

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Wild swimmer enters the River Wyre in 2021

A wild swimmer who has swum and stood waist deep in the river close to where Nicola Bulley disappeared says he doesn’t think she went into the water. Mark Astin, a photographer and swimmer, said the stretch of the River Wyre around St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancs, is a “nice place to swim”. Mr Astin, who posted a video on YouTube of his swim on the waterway said the river was “calm” but in places was “trickier” to get out on the banks. Mother-of-two Nicola Bulley, 45, has not been seen since Friday January 27 when she vanished taking her dog Willow for a walk by the river.

Lancashire Police have been working on the theory Ms Bulley may have fallen into the Wyre and meticulous dive searches have been carried out along a 12-mile stretch to the coast at Fleetwood. Mr Astin swam in the river in June 2021 and recounted his day out on the river in a YouTube video entitled “River Wyre, St Michaels Wild Swimming”.

A map posted online by Mr Astin shows he walks an almost identical route to Ms Bulley on the day she went missing and he even passes the bench where her phone was later found.  Mr Astin goes into the water by a “sandy bay” on the river just upstream from where the River Brock flows into it, the sandy area looks remarkably similar to a beach shown in photographs of Ms Bulley with her dog Willow. 

He said: “When we went last, the water was so calm. In the middle of the summer it was really quite warm day, the water temp was quite warm, and it was shallow. Some parts of the way will be a bit more tricky to get in and out.

“It’s a really quiet place to go open water swimming, a lovely place to visit in the summertime as you can see from photos I took. I don’t know what happened to Nicola, but I don’t think she fell into the river. I hope they find her soon. It’s a shame what’s happened there.”

In the video Mr Astin describes a “nice little beach” where he went open-water swimming. The video is taken in the summer but the water levels appear very low, especially around the bridge in St Michael’s where yellow ribbons have now been tied for Ms Bulley.

When Mr Astin reaches the area he calls a “sandy bay”, just up from where the Brock enters the Wyre, the beach looks very similar to one seen in pictures posted by Ms Bulley of her with cocker spaniel Willow with a tennis ball.

After Mr Astin enters the water the banks around him do appear steep and have what look like some old stone works built into them. The current appears very still in the footage and dragonflies buzz past the surface.

At one point in the video the shallowness of the river is demonstrated as Mr Astin is able to stand up with the water only reaching his waist.

On Monday, well-wishers continued to leave hand-written “messages of hope” that the 45-year-old mortgage adviser will be found unharmed in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, where she vanished on January 27 while walking her dog.

Ms Bulley’s distraught family appealed to forensic dive expert Peter Faulding, from Specialist Group International (SGI), to assist the detectives with their investigation. Mr Faulding and his team used world-leading sonar to scour the river but have since called off their marine search, which they carried out for free, after finding no trace of Ms Bulley.

He told he had now discussed possible “deposition sites” with Ms Bulley’s family and friends, and with her partner Paul Ansell and friend Heather.

He said: “I’m talking to the family and obviously have vast experience finding buried bodies. We’ve got to consider all options here, there has been that report of suspicious people hanging around.

“I was frank with Paul and Heather the other day because we need to consider possible deposition sites, we don’t know. I’m not saying the police aren’t doing that and what I don’t want to do is interfere with the police operation. Mine (investigation) will be low key, I will just be looking around for possible deposition sites.”

Lancashire Constabulary believe Ms Bulley fell into the river Wyre “in a 10-minute window” while walking her springer spaniel Willow on her usual morning walk after dropping her daughters – Harriet and Sophia – at school.

Ms Bulley had logged into a Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am, which ended at 9.30am with her phone still connected to the call. She was seen by another dog walker at 9.10am – the last known sighting – and police traced telephony records of her mobile phone as it remained on a bench overlooking the river at 9.20am.

The device was found by a dog walker at around 9.35am, with Willow nearby. The force says it does not think she came to any harm.

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