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Diary of a wandering swimmer – a weekend of clarity

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Kate Gillwood was born in Galashiels, Scotland, raised from three years old in Yorkshire, found herself in London for 30 years and eventually escaped back to Scotland. She was raised to swim in rivers (the Wharfe at Appletreewick, for example), open air pools (Otley) and the sea, so open water swimming is not new. She started taking part in organised events about 10 years ago, putting on a wetsuit for the first time for the Great Scottish Swim in 2011. Now living just a few minutes from Portobello beach, one of her favourite things is to start the day with a sneaky swim in her local waters. She also likes to explore new swimming spots and share what she finds. So, where did Kate swim today?


The Swim

A train journey for me is always part of any adventure, especially when wild swimming is involved. On this trip, I was treated to rich autumnal colours passing by the window, which ignited the anticipation for my swimming weekend ahead. Not only was I excited by the prospect of swimming somewhere new, I was looking forward to seeing some of the gang from my summer expedition again.

The trip was organised by Alice (SwimWild UK) and Sarah (Beyond the Water). One thing I love about these two is that there’s no messing about, no stopping to wonder if or why you might not but an attitude of just getting on with it. About 10 minutes after we had arrived at our accommodation and unpacked our bags we were changing for our first late afternoon swim.

“Clarity” was my word of the trip. Every swim we did (three a day, making eight in total over a long weekend) involved the joy of immersing our bodies in clear water and being able to see everything underneath. We swam over light muscovado rippled sand in the aqua-coloured water that carried a softer taste and feel to it than that from the Forth, where I usually swim. I’ve only recently come to the realisation that water can not only taste different but feel different in new places. This was sweeter, less salty and softer on my body.

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Our first swim was in a bay and, given that things are, shall we say cooling down a wee bit, I used the opportunity to hone my ‘getting five layers on post swim and my costume off in under 10 minutes routine’...ahead of my forthcoming polar bear challenge that I’ve signed up to this winter. (Watch this space…)

The next morning we set off with our packed lunches, courtesy of the inn where we were staying, and drove to a sea loch with a castle poised above on a rocky outcrop that was accessible by a short sandy, pebbly bank. It was a stunningly clear, sunny day and the water was like glass. We took the path to the small rocky bay overlooked by the castle and swam in much greener but still clear water. It was colder too. We were aware that the currents here could be stronger as the tide went out, pulling past the rocks, and we laughed at the force of the water, it was like swimming in an endless pool but way nicer. Interestingly, minutes after we got out the water completely changed: no longer flat but choppy and moving much quicker. I’m an experienced swimmer and I’m always very careful but this was a great example of the benefits of knowing about the local water conditions.

The weekend was about exploring a special peninsula, swimming some of the bays and revelling in the beauty of nature alongside enjoying the camaraderie of our weekend group. I became a child again (I realise this is a bit of a theme in some of my swimming), temporarily threw my cares away and marvelled at being...here.

For the second time in a year of love-filled sadness, grief and some stress, I came away from a swimming adventure feeling rejuvenated.


The Location

I was on a weekend swimming adventure with SwimWild based at the Glenuig Inn on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. See swimwilduk.com/adventures/west-coast-weekend

It was fantastic to discover some of the hidden coves in a very safe environment being looked after by Alice and Sarah. Be prepared for chilly waters and bring enough gear to warm up after you get out. You will be collected from Fort William train station on the Friday afternoon and dropped back there Monday, late morning. To get there, I recommend the train from Glasgow, well worth the experience.

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Read about Kate's other swims


Tell me where to swim next!

If you have any suggestions of places I could swim email me on k.gillwood4@gmail.com or find me on Instagram @kategillwood4

Cover Dec19

Issue 33 December 2019

  • Ice Cold & Free - winter swimming
  • Time Travel - mudlarking
  • Skill Sets - open water skills in the pool
  • Winter Sun - top five swim destinations
  • Million Dollar Mermaid - Annette Kellerman

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