Loch Tay is a 23km long body of fresh water in the central highlands of Scotland. Rarely more than a mile to a mile and a half wide, it plunges to 150m deep at its lowest point and is the sixth largest loch by area in Scotland. The small community of Killin (population 972) sits at the south-eastern upstream end of the loch. The River Tay, Scotland’s longest at 119 miles, flows out of the loch at the north western end, at Kenmore, before continuing on to Perth and Dundee.
Like many small remote communities, Killin is poorly served by public transport and other essential services. The local Post Office provides a range of services from banking to citizens’ advice while the paper shop (as well as selling newspapers and magazines) sells fishing permits and tickets to local events. Both are under threat of closure unless the community can raise sufficient funding to take over their operations. To do so, they have set up a crowd funding project, and the Loch Tay Open Water Swimmers decided to do their bit by completing a sponsored relay along the length of their loch.
Setting off in the early hours on Friday 10 August 2018, Lizzie Stevens, Helen Cole, Angela Steel, Theresa Elliot, Ishbel Hayes, fortified by considerable amounts of cake, willingly embraced the challenge, which also included a lot of rowing.
The first problem the group had to overcome was the swimming order. This was complicated by the fact that two of the group were stronger rowers than the others, and so wouldn’t be able to take on consecutive swimming shifts. The boat also had to be collected from Firbush before swimming could start, which meant the two rowers didn’t want to be the first in the water. They resolved the conundrum by swimming in reverse age order – youngest first – and swimming 30-minute shifts.
Surprisingly, for an open water swim, everything went to plan.
“The whole day couldn’t have been better,” says Lizzie Stevens. “The morning was sunny and warm and Loch Tay was flat calm. By early afternoon there was a little chop going on around Ardeonaig, but the wind was pushing us in the right direction. We got a couple of showers between Ardeonaig and Fearnan but nothing that put us off. Close to Kenmore the chop got a bit bigger as the channel narrowed and it was quite rough, but all was fine as we didn’t have far to go. We all swam into Kenmore together as a team.”
As well as the team rowing boat, the swimmers were also supported by six kayakers, paddling in shifts, who helped guide the swimmer and offer protection from other boats on the water.
The swim took just over 10 hours to complete, with landing made in Kenmore at 16:03, where they’d been promised the use of the Taymouth Marina Hotbox to warm up. Then, after a welcome meal, they made the return journey up the loch, this time, fortunately, under power.
“As we travelled back up the loch in the fading light we realised the enormity of what we had done that day. The outline of the hills looks so different from the loch and as we passed known landmarks we were so relieved to see the lights of the Firbush Centre in the distance,” says Lizzie, adding that they had to moor-up in the dark at 22:30.
“We would like to thank Firbush for loaning us the support boat, all the kayakers, Taymouth Marina who gave us the use of their Hotbox for free after the swim, and of course to everyone who gave a donation either online or in the Post Office – we are amazed by how much we have raised,” says Lizzie.
You can find out more about the campaign here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/more-than-a-post-office