The stunning early summer weather was continuing in early June 2018. A few of my friends had been discussing an attempt to swim the length of Loch Voil. This loch lies in an east west position in the middle of Rob Roy country. The man himself is buried in the churchyard at Balquhidder, having died in 1734. It is also the site of the last part of the Jacobite Rebellion from the 1740s (with that rebellion featured in Outlander). Both of these events would be ancient history in Australia (settled by Europeans in 1788), but in Scotland, that is much more recent event (they still talk about a battle that took place in 1314).
The loch itself is stunning nestled between hills and is about 125m above sea level. The outflow the River Balvaig flows into Loch Lubnaig, about 8km away. Eventually the water from this loch flows into the River Teith and then the River Forth to exit into the North Sea at Edinburgh. The loch has a single-track road alongside its northern shore from Balquhidder to its terminus near the Monachyle Mhor Hotel. It is around a 90 minute drive north of Glasgow, or about 60 miles. It is around 5.6km long, and 27m deep at its deepest point, with the foreshore of about 13.5km.
The organisation for the swim was not easy, as we had to arrange to leave a number of cars in Balquhidder and ferry the 20 or so swimmers up to the eastern end. We would then leave the cars there, and after the swim take the cars from the finish back to the hotel to collect the ones left behind at the start. Simple. But the problem was the forecast for the day was in one word idyllic, so we had to limit the numbers who were going to attempt the swim to twenty or so.
It was an early start leaving Glasgow in the dawn light, driving up past Stirling Castle and The Wallace Monument. The glimpse of the morning light on the peaks of the Highlands is always beautiful and this day was not different. The forecast was right, there was not a cloud in the sky, and more importantly, no wind at all.
Upon arrival we organised our kit which we put in our tow floats. For most of us this would be food and drink, and perhaps footwear in case a walk back along the ride was required. I was not feeling confident of making the distance as I had not done enough swimming, with the only long swim been a swim around Inchtavannach earlier in the week. However, I was still on a buzz from the filming with Billy Connolly the week before.
We piled into the cars and drove up to the starting point of the swim. It was a perfect day for a swim in a gorgeous location. I had decided to swim without the wetsuit, expecting the water to be nice and warm (by Scottish standards) around 18c.
A short walk down from the carpark (thanks to the hotel for giving us permission to leave our cars there) to the start of the swim. It was truly magical. In we went, and the water was warm. The plans were to swim closer to the northern shore for access to the road if required. The loch is only around 400m wide for most of its length, so it was a straightforward swim. The exit point was to be a field to the left of an island that sits at the end of the loch.
Off we went, and the fast swimmers in their wetsuits took off like dolphins compared to my relaxed pace. I knew this was going to be a swim of at least two hours or so, so there was not rush. Just settle into a nice rhythm and try to achieve that sense of moving meditation. Like a lot of my longer swims it seemed to take around a km or so before I felt totally comfortable, but I have learnt to expect that. Today was no exception but gliding through that still warm water was just amazing, following the bubbles left behind by some of the other swimmers.
Fairly soon I was swimming by myself, but I was not worried. I knew there were lots of swimmers both ahead of and behind me, and it was not far to a shoreline. There was also a shore-based team patrolling the road in case anyone needed assistance. Swimming on a day like this was not a chore, but a delight, with stunning vistas whether I breathed to the left or the right. After 80 minutes or so my body was telling me it needed a fuel stop, and I headed for the southern shore. I had a gel and a drink, and just sat and admired the view.
On the way again, and before long I was clambering out through a muddy shoreline at the end of the loch. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had done the 5.9km swim in just under two hours. Shortly after I finished, I noticed several others also finishing so I waited for them to get out. Like me they were on a high after a swim like that on a perfect day.
A short walk through the field to the car park, and back to the cars where we had left our towels and clothes. Lots of excited chat from all the swimmers, some of whom had just done their longest swim ever.
It was then back to Mhor 84 for a well-earned lunch. What a day. A huge thanks to Vince for doing most of the logistics for this swim, and to all the swimmers who made the day so enjoyable.