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Diary of a Wandering Swimmer – an urban gem behind a sea wall

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.

The swim

It was the Saturday before Christmas and I hadn’t been swimming here for probably a year – my home beach is so close and therefore easier to go to – but there is something about this place that is drawing in the crowds these days. It could be the urban convenience or the relative safety behind the long sea wall reaching out from the beach, hiding sailing vessels on the other side, who knows? This is the scene not only of many swimmers, but it is also a battleground. This bay has become a symbol of the respite people are seeking from the pandemic, the moments of bliss where they can immerse themselves into the cold, play in the waves and emerge with just a little more hope or energy, or both. It is an urban gem for swimmers.

But it is also the subject of a hard fight for recognition as a bathing water. This status affords a swimming spot the security of regular water quality testing and the public display of the results for swimmers and anyone who goes on or near the sea or cares about the water quality, such as environmental activists.

The decision for a swimming spot to be designated as a bathing water carries a requirement to “attract a large number of bathers in relation to any infrastructure or facilities that are provided” although with no set limit it could be a smaller site that attracts a large number of swimmers relative to its size (see Bathing Waters Guidance). Over three years ago a Facebook group was set up as a community marine litter survey and beach clean group to highlight and protect local marine biodiversity which has gone on to petition for the designation status, yet to be won.

Behind A Sea Wall2B

But it is much more than that. It demonstrates some of the beauty of Edinburgh, how close we are to the outdoors and how much we make the most of it.

I had a friendly chat with other swimmers and then enjoyed an invigorating polar bear swim but in the back of my mind I am aware I have no information about the quality of the water. I care about this; I care about the sea life and other swimmers. Seeing this site obtaining Bathing Water designation will be a triumph for the swimmers and activists. Come on Scottish Government, put your money where your mouth is!

The location

This is Wardie Bay by Granton in Edinburgh just along from the Shore. It is easily accessible to anyone in the city and, of course, visitors. You get to the beach by Lower Granton Road (A901), in between Granton Harbour and the Shore at Leith. There is limited parking on the road but other options in roads close to the bay. Buses 8, 16, 19 and 21 stop nearby.

This is not easily accessible for wheelchair users.

I have not seen it but have heard that there is sometimes a small rip tide so please be aware, ask local swimmers but also check out the tides and weather before you set off. I have swum in between the wall and the rocks but keeping a safe distance from both.

If you are interested in finding out more about the campaign to have Wardie Bay designated as a Bathing Water or want to get involved go to the Facebook group Wardie Bay Beachwatch or join the Wardie Bay Wild Ones if you fancy company for a swim Wardie Bay Wild Ones

Also, please sign the petition.

Contact me

If you have any suggestions of places I could swim email me on k.gillwood4@gmail.com or find me on Instagram @kategillwood4

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