The Scottish Highlands in winter is not the most hospitable place for outdoor swimming. But when you are training for a long distance swim, sub-freezing temperatures, snow and ice are all part of the cold water acclimatisation. Norman Todd is a 45-year old off-shore worker and open water swimmer from Ullapool. His swim last Saturday in Loch Glascarnoch was captured by film maker Steven Gourlay and subsequently broke the internet after being featured by the BBC. We caught up with Norman to find out the story behind the film.
“I have been cold water swimming now for a couple of years but I have been open water swimming for around 12 years,” says Norman, who is training to swim the North Minch, a 27-mile strait in north-west Scotland separating the mainland from the Outer Hebrides. His cold water swims are an attempt to increase his resilience in preparation for his North Minch attempt this summer.
“I swam the 14 miles from Achiltibuie to Ullapool last October and I suffered from mild hypothermia,” says Norman. “The cold water exposure, although only for minutes, does help to build up an inner toughness and resilience – which is what I will need to endure 15-18 hours in the north west Highland waters.”
As well as cold water acclimatisation, Norman is being coached in the Total Immersion technique by coach Emma Levy of the Edinburgh Swim Studio. “My stroke has greatly improved, making distances relatively effortless compared to before. I am no longer fighting with the water but working with it.”
Norman’s North Minch swim will raise money for Scottish Wildlife Trust Living Seas, which promotes greater protection and appreciation of the north west Scottish coastline. His funds will be directed to the Dolphin Snorkellers project, which takes children out of the classroom and educates them on the marine environment. “I hope to raise money for the project to contribute towards more wetsuits, dryrobes and a boat which can take children, including wheelchair users, out to the Summer Isles, which have an abundance of whales, orcas, dolphins, seals and porpoises,” says Norman.
On a grey day in London, watching Steven’s film of Norman breaking the ice makes the heart soar and the body crave the cold embrace of the water. “I can go and swim and have the whole landscape to myself,“ says Norman. “I feel quite humbled living in such beauty.”
Watch the video below.