Kimberley Grant, co-author of the new book Wild Guide Scotland, shares her favourite places for wild swimming
The Scottish Highlands and Islands are home to some of the most magical and undisturbed wild swimming spots in Europe. Thanks to its heavy rainfall and beautifully diverse landscape, those who are willing to brave the cold temperatures can enjoy Scotland’s peaceful lochs, clean rivers with rushing falls and dark gorges and spectacular bays. Taking the plunge in the fresh waters up here can be an incredibly invigorating experience, and what better way to heat up after your adventure than with a dram by the campfire.
Finding your way
Each wild swim can be located using the latitude and longitude provided. This is given in decimal degrees and can be entered straight into any web-based mapping program, such as Google, Bing or Streetmap. Print out the map before you go or email a screengrab to yourself. You can also enter the coordinates into your GPS, car satnav or smartphone. Postcodes are also included in the directions where possible as these are often easier to enter into a device and have a specific point location. If you have paper maps, look up the equivalent national grid reference in the conversion table at the back of the book. Approximate walk-in times are given, for one way only (allowing 15mins per km).
Wild & responsible
- Fasten all gates, and if you must climb them, use the hinged side.
- Keep your dogs under close control, especially around livestock and in nature reserves.
- Keep to public paths unless you are on Access Land.
- Take your litter home, and gain good karma by collecting other people’s.
- If you wash in streams or rivers, use only biodegradable soap.
- Take special care on country roads and park considerately.
- Take map, compass, whistle and waterproof clothing when venturing into remote or high areas.
- Always tell someone where you are going, and do not rely on your mobile phone.
Top ten Scottish wild swims
1. Loch Beinn A’Mheadhoin, Glen Affric
This peaceful freshwater loch lies just east of Loch Affric and has numerous promontories and islands which make it an interesting place to swim. Surrounded by ancient Caledonian Pine, its small romantic beaches are dotted with ancient tree stumps which make great seats for sitting on whilst heating up by the campfire after a swim.
From Cannich on the A381 take the road signed Glen Affric past IV4 7NB. At about 8 miles, roughly a quarter of the way up the loch, there is a large layby. Head down the bank towards the island linked to the shore by a sandy beach with tree stumps. There is also easy access from a forestry car park further around half way up the loch.
5 mins, 57.2832, -4.9280
2. Easdale Slate Quarries
These magical old steep-sided slate quarries are now filled with Mediterranean-blue sea water, on the beautiful car-free island Easdale. The deep pools warm up well on a summer’s day and have fun spots for jumps.
Off A816 S of Oban, follow B844 to Seil and Easdale (PA34 4TB). From conservation village Ellenabeich, where free car park is signed at N end, cross to island by ferry and walk NW to quarries, 400m. The L-shaped pool is the usual swimming one. 20 mins, 56.2939, -5.6595
3. Isle of Erraid
Swim in clear turquoise sea between Mull and Erraid. The small island was featured in Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure story Kidnapped, in which the hero wrecked there did not realise that it is accessible at low tide by a sandy causeway. Privately owned, it is home to a small Findhorn community in the north, and has a beautiful cove on its south side.
Walk past Knockvologan farm down track 500m and walk or swim across to Erraid. Walk SW across island to secluded cove Tràigh Gheal.
60 mins, 56.2902, -6.3744
4. Loch Morar
Wildly beautiful 12-mile long loch surrounded by natural woodland and open hillside. The deepest loch in the British Isles and a great place to swim, fish or explore by small boat.
Turn L off the B8008 from Morar and park in one of the laybys between on the N shore and Bracara (PH40 4PE).
10 mins, 56.9718, -5.7900
Sheltered bay of bright white sand and clear turquoise water on the small and peaceful island of Vatersay. There are also great spots beneath the dunes for a summer barbeque or picnic.
Cross the causeway at the south of Barra onto the island and follow minor road S approx. 3 miles, dir HS9 5YU. There is informal parking on the grass to the L opp passing place and signed path to shipwreck monument.
5 mins, 56.9236, -7.5353
6. Camusdarach Beach, Morar
(see main image, top)
Also known as the ‘Silver Sands of Morar’, Camusdarach is one of Scotland’s most beautiful bays. Here you can swim in crystal-clear azure sea while enjoying panoramic views of the Rùm and Eigg and finish off your day watching the sunset from one of the rocky coves.
On the B8008 in Glenancross the beach car park is signed shortly N of the turning to PH40 4PN and on the opp side. Footpath to beach.
10 mins, 56.9575, -5.8427
7. River Roy, Glen Roy
This winding and crashing river which runs the entire length of Glen Roy often widens to create incredible plunge pools and deep bowls, perfect for swimming. Similar in character to the River Etive but much quieter and equally as accessible.
Continue up Glen Roy from the viewpoint for the Parallel Roads. There are numerous spots along the river, particularly by the bridge near the end of the public road, where there is space to pull off.
5 mins, 56.9776, -4.7511
8. Loch Coruisk, Skye
This magnificent, desolate loch is often described as the wildest in Britain. Swim in clear water surrounded by the towering, dark, craggy mountain walls of the Cuillins, it is truly one of the most majestic places on the islands. The walk involves the famous Bad Step, a scramble over sloping rock slabs not for the inexperienced, but there are half- and full-day boat trips.
From Elgol (IV49 9BJ) follow the coastal path 5 miles NW or take a trip on the Bella Jane (0800 7313089) or Misty Isle (01471 866288). One-way trips available if you prefer to walk back.
Boat 30 mins.
Walk 3-4 hrs. 57.1993, -6.1579
9. Bágh Bhatarsaigh, Loch Callater
Easily reached on a track but with a wild feel to it, Loch Callater is hemmed in on all sides by mountains. It has a comfortable bothy at its head and forms part of the ancient Jock’s Road, a drovers’ route across the mountains to Glen Clova. Loch Callater is particularly lovely in March, when the sun is out but there is still snow on the surrounding peaks.
Park at the large car park off the A93 opp Auchallater Farm (AB35 5XS). From the car
park follow the obvious track through the hills to the head of Loch Callater, ignoring any turns and forks along the way. It is possible – and recommended – to walk around the loch,although the inflow river at the far end of the loch may have to be waded.
50 mins, 56.9431, -3.3535
10. River Etive, Glen Etive
Superlative wild swimming spot, with easy access. Set in stunning Glen Etive, there are numerous spots within the long river canyon that are perfect for swimming. There are also high cliffs for jumping and warm rocks for lounging in the summer sun. Can get busy on hot days.
Turn off the A82 at the head of Glen Coe shortly W of PH49 4HY and follow single-track road down Glen Etive. Pools exist all along the river, and there are places to pull off. 1 min, 56.6218, -4.9151
Wild Guide Scotland: Hidden Places, Great Adventures & the Good Life by Kimberley Grant, Richard Gaston and David Cooper is published by Wild Things Publishing (£16.99). It documents over 250 wild swims and hidden beaches.
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