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?
Where did Kate swim today?
To wade into the fresh water for the first time in quite a while felt invigorating (see page 68 of the September edition of Outdoor Swimmer for what I have been up to this summer). It has such a different quality, and not only from the lack of salinity. Here, for example, the water shines a dark brackish colour in the sun. Having spent the summer in the sea where I experienced my first jellyfish sting, it was relaxing to not have to consider that as a possibility. The main aquatic life you are likely to see in this location are brown trout, swimmers or the occasional bed of reeds closer to the shore.
Fresh water not only has the difference in colour and taste (which means on a longer swim I won’t have to endure bad mouth ulcers) but it behaves differently. Water gives a strong indication of the other things that are happening around us, be that wind or temperature, and this place is no exception. It is a regularly visited but unspoilt location for swimmers, anglers and canoeists plus the odd wild camper. It is a 460-acre (190ha) Site of Special Scientific Interest which means it is protected for either biological or geological reasons. This place is known as a roosting place for pink-footed geese. At only 10m deep and with a 5-mile circumference it is perfect for a swim and walk combined.
As a reservoir it was ‘created’ in 1879. But “created” is an odd word for a body of water that clearly existed before being employed to service the local area with drinking water and had previously been a loch named after the hills that surround it. However, other information suggests it was not created from a former loch at all but via an embankment across the river to allow for the water to spread to be collected and used for drinking water.
My friend and I went straight out from the ‘beach’ across towards a small island (one of three in the reservoir) and back clocking up a nice 2km. We had sun on our backs which helped me manage my temperature. I am one of those swimmers who experiences after-drop quite badly, no matter how many years of swimming I have clocked up.
What was also special about this day was that I got to swim again with one of my new swimmy friends from my adventure back in July, the lovely Lynda. And that is the second reason I love swimming: because of the people I meet along the way.
I want to swim there too
In this section I would normally explain exactly where I had been for my swim and how to get there. Unfortunately, I cannot do that for this swimming location. Only a short time after I was there fences were erected round the perimeter. Many swimmers have been enjoying this location for years, all year round, sharing the water with other users. It seems from discussions on social media that the fences have the sole aim of stopping swimmers and others from being able to benefit from this outdoor space. This is not the first time we swimmers have faced this issue and I question if this is impeding our right to roam. This right, introduced by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and that came into force in 2005, includes most inland water and affords access for recreational purposes. In fact, it states that landowners are prohibited from obstructing or discouraging people from exercising their rights, including by putting up fences. I think as swimmers we have a strong argument in our favour in law. If these actions are reversed, I will swim there again and share more detail. However, until the fences come down I will most definitely and absolutely not swim there, not at all!
You can also enjoy more beautiful shots of this swimming spot in a new book by Anna Deacon & Vicky Allan, Taking the Plunge: The Healing Power of Wild Swimming for Mind, Body and Soul (release date 7 Nov 2019)