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Diary of a wandering swimmer – where the crabs are blue

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?

Today it is sunny and the sea calm, the tide is high and the water clear. I can see the whole sky and the estuary stretching out in front, inviting me in. To either side, I’ve got two miles of sandy beach almost to myself. My wife thinks I’m crazy, swimming in cold water, but it’s about 16 degrees Celsius, which is warm for us here.

In 1650, allegedly, Oliver Cromwell held a secret meeting here with Scottish leaders. By the 18th century, it was a haunt for seamen and smugglers. In the 19th century it industrialised and became known for its bricks, glass, lead and pottery. There was once an open air pool here, where Sean Connery worked as a lifeguard. Sadly, the pool was demolished in 1988.

As a kid, I’d spend hours splashing about just basking in the feel of the water on my body, sometimes until my lips were blue. I now prefer the additional protection of a wetsuit for longer swims, even when it’s relatively warm as it is today, although it never ceases to amaze me how tiresome it is to get one on.

I wrestle my way into the neoprene and commence my usual ‘fannying aboot’, which involves checking I have hat, goggles, ear plugs to avoid the dizziness (I ditched the nose clip years ago) and trying to make sure there are no wrinkles at the backs of my knees. My friend follows me onto the beach, we kick off our flip-flops, wade into the water and swim a relaxing kilometre. You can get jellyfish here but today there were none to be seen. It’s tempting to strike out from the beach but safer to swim parallel to it, where you can stay in shallow water. Being exposed to the North Sea, it can get rough and cold here, but today is serene. I like to swim a couple of the groins and back which is an easy 1k. The water is flat with no strong currents. There are a couple of odd lobster creels and you can come across SUPs, kayaks or skiffs. You can either swim towards a sewage works (not as bad as it sounds) or a small town housing a yacht club. I regularly see blue crabs scuttling across the sea bed and oyster catchers sharing the water’s edge with the gulls.

Although I live close, I can’t swim here every day with a full-time working and home life but I enjoy it when I do. This, as I am sure those of you reading know, is the best way to start any working day.

Have you guessed where I swam today? It is, of course, my home beach at Portobello, Edinburgh.

I want to swim there too

You can find suggestions on how to get to Portobello Beach on portobellobeach.com/how-to-get-here/. The site also includes tide times. Other bus routes are the 124, x24, 21, 42 and 49. From Portobello Town Hall it’s about a five-minute walk down Bath Street to the beach. It is all free parking on streets adjacent to the beach but it gets busy at peak times.

Be aware that Portobello does not have lifeguards. The beach is wide and flat, which means you can have a bit of a longer walk when the tide is out but it is really quite safe. You can go in anywhere but often swimmers go in by the Portobello Swim Centre. Other users of the water include SUPs, kayaks, skiffs and the very occasional jet ski. The latter do have to be watched as they have not always appeared to take care. However, a lot of people swim here and I’m not aware of any accidents. Sometimes the tide can feel stronger when swimming up the beach towards Seafield so weaker swimmers should be aware. I’ve never seen anything like a rip.

I think it’s a safe place for new open water swimmers to try the sea out. The only real issue is the water temperature. It’s quite often less than 10 degrees and usually at the most 16, so you do need to acclimatise. This year is the exception.

I swim any time of the day but 6.30 this morning was perfect.

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Kate Greenwood

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