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Diary of a wandering swimmer – ‘Sunny Dunny’ home of the red cliffs and long lost lidos

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 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?

Does four and a half minutes in the water count? I mean is there some kind of benchmark you have to reach in order for it to really be a swim? What I do know is that in the swimming community, and to be fair even amongst those who don’t take the plunge, people show some kind of awe and respect when I say I went in the sea in a swimming costume, in water that was about 6C temperature, in the winter. Yes, I did say swimming costume and for those of you who have read my posts before that means something. Apparently I have crossed ‘that’ line, taken off my wetsuit, and have chosen to do this at the coldest time of the year. I have had a change of heart, a shift that has opened a door to some kind of freedom and adventure. I even swam for seven whole minutes in the dark this week and that was super exciting.

The reason for my shift is (and I will try to control my tendency to blether) I read the Outdoor Swimmer article recently ‘Tonic of the Sea’ about the film that describes how Katie Maggs recovered from a breakdown through swimming…in cold water…early in the morning. Now I have it in my head to get in at 6.30am during the week so that I can feel fabulous, all the time. Not only that but I am dragging others into it.. Somehow it’s all the more hardy if you do it before work, my thoughts, no one else’s. Feeling depressed, anxious or generally stressed out can be debilitating but I believe you don’t have to get to the worst place to experience the benefit of the water. Yes this was a swim. I was being pulled about by the strong waves over barnacle covered rocks with the low winter sun on the red cliffs above. And this place is exciting. Not only is it the birthplace of Sir John Muir but since the 19th century the cove I was swimming in by the town of ‘Sunny Dunny’, (named so as it has more sunshine than anywhere else in the UK), was walled off to create a huge swimming pool with literally thousands of people visiting for their holidays. Who knew I had stumbled upon such swimming history? For decades it was the place to be and if you find the short home shot clips online you will see family holidays, local bathing beauty pageants and diving competitions. And now there is not a trace of it, I had no idea. What a shame it has gone, now we all fly somewhere else to sunbathe and swim although I suppose that leaves it for us, the daring open water swimmers. Which is apparently a new sport…not.

I want to swim there too

Dunbar, a lovely wee town on the east coast easily accessible by the A1 from the north or the south. Trains also come from north and south regularly on the East Coast line and Scotrail or you can get an X7 Lothian bus from Edinburgh. Do note, where I went in (and you can just about spot me in this photo taken by my lovely wife Caroline Gillwood), it was not particularly safe. I was over a bed of rocks and the waves were strong. On the other side of the rock behind me was a small cove that had some sand that would be an easier swimming spot when the tide is out a bit further. Take care, this is not a spot for under confident swimmers when the tide and waves are up.

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Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.