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Diary of a wandering swimmer – famous for oysters & surrounded by mountains

Kate Greenwood 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 10 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. So, where did Kate swim today?

Where did Kate swim today?

There is a moody sky above with the har rolling in off the water and the trees hanging on to the mist above in the hills. The water looks somewhat dark and menacing. I can see the currents pulling outwards, down the channel towards the open sea. It is swirling in places and makes me conscious of having to think about the strength of currents in waters I know less well. Local advice is that it is fine to swim but you should really know the water and how it behaves. I watch it for a while to introduce myself to its ways. This body of water is long, at about 40 miles, but is still salty.

The Tinkers Heart overlooks the water, a reminder of travellers gone by. Many sport divers and fishers visit the area as the depth of the channel offers a plentiful bounty of sea life and well-known seafood enjoyed by tourists from afar and locals alike, oysters being one of the top choices. If you visit, I recommend the langoustine provided by Donald’s boat, sweet and fresh. It is common for dolphins, seals and otters to be close by although it is often hard to catch a glimpse of the latter. I always hope, if I slip quietly into the water, I might be lucky enough to spot a silky back cruising effortlessly over the water, busy in its quest for food. Not so today.

I am on the south side so I walked down the concrete jetty near to the house my family and I are staying in. It is used by people fishing for the herring that are plentiful in this area. Even though I spot a washed-up lion’s mane on the seaweed, I ignore my fear and tread over the rocks onto the sandy spots underfoot. I was soon in deep enough to push into the water. I always have a slight edge of fear for unknown waters and as I swim out barely a few metres, suddenly I can see the shelf. It drops off below me like a chasm. It does make me slightly nervous. Even though I’ve swum outside all my life, I still have that sense of a visitor to depths alien to human kind. I pressed on past the line and suddenly awoke to the fact that I am out in this amazing body of water surrounded by the beautiful hills. I had forgotten to even think about the temperature of the water, which for August was very mild following a really warm summer for this area.

During World War II, the town across the other side of the water housed HMS Quebec, which was used for a quarter of a million troops undergoing amphibious-landing techniques training for the D-Day landing and a comprehensive top secret deception exercise to mislead the Germans.

The Arrochar Alps are close by, including the well-trodden Cobbler. Even though not quite a Monroe, I highly recommend the climb. The views from above are breathtaking but for me what I saw from the water today was even more stunning. I always feel amazed at how I suddenly become part of the surroundings with a completely different view of the world. Refreshing and exhilarating.

This is of course Loch Fyne, well known for oysters but swimmers often grace its shores.

I want to swim there too

As anywhere in the Scottish Highlands, it is less easy and quick to reach – a good thing, I think. But from the south and Glasgow take the A82 all the way up the west coast of Loch Lomond to Arrochar, then onto the A83. Once you reach Cairndow you can choose which side of the loch you would like. I was on the south near to Ardno at St Catherines, looking out over the water to Inverary (a lovely little town to visit where the George serves excellent fare, including Donald’s langoustines).

In my opinion, you need to take care in these waters, the currents felt strong and pulled up and down the channel of the loch due to its depth and relatively narrow width. I opted for the jetty as it offered a good entry and exit point whether the tide was in or out. Always check the weather and tides and either swim with others or have a friend join you to marvel at how amazing they think you are for braving the cold Scottish waters.

Enjoy it! I did.

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Kate Greenwood

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