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.
For the second part of our Highland adventure, we turned south. The road took us past another iconic loch with a wee monster in it. I was fascinated with this legend as a child. Now, in our campervan named Clova, I wanted to try that new-found freedom of being able to just stop, randomly, with changing room and everything else I could need right with me. An unplanned dip into dark water overlooked by the towering greenery of the area beckoned. Steep sides and few places to walk in added to the challenge. I don’t remember if it was cold although a small group of tourists taking an unusual and excitable dip reminded me that not everyone does this. I just wanted to be able to say that I had swum in this body of water given the myths attached. Until I climbed out, I hadn’t realised how much I also needed a physical refresh.
Our final stop for this week-long adventure took us back to trees. We marvelled at ancient Caledonian forests with carpets of moss and lichen strewn like entangled hair in branches. But my first attempt at a swim here was thwarted due to a steep wall leading down to the water and metal fence at the bottom, not traversable in boots let alone flip flops. I made up for it later.
Another unplanned stop was just what I needed to finish off the week. This loch is much more forgiving and accessible, with a car park, toilets and a cafe. But it is still wild water and oh so fresh (not the words I used when I got in). The beach allows a civilised walk into the clear dark sandy tinted water that soon runs deep with a low pull beneath. It stretches out across to what looks like a very achievable distance. That view you get from the water surface looking up to the hills and the sky is beautiful, and taking in these views is one of my favourite things about swimming. It never fails to remind me how very small and brief I am, but in a good way because whatever we do I believe that nature is in control and will survive us.
So we got into Clova and moved on, as you do in a camper van.
The first swim was of course Loch Ness. We drove the length of it down the A82 and stopped near the south-west end, before you get to Fort Augustus. There is a small lay-by with a slipway into the water which makes for easy access. There were several boats moored here, which is likely the case all the time but the swimming was easy and seemed sheltered from some of the other loch traffic.
My final swim was in Loch Lubnaig, somewhere I have been meaning to visit for a long time. The A84 goes all the way down the east side of the loch. I loved swimming here. There is a steep shelf out from the beach and there was definitely a pull from the deep channel underneath but nothing that caused issue. I imagine on a windy day you could get a lot of chop funnelled down the length of the loch given its relatively thin shape but it is easy to get a good swim close to shore if you are on your own. As it is in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park it is subject to managed wild camping from March to September with permits required (https://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/things-to-do/camping/go-wild/) and some places are just no camping zones, particularly for camper vans.
The whole trip was fantastic with loads of safe swimming available. You could stay around this whole area for months and not get to all the lochs and beaches. It is well worth a swimming visit.
If you have any suggestions of places I could swim email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Instagram @kategillwood4