Diary of a wandering swimmer – less skipping and more colour

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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.


The swim

I have to say, for my first post-lockdown, travel-more-than-5-miles, different-beach, blog-possibility swim, I have found this very challenging to write. I cannot genuinely ignore the world and skip about the page, not just yet. When we lose someone, the world shifts on its axis, the grief comes in waves. This pandemic experience for many has left that constant, ever present sense of grief and sometimes fear. The world has not just shifted on its axis but turned on its head. In the sentiment of black civil rights activist Angela Davis, I am using swimming more than ever to try to find some respite to accept the things I cannot change and to give me the strength to change the things I can.

This swim left me with colours: the silver of the sands, the green of the seaweed on the sea bed and the blue of the jellies. I appreciate I lack photography skills demonstrated by the fact that I didn’t manage to capture a blue jelly nor, to be fair, the silver of the sands. Also, I like to refer to jellyfish as jellies as: a) they aren’t fish and b) it makes me think more of jelly babies and less of stingy things! There were quite a few blue and clear ones wafting past us as we slowly cut our way through the calm clear water.

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Even though many of us swim throughout the year there is always a sense of relief when you can swim with warm sun on your back, especially for me on this swim as it was my first journey further out for a swim post lockdown easing. Here there were children paddling at the water’s edge with ice creams, people on their SUPs and other swimmers. There are also lifeguards on this beach. This cove is a perfect size for training, technique work or dipping, whatever takes your fancy. This is definitely a family swim spot but that does not take away from my desire to visit again and it does not stop the ever growing popularity of swimming.

As it is almost directly opposite my home beach (swimmable apparently and yes, I have fantasised about it) and you are enclosed by the cove rocks, you can no longer see the apocalyptic looking rigs off the shore, slightly further north. It is flanked by the small, picturesque town. Even the railway station has won awards for its beauty and apparently hosted a camping coach in the 30s, with the harbour at the centre where the Dour burn flows into the River Forth. Settlement here can be traced back to Pictish times when it was two villages flanking either side of the burn. It also has a castle which dates back to 1200 and is one of the two oldest in Scotland that are still standing.

This town also boasts a second beach with black sands but for unsurprising reasons most beach goers chose the golden option. My friend and I went with the traditional choice.

I didn’t stay in long, I didn’t break anything but my ‘drought’ but it was such a pleasure I will definitely be back. Hopefully my next swim will be much easier to write about, once the world turns right again.


The location

This was the Silver Sands beach at Aberdour on the coast of Fife. It is safe, has few currents because it is in a cove and with lovely clear water, plus no swordfish (seek the Portobello beach swordfish story out. It was real, I saw it).

It is only a 30 minute train journey from Edinburgh (apparently the train conductor used to sing to passengers, I really hope they still do that) and an easy drive on the M90 then the A921, which is either the first exit off the M90 after the Queensferry Crossing going north or the last going south before the bridge.

You can also get there by bus x55 line 7 bus or x57.

I highly recommend this swim spot because its beautiful, has a car park, is easy to get to and you can bring non-swimmers easily as there are shops and amenities close by.


Contract me

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


Read more about my swims

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Issue 42 October 2020

  • Q&A with Jaimie Monahan - marathon swimmer and Queen of the Ice
  • Autumn swim adventures around the UK
  • The science behind cold water acclimatisation
  • Reviewed: The Best Open Water Goggles
  • The often deadly history of unsupported marathon swims

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