A view of part of the swim course at Bardowie Loch on a warm Scottish morning in late spring
The weather in Scotland had been up to its usual keep the weather forecasters busy form. In the last few days of April it snowed in Glasgow, and then a few weeks later the spring sunshine broke through the murky cloud to shine brightly on the spring flowers. All through April I had been swimming in stunning places like Loch Chon, Loch Ard, and of course Loch Lomond. As the water warmed up, my time in the water increased until I was staying in for 45 minutes or so.
By the time May arrived, the sun came out for a few weeks warming the waters of the lochs and quarries to almost tropical temperatures of 14c. That was fantastic, as I could then get the benefit of my winter swimming and stay in the water for an hour or so each time. I could also look on at those other swimmers who were entering the water with trepidation for their first swim of the new season, with a sense of recognition about been in a similar position only one year earlier. I too struggled to get over several decades of acclimitisation of not daring to go for a swim if the water dropped below a freezing 15c.
The last weekend in May was the date for the Bardowie Loch Swim Festival. This small loch is on the northern outskirts of my new home city of Glasgow, not far from the impossible to pronounce correctly unless you are a local, Milgavnie. I had entered the swim to get some race practice in preparation for the summer ahead.
There were two swims on offer at this event, the one km, and the two km, and like most events in this part of the world, it was not possible to do both. So I entered the two km race, as I had been able to get some decent training swims under my belt in the weeks before the swim.
Race day was cloudy and warm with hardly a breath of wind: perfect swimming conditions. In addition, the long hours of sunlight over the previous week had heated the water to a very pleasant 15c. It is one of the delights of living in Scotland that at this time of year the hours of sunlight go from 4am until 10pm, so when the sun shines it really warms things up.
I managed to have a chat to a few people I knew, such as Chippy John who I swam with at the Beastie Swim in Loch Lomond last summer; and Skins Dave who enjoys swimming without a wetsuit. I also had a chat to my Rannoch kayaker Stewart who was in charge of water safety for this event, and we chatted about long swims we might do later in the summer.
As I entered the water for the warm up, I did not get that sense of chill from the water, and it actually felt quite comfortable. Good to see I was getting used to the water temperature and I even thought of doing the race without the wetsuit. But that thought was quickly dispelled as I edged towards the start line under the eyes of the starter. I got an excellent start, though there was a view I might have gained a 0.5 second advantage, but the starter did not call me back, so I kept going. I had started on the left hand side of the course, and I could keep my eyes on the rest of the field who had started on the right.
Up to the first marker, and I was swimming comfortably, with around a dozen swimmers in front of me. The water was still nice and warm, even though I was not wearing any boots or gloves, and only one thin swim cap. By the time we turned at the top of the course, I was swimming close to couple of other swimmers, and when they were swimming a good line, I would get on their feet for a wee drag. I was feeling good, going at good pace, but with plenty left for the second lap. Around the bottom mark and I took a good line close to the buoy, and took a couple of lengths off the person in front of me.
I had thought that the pack of three I was swimming in on the second lap was starting to tire, so at the top mark, I increased my pace and tried to pull away from the other two. By the next marker, I had put 20 metres on them, so I then focused on catching the person in front of me over the final 300m of the course. With each stroke I could feel myself getting closer, as I increased my stroke count and pace. With 40m to go I had caught him and passed him. Over the line, finished.
I had managed a credible sixth place overall, and I was happy with my pacing, my navigation, and my race skills. My time was also just under 32 minutes for the two km distance, which I was also very happy with. Not a bad way to celebrate my 85th open water swim race.
For all those Australians out there who used to beat me easily in races around Sydney, please do not come to Scotland. You would hate the lack of sand, waves, swell, sea-creatures, sunburn, heat, flies and also you would not like the cold water. As for the scenery in Scotland, well sometimes it is so stunning that you just want to stop and stare.
Another well run event, on a glorious late spring day in Scotland. Does it get better than this? Well we could debate that another time.
My next event is a 10km swim down the River Spey (the famous whisky river) in July. But of course I will be swimming outdoors quite a lot before then, and I might even try it without the wetsuit….