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?
Confidence is key in just about every aspect of our lives, no less in swimming. Having never been taught any strokes properly (except for some informal guidance at masters many years ago) it has been an issue for me. So, to have grown into an outdoor swimmer and learning to know the water, how it can behave and how to safely navigate in different conditions, is exciting. I have always loved being immersed from a young age. My mum called me her water baby and was key in feeding that love with summers spent in the river Wharf amongst many other beautiful places in the Yorkshire Dales, Scotland and Wales (thank you Mum).
So to find myself in my usual swimming spot with someone coaching me seemed a little odd.
“Why are you here?” she asked, after watching me swimming for a short time, which gave me my answer. I was of course trying really hard to show off my best stroke, but I couldn’t help feeling proud and surprised, and I could feel my confidence grow immediately. It was a bit like the time I was told I was dyslexic, huge confidence booster! Anyway, as I said to her, everyone can improve their stroke... but who knew what a two-beat kick was?
The beach we were swimming off is what they call a flat water beach. In my experience this means it is relatively safe as there is no shelf with a sudden drop off beneath you (I can’t say “drop off” without thinking Nemo). We therefore see a lot of people new to open water swimming start their journey here.
My local swimming group, The Wild Ones, deserve a mention. Like many groups on social media there is a core who organise various swims and create a platform for ‘swimship' building. The group has organically grown with a now large membership and new people joining the swims regularly. Swimmers organise adventures and explore new swim spots, share stories and ideas and look out for each other. They provide guidance and instruction but most of all the camaraderie that we all know and love of the outdoor swimming community.
Our beach, which is about a three-minute walk from my house, is a perfect place to swim relatively safely (even though swimming in open water should always be respected and thought through to some degree) with obvious easy access and exit points (err… the sand). I love it, people really use this beach, respect it and generally keep it clean. It is about two miles long and you can see the whole sky (I still feel a bit like Bubbles from Finding Nemo when I look at it), sunsets, SUPs, kayakers, lots of birds, occasionally dolphins, skiff rowers, sail boats, lots of lovely dogs, sometimes the national women’s beach volleyball team training and, at 9.30 on a Sunday morning, lots of The Wild Ones stepping into the waves. What more could you ask for in life?
I want to swim there too
You can find suggestions on how to get to Portobello Beach on portobellobeach.com/how-to-get-here. The site also includes tide times. Other bus routes are the 124, x24, 21, 42 and 49. From Portobello Town Hall it’s about a five-minute walk down Bath Street to the beach. It is all free parking on streets adjacent to the beach but it gets busy at peak times.
Be aware that Portobello does not have lifeguards. The beach is wide and flat, which means you can have a bit of a longer walk when the tide is out but it is really quite safe. You can go in anywhere but often swimmers go in by the Portobello Swim Centre. Other users of the water include SUPs, kayaks, skiffs and the very occasional jet ski. The latter do have to be watched as they have not always appeared to take care. However, a lot of people swim here and I’m not aware of any accidents. Sometimes the tide can feel stronger when swimming up the beach towards Seafield so weaker swimmers should be aware. I’ve never seen anything like a rip.
You can also now join one of the NOWCA sessions (look out for the RIB safety boat driver….me.) https://kscan.co/venue/nowca/portobello-beach-edinburgh-scotland
I think it’s a safe place for new open water swimmers to try the sea out. The only real issue is the water temperature. It’s quite often less than 10 degrees and usually at the most 16, so you do need to acclimatise.
Thank you to my coach Debbie Kelso who has provided me with better skill and confidence to take on my next challenge.