Diary of a wandering swimmer – storms, floods and a shallow lagoon

Feb 2020 Swim Copy

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

This misadventure all started with the excitement at getting an email from a kind soul who had read some of my previous posts. Now, I consider myself quite an average person, just one who is fortunate enough to have a few minutes each month to extol the joy and adversities of immersing myself the main constituent of the Earth’s hydrosphere, water.

For a few weeks following this email we exchanged details and plans about meeting to have a swim, which now involved her swimming group. They were entertaining an Outdoor Swimmer blogger, a guest and made welcoming arrangements accordingly. We were to have a day of two dips taking in some falls and a lake. I couldn’t wait and the added benefit for me was going to be linking this with a visit to one of my favourite people and a lovely woman, my mum. Unfortunately, I had to leave my ‘number one fan’ at home but a swimmer has to do...

I was however aware of the weather. I don’t usually care about the weather. It is what it is, but as you all know it’s been bad this last couple of months and people have suffered. But I really wanted to do this. The day before the planned swims it looked like we might make it but no, the rivers and lakes were dangerously swollen, flooding the surrounding areas and looked more akin to white water rafting. I was frustrated and desperate to get in the water, even on my own and now without my hosts.

Getting all the way to one of the lakes where organised swims are available was almost treacherous. Navigating almost impassable, part-flooded roads, I was determined to see for myself if I could just get in. In the picture above, I am standing on what is the road, with the car park sign part submerged behind me. I have no idea where the road and car park ended and the lake began. No, I was not getting in here.

What to do when you can’t do the swim you want?

I would hazard a guess that you can identify with the frustration of not being able to swim when you really want to and I spent the weekend feeling caged. Before I was due to return home I scoured the map, checking anything blue to see if it might be swimmable, which I wouldn’t necessarily advise unless you have time to explore safe entry and exit points. Also, I’m not one to swim alone unless conditions really allow but when it came to my journey, I knew I had to release this pent-up irritation of no swimming.

I went safe and chose a beach. In fact, I found what I can only describe as a natural lagoon. I don’t know about you, but this word summons a vision of aqua seas with blazing sunshine, coconuts and palm trees. You occasionally get coconuts washed up on the west coast shores of Scotland but there were no palm trees here.

However, there was sunshine and the naturally enclosed water looked like the tonic I needed. I was so excited I was shaking. I waded in, and kept wading (up to my knees now) and kept wading (up to my thighs) and waded some more. Eventually, it was just about deep enough to get a few strokes in, and then it wasn’t anymore. I was able to touch the bottom with my hands with each stroke. I decided I wasn’t going to be able to do my 200m for my last February polar bear swim, it would have felt like cheating, but at least I got my cold water fix and I had something to write about. A misadventure that had some release.

Feb 2020 Swim1 Copy

The location

For the failed planned swims, I will not yet reveal the places, I didn’t do it so it wouldn’t be right. Also, I want to retain the chance to share another time, my hosts are keen I come back when the weather plays nicely.

My actual swim (ish) was on the beach near Seahouses on the Northumberland Coast. From the A1 going north from Alnwick, if you turn off onto the B6347 and then the B1340 (or, from the north, take the B1342 towards Bamburgh then the B1340 down and pass through the town a short way). I decided to park on the grass near the gates leading to a track over the sand dunes. You can get a train to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and complete the journey by bus, so it is accessible for a trip depending on where you are coming from.

This is a beautiful coastline and one I highly recommend but stay safe in the waves which can be very strong.


Contact 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

01 Cover December

Issue 44 December 2020

  • Finding joy in 2020: Sarah Thomas looks back on a very strange year
  • Motivation: triple Olympian Keri-anne Payne on dealing with changing situations
  • UnstoppaBull: the extreme adventurer who swam in the highest lake on earth
  • Wild swimming: misadventures in the Peak District
  • Soul Cap: solving the problem of swimming with afro hair

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