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. Now that lockdowns have eased, she’s exploring again with her campervan, Clova.
I can see my feet so clearly it almost looks like they aren’t even in water at all. Chrystal clear and not a breath of wind. I am so fortunate to be here: the last few months have been hard and have not involved much swimming at all so I am glad to be back. The anxiety that has built up over the last few months became painful, even debilitating, and as I lower myself into this glass-like water I could feel it dissolve away from me. I breathe a sigh of relief. I have wanted to swim here for a few years since someone told me how amazing and clear the water is and the name of the lake sounds delicious, like a tasty sweet. How right they were and what a perfect day for it. The almost-white winter sun sharpens the colours on the fells either side of me as they reach up into the blue sky above, a touch of snow on the very tops. The reddish bracken lighting up, enriching the valley. It is my favourite kind of day with that crisp, fresh air that feels like it is cleaning my lungs.
I walked around here yesterday, looking longingly at the water but not entering it, almost afraid, anxiety making it feel difficult, a hard-to-explain thing for those of us that love being in open water. Sometimes it’s a real struggle for me. But it also drives me and I was determined to swim here so I came back today, supported by a friend who quietly encouraged me and promised to come back to swim with me when it’s warmer.
This lake feels safe, held in this narrow valley. I went in at the end where the village sits nestled between two lakes. A swimmer’s paradise is the only way I can describe it. Just the comeback I needed.
Buttermere lake is about 20-30 minutes drive from Keswick on the northwestern side of the Lake District. From the M6 go to Keswick on the A66 towards Cockermouth. Then take the B5292 via Braithwaite. I followed this road all the way to the village of Buttermere where there are places to park (paying) and some amenities. From there you can walk the fenced pathway for about 5 minutes to a beach area by the water. There are other entry points and the road goes down the side of the lake so there is more to explore. The entry into the water at this end is shallow and gently sloping but mind the small rocks on your feet. Buttermere is one of my new favourite places to swim. I will be back; maybe Clova will get here.
If you have any suggestions of places I could swim email me on email@example.com or find me on Instagram @swimfreedomscotland
Please also take a look at my website: www.swimfreedom.co.uk