Loch Tay Scotland

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A perfect morning for swimming in Loch Tay with Ben Lawers behind the mist

The idea of a long swim had been on our minds for a few months, especially after our swim down Loch Rannoch in September 2015. We had examined maps of Scotland trying to find a loch that was longer than Loch Rannoch, but still not too far from Glasgow. In the end we decided on Loch Tay, which is a loch about 23 km long ( or 14.5 miles), and around 1 km wide at the widest point.  The loch is the sixth largest in the UK, and the 10th largest peak in the UK Ben Lawers overlooks the loch (height of 1200m). It is also known as a cold loch and is often hit by strong winds that blow down the loch between the hills on each side. It looked like a decent challenge, and was around 50% longer in distance than our big swim of 2015.

The plan was to swim from Killin at the head of the loch,  downstream to Kenmore at the outflow to the River Tay.There wasa lot of logistics to organise for a swim like this, with two kayakers, a boat, a stand up paddle board (who had a unique motivational technique), plus support crew on land.We stayed at a nice lodge on the banks of the loch on the Friday night, and the harvest moon that greeted us after dinner was a good omen. The plan was for Jess, Vince and myself to start the swim at 7am at Killin with George in his kayak. We would then swim the 4km to the lodge, be joined by the boat and the other kayaker, and have Victoria and Mark join us to Lawers. They would then get out and then meet us at Kenmore for the finish. At least that was the plan.

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The start of the swim at dawn

The weekend before the marathon, I had joined Vince Alastair, Big Mark on Loch Lubnaig with a plan to swim 10k. On that day, despite the presence of George in his kayak, I could only manage 6.5km with the last hour very tough, as my body screamed at me to stop due to fatigue. I realised that I had been training too much, and would have to rest up in the week ahead. So I did a couple of gentle swims during the week.

On arrival on the Friday night as we talked over our plans, I was convinced that I would only swim to Lawers a distance of around 12km. However, I told the others that if I felt better on the day of the swim, I would swim further.

 

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The three swimmers soon after starting

We were up before dawn with a good breakfast, and as much sleep as could be achieved with four grown men in a small room. We drove to our start point, with the knowledge that the weather forecast looked as good as good be expected for this time of year with lots of sun and only light wind. As we waded into the water we wished each other luck, deep in our thoughts. Vince soon pulled away from us,  but Jess and I kept fairly close. We had talked about trying to keep to the left hand shore as much as possible till we arrived at the lodge.

Once my body settled into its now familiar pattern, I was pleasantly surprised by how much energy I had. After an hour or so we arrived at the lodge, and Jess decided that she had no fuel left and wanted to exit. I was sad for Jess as we had shared so many adventures in the water, and we normally swam at the same pace. I had a good feed, and told George that I was going to keep going, and that I would go as long as I could. I felt really good with 4km behind me, and wanted to swim while the conditions were ideal, and I knew that I could easily make it to Lawers today. I told George to wait for Victoria and Mark and once they had entered the water, he could then catch up to me. By this time Vince was another km or so ahead, and had the other kayaker and boat with him.

 

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An unusually calm Loch Tay with clear skies

Now I was on my own, with no kayaker, and no swimmer near me. I took time to enjoy the stunning day, and look around me at the breath-taking Scottish countryside. My form was good, I was not tired, and I felt like I could swim for hours and hours. It is at times like this that your mind wanders and you fall into a trance like state, with only the sound of your breathing and the water falling behind you. These photos taken by George give you some idea of the vista.

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Looking back towards Killin

I had been swimming for a while when I broke out of my trance to see my trusted kayaker George nearby. I stopped him and asked for food and water and had a chat about who was where. It was great to have him close as he understood how a swimmer feels on these long swims.

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A kayaker’s view of me: note the bubbles and wake

As we swam past Lawers I had noticed that it was so calm I could still see the track left by Vince as he speed off into the distance. Now I had past the 12km mark, the boat came back to me for a change, and George tied his kayak and jumped in with me. It was great to have another swimmer close to me in the water, as I did not feel so alone. He stayed in for around 20 minutes for which I was very grateful.

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Amazing swimming conditions

By now I had been swimming for several hours, and I could feel that I was starting to tire. I made sure I stopped every 45 minutes to an hour, and had more drink and food. While my form was still good, the water temperature was starting to get to me, and the wind was starting to rise, even though it was a tail wind. I was determined to get to the point where I had swum 17 km to make it a longer swim than last year. The last hour was getting harder and harder and I stopped more and more often. I told myself that once I  turned the final corner where I could see Kenmore I would get out. That last km or so seemed to take an eternity as I could feel my limbs getting heavier, and my body sinking further into the water as my form dropped to the bottom.

I sighted the bridge at Kenmore and stopped, looking at my watch which showed I had swum 17 km in a little over five hours swimming and six hours from when I entered the water. My speed had been good the whole way, but now it was time to stop. While there was about six km to go, it would take at least another two hours and I knew that was beyond me. I signaled to the support boat and clambered in. Sure I was disappointed, but also very pleased with how far I had swum. When I entered the water I thought that doing 12km would be a challenge, but I had managed 17km. As my exhaustion hit I focused on the distance I had swum, which was a new personal best.

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What a day

Now it all about Vince. Even though I was exhausted we motored up to Vince who was the only one still in the water. By this time the wind had risen and there was a decent chop in the water and more boats buzzing around. We cheered him on as we floated past and gave him a big thumbs up. We went into Kenmore to meet the rest of the support crew and to have some food. We waited on the beach for our champion to finish.

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Vince heading towards the end as the chop increases

We all waited on the beach for Vince. He had done it, an amazing swim from one end of Loch Tay to the other: a distance of 25 km in seven hours. He looked exhausted as he tried to stand in the shallows, but his smile was huge.

Out group had conquered Loch Tay. Vince had swum the whole length, Jess had swum 4km, Victoria had done 8 km to Lawers from the lodge, Mark had run and swum the same distance, and I had made it three-quarters of the distance. We could not have done it with the support of each other, and the other support crew in the boat (David), kayakers (Kenny and George), stand up (Sir Harry), and the land crew  (Kirsten). Congratulations to all,and a huge thanks for your contributions. Special mention to George for his tireless support in the kayak and his incredible photos. But biggest mention to Vince who beat Loch Tay.

 

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