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 have again found a swimming spot that boasts clear water and stunning views. This one is near a pyramid-shaped mountain which is visible from the lower ground of Scotland’s Central Belt making it an accessible loch for visitors. It did not however feel inundated by people on any level. In fact, it felt like we could have been in a much more remote area with the fresh air filling my lungs (quite probably aided by the many sharp intakes when I stepped in). It was still February, with snow still clinging to the surrounding mountains, but the sun was sparkling on the surface when I swam here, which helped ease the cold’s bite on my feet.
Being on the edge of a national park there are many beautiful places to visit in the area, so I guess that might impact the number of visitors. It does however boast past guests such as The Beatles so maybe I’ll come back in the summer and reassess my experience. For now, it was so refreshing and a welcome pit stop. Yes, Clova is out and about again having had a necessary make-over (a story for another time of a hit and run exposing a rust issue).
At only seven miles long and not even a mile wide with little boat traffic (actually I saw none) it looks like a perfect place to use for a training swim. However, I have to mention the conversation I had with an angler. Now we swimmers know that the relationship between us and those who fish for sport is not always a happy one. But this conversation was on the good side of that. It could be that standing there in my cossie on a sunny but chilly February day I brought the angler some amusement thereby influencing the response to my expected catch query. Brown trout and pike. Yes, pike! This can strike fear into the hearts of some swimmers. Indeed the angler thought it amusing when I responded with “oh you mean swimmer-eating pike”. I was joking, of course, but you never know… Still, swimming outside is what it is and we choose to experience nature closely. Luckily, I saw no pike and the angler’s rod and float didn’t move the whole time I was in the water. I left with the same number of toes that I arrived with.
So, about that unusual tide. Despite being an inland freshwater loch, it still experiences a regular (but difficult to observe) change in depth. The phenomenon is known as a ‘seiche’ and is shared with other bodies of water such as Lakes Geneva and Garda. In this case, the prevailing wind causes water depth to build up at one end while gravity works to level the water. This results in a standing wave with a 16-hour period.
I will be back and plan to have a longer swim, once the snow has melted and the water has warmed up a bit.
Loch Earn lies in between Loch Tay and Loch Lubnaig, on the eastern edge of the Trossachs National Park. The A85 runs the full length of the Loch but there are few places to park. The A84 and the A9 both link with this road so it is easy to reach from Edinburgh. The entry point was perfect, even though stony so some kind of protective footwear or swim socks might be a good idea.
If you have any suggestions of places I could swim email me on email@example.com or find me on Instagram @swimfreedomscotland
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