Wild Swimming in Scotland

18 Aug

This is me last weekend, walking through a waterfall on the Isle of Eigg.

Yes I know it looks like a tropical rainforest but it was Scotland – it was freezing. I had to concentrate so hard on not slipping on the rocks while being pummelled from above that there was no room for hesitation. Yes I screamed and yes it was brilliant.

There’s something wonderfully freeing about braving the cold and being part of the landscape from the inside. You could perhaps achieve a similar effect if you buried yourself in the earth but without the freedom of movement. And you’d get dirty. Water is definitely the way to go, even if you don’t feel like it.

On the waterfall day, I’d made up my mind not to go swimming. I didn’t want to get changed. The sun had gone in. My tummy hurt. I don’t like swimming costumes. I’d swam in the sea the day before and a lock the day before that – I’d done enough. Then I heard it, whoops and screams as others disappeared behind the rocks.

And I realised: Here’s your chance to walk through a waterfall on the Isle of Eigg. Why are you sitting on a rock making excuses, only you are missing out on life.

So I went in. My friend Tania guided me through it. I’m so glad I did. If you need a little more convincing here are my top five wild swimming in Scotland experiences. They are by no means the best places to swim, just my favourites.

5) The Singing Sands, Eigg August 2012

The are no weeds in the water and an amazing view to Rum. The beach was deserted. The sand sings, well – more like squeaks. The grain size is so small that it makes high-pitched noises when you scuff it with your foot. As we left the beach we saw a golden eagle soaring above, freedom!

4) Gullane, East Lothian July 2012

The picture captures it so well (thanks Ben). I swam though the sunshine as it set. No one came with me. No one made me do it. I swam in shorts and a pyjama top, it seemed a good idea at the time since I needed to wash the top anyway. A dog ran along the beach and stopped confused, looking out at me. “It’s okay” said the owner. “She doesn’t need rescuing”. I loved Gullane because it reminded me we can do something scary alone and then really enjoy it. Plus by the time I got out and changed the food my friends were cooking on the barbecue was ready – perfect timing.

3) The Pier, Tanera Mor August 2011

Jumping off and plunging in to the freezing cold water was just like jumping into the deep end of the swimming pool when we were kids – loads of fun!  Read more about my visit to Tanera Mor here.

2) Loch Nam Bam Mora (The Loch of the Big Women) Eigg August 2012

This was my first swim in a loch. Legend has it an army of warrior women drowned here in the first century AD. I couldn’t help thinking a bony hand might grab my ankle as I squelched through the mud into the loch. The warriors were led into the lock by little lights that hovered over St Donnan’s grave and then moved all the way across the heather into the loch. A few days before the drowning, the women had murdered St Donnan and his monks by beheading them one by one. They have found several headless corpses buried on the island so at least half this story is true. At one point I’m sure I felt a whole head of human hair brush my foot. But I figured I was on the Monks side so I had nothing to fear. And the water felt soft, and we were surrounded by mountains and heather. After leaving the loch the midges flocked in. I was trying to get changed discreetly behind a sarong but this was rather difficult while being bitten alive. But that bit in the middle of the lock, swimming through the soft water, that bit was wonderful.

1) Waterfall, Singing Sands Eigg 2012

This has to be my number 1 because it reminded me to stop making excuses and start living.

-1) Loony Dook, South Queensferry 2011

Not all wild swimming in Scotland is brilliant so I’ve added a minus 1. I jumped in the sea on new years day to try to get people to take up green new years resolutions. Don’t listen to the video, I was clearly delirious and in shock. I had a headache for 3 days. I’ll never do that swim again and don’t recommend you do either.

Find out more about wild swimming in Scotland on the Outdoor Swimming Society website. It was founded by Kate Rew, here she is swimming in the fairy pools on the Isle of Skye.

I was visiting Eigg as part of a Speygrain Creative Connections Course. These courses brings together artists, writers, scientists and educators to share ideas, food, music and outdoor learning. More photos on the Speygrian Facebook page and find out more on the Speygrian website.

Image credit: 5,3a, 3b & 1 (the waterfall) Tania Noble. 4 Ben Barber. 2a Emily Dodd 2b Leeoni.


Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Events, nature


Tags: , , , , ,

12 responses to “Wild Swimming in Scotland

  1. Marianne

    August 18, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Wow – so many stories behind the photos. And what photos – Bond Girl, Selkie, mermaid and gravity-defying stunts. You make it all look so….warm!

    • auntyemily

      August 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm

      Thanks Marianne. It was anything but warm… (;

  2. Kate

    August 20, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    I want to do that, too!!

    • auntyemily

      August 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      Thanks Kate, are you by any chance Kate Rew? (:

  3. _beltie

    August 21, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Yes making yourself part of the landscape is a profound experience – the cold is all part of it somehow. Locally in SW Scotland we have so so many opportunities for wild swimming: I like burns best for the clean peat water, then the sea. Swimming into a waterfall wearing goggles is surreal: Thousands of tiny dynamic orange circles (bubbles) coming at me out of the blackness of the deep water. One of my top experiences ever!

    Keep swimming!

    • auntyemily

      August 21, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. Now I want to swim in a burn and don a pair of goggle for a waterfall – it sounds amazing (:

  4. wildswimmers

    March 10, 2015 at 10:43 pm

    Great post, especially the bit about making excuses not to go in – if only more people would try cold water swimming!!! Well done for going for it – come and swim with us on the West Coast next time you find yourself over this way….!

    • auntyemily

      March 10, 2015 at 10:44 pm

      Thanks! Just found your awesome blog and am now following. Thanks for the invite too (:


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