WINTER SWIMMING IN SCOTLAND

Sunset in Crete at the end of the season

I recently wrote this blog entry for The Big Blue Swim, and thought I would share it here with you. The Big Blue Swim (https://thebigblueswim.com/ ) operate swim adventure holidays in Greece over the summer. I have had the very good fortune to have worked with them as a guide since the summer of 2018 in two of their locations in Crete and Lefkada. Swimmers come from around the globe to enjoy a week long holiday in stunning clear water and warm sunny days. The locations are absolutely amazing, with great company, good eating and the knowledge that you as a swimmer are safe at all times. You get to explore caves, islands, high cliffs, warm clear water, and underwater scenery.

The mother ship moored at lunch as we swim in the caves

You might be wondering what a Big Blue Swim Guide does in the off season, away from the warm calm waters of Crete, Santorini or the Ionian Sea? Well, this one swims of course, even though I live in Scotland.  For those of you who do not know me, I was born in Australia and moved to Scotland in 2014. The part of Australia where I lived until then would suffer freezing cold water of around 14c (57F) in the depths of the deepest darkest coldest winter, and if you dared to swim in those frigid temperatures, a wetsuit was compulsory. Even the winter swim clubs who would swim in ocean baths (lidos) in the winter would have to put ice in the water to make it cold enough.

Upon moving to Scotland I found that in summer the water in the lochs would stay below 14c until the middle of May and in a cool winter would not rise much above 16c (61F). Even the sea would stay around 14c. This was a culture shock, but I decided that the water was too stunning to stay out of, so I would wear a wetsuit year round to keep me warm.

After a few years, I decided to swim without the wetsuit in the summer to enjoy the feel of the refreshingly cool water. Then in 2016 I decided to try this winter swimming and swim without a wetsuit year round.

How do I transition from the 25c (77F) water in Crete in October back to the 10c (50F) water in Loch Lomond? One way is to go and sit in the cold water currents that creep across Vrissi Beach in Chora Sfakion which have been measured at 14c. Upon my return to Scotland there is a process, and it involves some pain as the water hits you, and a lot of experience. My return swim might only be for 10 minutes or so before it gets too cold. I would then increase my time in the water each time, and before long I would be able to stay in for 40 minutes or so before it gets too cold.

Then as the water temperature drops down to 8c, then 6c, I try to stay in the water as long as possible each time, swimming with others at all times and making sure I get out well before I get too cold. All of us know that some days the cold affects you more, and it can be as simple as tiredness, too much to drink the day before, or a cool breeze blowing across the water. I always have several layers of clothing ready to put on afterwards to help my body warm, and a hot drink and food. There is also the car heating system on maximum heat as well to help warm up afterwards.

The winter of 2020/2021 has been the coldest winter in 10 years in Scotland. The water in Loch Lomond was down to 3c before the latest lockdown hit, curtailing my swimming activities. I really love swimming in the winter with the air below zero, and snow on the hills around the loch, and when the sun shines it is absolutely stunning. There is something special about driving to a swim and passing snow ploughs and gritter trucks working to keep the roads open. The attached picture gives you some idea of the scene that greets me at Loch Lomond in the winter.

A snowy Queens park in Glasgow in early February 2021 looking pristine

I have also found some smaller lochs closer to home that froze over for most of January, requiring a hammer or ice-axe to break the ice, making a small channel. This picture is one such day when the water was -0.1c (32F) and the air was -3c (26F). That was the coldest water I have ever swum in, and even though the swim was only 5 minutes that day, it was an amazing experience.

If you want to try this winter swimming, please be aware of the risks involved. Find some people in your local area who do it and talk to them. Start slowly and try to stay in slightly longer each time. Cold water shock is real, and is the way your body reacts to the cold water threat. Learn to recognise it, control it as it does not disappear. Have plenty of warm clothing for afterwards, and enjoy the experience. It is a potentially dangerous activity.

And then when you do get back to Greece for a Big Blue Adventure, you will relish that warm sparkling clear water even more.

On the way to Kefalonia for the 5km crossing to Ithaca

4 Comments on “WINTER SWIMMING IN SCOTLAND

  1. I want to do the Crete swim with you at some point. I know I love in Canada but I still prefer the tropics!

    • I would enjoy having you on a trip in Crete, but I must warn you, that the surf is nowhere near as big as Caves Beach and the water is warmer in Crete.

  2. I would love to try cold water swimming. I have a below knee amputation but can swim. If you have any information for swims anywhere near Glasgow, I would be very grateful if you could let me know.

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