by Anne Reid, Edinburgh based Blue Badge Guide
Most of us who have braved the sea, lochs or rivers on childhood holidays in Scotland actually just call it Swimming (!) but so-called wild swimming has never been more popular. It seems every few days there is a newspaper article expounding the benefits, or we see friends’ Facebook and Instagram posts showing them enthusiastically taking it up. In June 2020, finding myself with no work, and getting rather bored of walking and running, I agreed to meet a friend for a wild swim down at Portobello, Edinburgh’s seaside. We instantly got hooked and made a pact to keep going once a week throughout the year, no wetsuits! The shock of the cold water literally takes your breath away, and we have done it in all weathers and throughout the Scottish winter; but after each weekly swim we feel euphoric, refreshed
and energised and can’t wait till the following week.
The growing popularity in wild swimming means a lot has been written about the topic and the health benefits it can bring. I have read quite a lot on the subject and there are many incredible accounts of how it can help people suffering with chronic pain, illness, depression, or indeed those dealing with grief. The gist of it seems to be that if your body accepts it can
deal with cold-water shock on a regular basis, it then adapts to dealing better with other challenges. Of course, it’s also regular exercise, involves social contact, being outdoors and enjoying nature, all of which are positive things for health and well-being.
For visitors to Edinburgh and Scotland in general, having a dip in open water during your trip is definitely a fun and memorable thing to do. We are blessed with a beachfront in Edinburgh (Portobello) where the sea tends to be relatively calm, and the coastline east of Edinburgh (East Lothian) boasts some stunning beaches. Within less than an hour from central Edinburgh you can also find many reservoirs and not much further afield are lochs in beautiful scenery, rivers with great pools for swimming, and even waterfalls. Safety is paramount when taking to the water in Scotland (or indeed anywhere); do your research before you go to ensure your chosen spot has no obvious risks or is prone to strong currents, check tides and the weather forecast. Be aware where you are not allowed to swim, e.g. swimming is forbidden in the lochs in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park, or often in nature reserves. Always swim with a friend, don’t push yourself to stay in too long, and take the cold temperature seriously; bring lots of layers for afterwards, a warm hat and a flask of something hot to drink. The sea is at its’ coldest in March and early April (as cold as 5°C
/41°F) and warmest in August and September (up to 14°C/57°F). There is a wealth of information online and several, very welcoming Wild Swimming groups on Facebook. Whenever I go to a new swimming spot I check our Facebook group page for information to make sure we are safe and respecting the rules. I was interested recently to see a keen wild
swimmer from the US asking for help from the “Wild Ones” (the biggest Edinburgh focussed outdoor swimming Facebook group) to help plan his family holiday in Scotland, based entirely around scenic swimming spots!
A favourite memory from our 9 months and counting of weekly wild swims was when we headed to the Trossachs on a beautiful sunny day (around 90 minutes from Edinburgh) for a swim in Loch Lubnaig – a stunning freshwater loch nestled between two mountains – the Trossachs is famous for such scenery. We were enjoying our swim and chat in our usual
leisurely way, when a camper van stopped and 4 young English guys, on a road trip in Scotland, got out to admire the views. They asked us a few questions then spontaneously made the decision they would have a go. (We were pretty pleased with ourselves that us two middle-aged ladies had inspired the group of lads to try wild swimming for the first time!) It
was great fun to watch as they worked up the courage to go for it with their first proper loch swim and they clearly loved the experience. Who knows, maybe that was their best memory from their whole Scotland trip.
My swimming partner and I are looking forward to the easing of lockdown restrictions so we can venture further afield again to some new locations. In June, we should hopefully be able to celebrate a full year of weekly wild swimming with family and friends, a fun gathering on the beach and maybe something stronger than hot chocolate!
Some Scottish Wild Swimming related vocabulary:
Loony Dook – a “mad swim”, often an organised community swim taking place on eg New Years Day
Chittery bite – a chocolate or sweet snack for after swimming, to stop your teeth chattering
Blowing a Hoolie – very windy (make sure your clothes or towel don’t blow away!)
Dookers – swimsuit/swimming trunks
Kenneth Steele says
A great read. We called it a “shivery bite”.
Jean Steele says
What a fabulous achievement and a great story! Really enjoyed the advice and the range of places around Edinburgh to wild swim!
I love taking to the Scottish water and have been brought up swimming in rivers and seas. I’ll look forward to exploring more of Scotland’s wild swimming spots.