Simon Griffiths travelled to Scotland for a little dip in a big loch. Here’s how he got on at Go Swim Loch Lomond 2023.
In 2022, the long-distance swims at Go Swim’s Loch Lomond event were shortened due to challenging weather conditions. In 2023, in contrast, the only difficulty caused by the weather was the brightness of the sun, which made sighting tricky early on. This was Loch Lomond at its glorious best. Flat calm and dazzling, and overlooked by the broad-shouldered profile of Ben Lomond.
Distances on offer ranged from an accessible and family-friendly 250m up to an Olympic marathon swim distance of 10km. I had allowed myself to be talked into the latter. These things always seem like a better idea when you sign up to them than when you see the distance laid out in front of you in the water.
The course for the longer swims was an approximate isosceles triangle with a 1,250m perimeter. We 10km swimmers had to swim eight circuits, which looked and sounded daunting. I worried about losing count or even getting bored.
However, I found it a surprisingly enjoyable way to cover the distance. I always knew exactly where I was and how far still to do. I could gauge my effort appropriately and could get into a steady, meditative rhythm without having to worry about getting lost. Apart from the early challenge of sighting while swimming towards the rising the sun, navigation was easy. Swimming felt completely safe as you were never far from a kayaker or another swimmer.
There were also swims of 5km, 3km, 1.5km, 750m and a 250m. For the 1.5km swim, there was an option to swim without a wetsuit. The 250m swim was open to children as young as 8, although under 12s needed to be accompanied in the water by an adult. Children age 12 and above could tackle the 750m swim and the 1.5km swim was open to the over 16s.
From the start area, you might not appreciate the true grandeur of the loch. Instead, you are reminded of Glasgow’s mighty industrial heritage. The Maid of the Loch, a historic paddle steamer, currently lies on the slipway next to the start, where she is being restored by volunteers.
The ship was built in Glasgow, then disassembled and transported by rail to Balloch for reassembly. She first appeared on Loch Lomond in 1953 and was the largest paddle steam ever to sail its waters.
At the top of the slipway is the still operational steam-powered winch that was used to haul the Maid of the Loch out of the water for restoration. This was originally built in 1902 and is well worth a look.
But back to the swims. The water temperature was around 15.4 degrees but felt warmer in the sun. All swims started and finished in Balloch at the southern end of Loch Lomond. Access to the water is via a narrow concrete slipway. To prevent overcrowding, we were sent out in groups of 10, which kept things relaxed (timing doesn’t start until you cross the line).
A guide of the course
You first swim a short distance between the pontoon and a rock wall before the loch reveals its beauty.
The full length of the loch is around 23 miles, too far to see to the other end (but spare a thought for the small number of people who have swum the full length of Loch Lomond). Instead, you see the island of Inchmurrin ahead of you, which roughly sits on the Highland Boundary Fault Line, the geographical fault line separating the Scottish Highlands from its Lowlands. Beyond the fault line, the Grampian Mountains rise towards low hanging clouds.
As you head further out, look to your right for Balloch Castle and Country Park. Immediately to your left is the marina, while further north on the left is Cameron House, now a luxury hotel. These all make useful reference points while you’re navigating the course.
Each lap returns you to the apex of the triangle. There was a feed station on the pontoon providing energy drinks and other goodies, or you could leave your own here for a volunteer to pass to you when needed. After your final lap, you exit via a second ramp, parallel to the entry ramp, and run or walk a few metres to the finish line.
Once you’ve collected your medal and changed, head around the corner to Wild Highlands Coffee House where the River Leven flows out of the loch. They have amazing cakes and it’s the perfect vantage point to watch swimmers in later waves or simply enjoy the amazing scenery.
What else to do around Loch Lomond?
The Loch Lomond Shores shopping centre is a short walk from the race HQ, as is Sea Life Loch Lomond Aquarium and the Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre. Even if shopping isn’t your thing, at least these might provide some entertainment for any friends or family you bring along, in case they get bored while you swim.
Slightly further away, on the opposite side of the River Leven, but still easily walkable, is Balloch Castle and Country Park. There’s a pleasant walled garden where you can sit and rest after your aquatic exertions plus there are good views onto the loch and the swim course.
Further away, and easiest reached by car, is Ben Lomond. The 11km circular walk taking in summit is truly spectacular with amazing views over the full length of the loch if you get the right weather, but be prepared for fog and rain. The hike took longer and was more tiring than my 10km swim but it’s an easy trail to follow. The summit is exposed, cold and windy, so bring appropriate clothing.
Go Swim run three swimming events in Scotland, in Loch Lomond, Loch Tay and Loch Morlich, all with distances ranging from 250m to 10km. Check dates and availability at go-swim.uk
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