Janis shares her top tips for wild swimming in Scotland
When did you start wild swimming?
I have been swimming outdoors long before ‘wild swimming’ became a ‘thing’! It really took hold when our children were very small (in the late 1980’s). We have always loved Argyll and we started taking trips and holidays there regularly, first camping in beautiful locations and then graduating to cottages and houses usually in quite remote locations. These trips continue after 30 years allowing us to swim in beautiful coastal waters, the sea and sea-lochs and occasionally fresh water lochs. I have kept this up making walking trips with friends and family to the Hebrides and Argyll and seeking out swimming opportunities. I top this up with 2 or 3 swims a week in an outdoor pool which luckily has allowed me to swim throughout the winter rain, hail, snow and when we are lucky sunshine of course. Through a swimming coach, I have recently joined a wild swimming Facebook group and hope to join in some of their regular events bringing a more social dimension to my swimming.
Why do you love wild swimming?
Sounds like a contradiction but there is something both exhilarating and calming about swimming outdoors. For me it is a liberating activity. It can be a challenge to edge yourself into very cold Scottish waters. Sometimes the screaming at the shock of the temperature has brought a curious seal up to see what the fuss is about.
Swimming outdoors in Scotland can take you to some truly beautiful locations seeing the land from the water gives you a different perspective often allowing you to feel part of the landscape.
Every cell in your body feels awake after a cold Scottish swim! I’m not however averse to a Mediterranean or any other warmer dip.
Where are you favourite spots in Scotland to swim?
There are many: my earliest favorites would be Port Baan in Argyll in the Sound of Jura and Ardpatrick Point in West Loch Tarbert. I have travelled to Jura just for the day and managed to swim off the south of the island. For a Caribbean-like quality you can’t beat the Isle of Gigha where you find azure blue water and brilliant white sands, clear water and friendly seals. Loch Craignish and Loch Caolisport are also lovely.
Do you see any parallels between your yoga practice and swimming?
Both help to bring a tranquility to your mind I find. Both help you to be ‘in the moment’ and forget the noise of a busy mind. I think swimming and yoga both leave you with that satisfying sensation that your muscles have been ‘used’ – in a good way! I find you don’t have to be an expert to gain benefit from either yoga and swimming and with both there is plenty scope for development & improvement whether in technique or endurance.
What advice would you give anyone thinking about trying wild swimming for the first time?
First and foremost don’t swim alone! If I am the only one on a beach in Scotland and I’m not swimming in company, my husband will come along to watch out for me on the shore.
Choose a clearly safe spot considering how you will access and get out of the water. Lochs can become very deep very quickly so better to choose a gentle shelving location. Sea water provides more buoyancy and so could be a good starting point.
Consider swimming with an organized group where you will find there are safety protocols. Regular swimmers use tow-floats (inflatable brightly coloured buoys which make you visible to others, boats etc whilst in the water). Consider a bright coloured swim cap and, depending on your style think about goggles. Wetsuits and fancy gear can come later.
Know your limitations and don’t stray too far from shore or stay in very cold water for long periods – build up to distance gradually
Go for it – find a friend and go to a location where there are people around…….Balmaha, an East Coast beach or take the ferry to Gigha and swim in the little bay just at the pier. Enjoy!