Being summer time in Scotland with so many incredible places to swim, we needed a goal. So a group of us came up with the idea of swimming the length of Loch Lomond over three legs. Due to our busy schedules, we had planned to do the first two legs on consecutive weekends in July, and the third leg in September. Of course I had already done the third leg last year, so in my mind, I only needed to do these two legs to swim the length of this huge body of fresh cold water.
Loch Lomond is the largest inland body of water in the UK, based on surface area. It stretches 39km (or 24 miles) from one end to the other, and covers an area of 70 square km (or 27 square miles). The British Long Distance Swimming Association has a race here every second year where swimmers swim the length without a wetsuit; and various other swimmers also attempt to swim the length on a regular basis.
I regularly swim in the loch, but more in the southern third around Luss, Balloch and Aldochlay, and the only time I had been up to the top of the loch was on a bus tour to the highlands. We had arranged to meet at the village of Tarbet at 7 am where we would leave some cars. A drive of 13 km miles up to Ardlui awaited us as we transported the seven swimmers and two kayakers. As I looked out the window I thought this is taking a long time to drive, how long will it take to swim back? The weather forecast was not bad, with some cloud, a chance of rain, a bit of a westerly breeze, and of course sun: in other words a typical summer day. As the loch goes north to south, a westerly breeze would not be too much problem, as we would be protected by the hills that overlooked this body of water.
At Ardlui we all ventured into the water to feel that familiar caress of the cool water as it tickled the lower back. I was feeling a bit concerned about my preparation, as I was still getting over my illness from earlier in the month, and I thought I would be slowest of the group. As we started the others seemed full of enthusiasm, unlike me, as I thought about the four or so hours of swimming ahead of me when I was not in the right head space. I could have quite easily got out at this point and said give me the car keys and I will see you at Tarbet. The water did look inviting with hardly a ripple on the water as we stroked out into the loch.
Before long a pattern was established, with the van man and Macbeth fan leading, followed by our latest recruit, then the newly wed, the actor, then the rose of the group, and last me. It was good to have a kayaker near me most of the time knowing that I could stop and get food or drink at any time. As they all took off, I told myself that this is not a sprint, you know you start slow, just put your head down and wait for the body to warm up after a km or so.
If I needed to distract myself all I had to do was look at the amazing scenery: you certainly knew you were swimming in the Scottish Highlands with the high hills bare of trees with that particular Scottish shade of green that is now so familiar. It was stunning, breathtaking, distracting, inspiring, and so much more.
Our first stop for a decent feed was at a wee beach that wound its way out into our path, where a fisherman had left a chair. After an hour or so of swimming it was good to stand up and look around, and understand why people would brave inclement weather to camp in such locations. By this time I was feeling better, and we all enjoyed a short chat about how we were feeling and how supurb it was.
We planned to stop at Inveruglas which was the halfway point, where there was a power station fed by pipes from Loch Sloy. By the time we arrived here, opposite Inversnaid we knew there would be ferry traffic from the tourist boats that plied their trade here. But our kayakers were excellent in keeping us safe. We enjoyed some cool drinks of water (yes we carried our own despite swimming in some of the cleanest freshwater around), gels and sugar snacks, and yet another chat. We were all having a great time, and we all felt strong, and keen to finish this swim.
As we swam on, I noticed that the early feeling of sluggishness had disappeared, and by now I was enjoying the swim. I knew that I had the strength to do this after my swims over the last month or so, and also knew that my unique slow style would get me through. I was also noticing that I was now keeping up with the newly wed and the rose, and it was good to look around and see some other tow floats for a change. Of course if I looked ahead I could make out the others not too far away.
All of a sudden the wind picked up from behind. The first hint was the two float hitting my shoulders as the wind tossed it forward. Then, the small ripples we had been blessed with till now, climbing and making the body rock as the waves pushed from behind. I found that I enjoyed this, even though it made swimming harder, it also gave me things to think about to counteract the moving water to maintain my forward momentum.
By this time of a long swim, and it was good to be able to distract yourself with the scenery. I wondered how those doing long swims at sea would manage without nothing to look at except their escort crew and the ocean. We had the hills, the weather, campers on the banks and the roads that pass close by to distract us from our task.
As we approached the finishing point I knew I was starting to tire, so I headed to the bank at a wee beach to grab some snacks. I knew that Tarbet Isle was just ahead and that this was the last km or so of the swim. I had glanced at my watch at each stop to see the distance swum climb over ten km, then eleven. The rose had stopped with me as she was concerned about me (one of the great things about swimming in a group is that we watch out for each other and check we are ok). I told her that I just needed some replenishment, and that we were on the last push home.
So the last bit to the finish, and as you can see from this photo, we are fairly close together after three hours or so of swimming. Around the corner, and some of us started to struggle over the last little bit. I stopped and asked the latest recruit if he was ok, as he was stopping quite often. The newly wed was also finding it tough at this stage, but the rose slowed down to escort him. As the houses of Tarbet came into view there was that feeling of elation flowing through the body as the finishing point approached. As I clambered up on the slipway, I said to everyone, ok that it halfway down Loch Tay, how are we all feeling???
We had finished, we had all done it, and all of us looked tired and elated. We had the support of two excellent kayakers to help us with snacks, advice and looking out for us. Well done to all of you, you are inspiring and a joy to swim with, even if I was the First Australian again. Wow a 12.5km swim in just under 4 hours, my second longest swim ever. And next week we could do the next leg. A big thanks to Vince, Tony, Alastair, Colin, Jess, Gary, David (great photos), and George. Special mention to Mark for his creative input for the concept.