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Into Loch Chon they go

The eighth loch for the day was Loch Chon, just upstream from Loch Ard. It was only a short drive, but due to recent changes to the camping rules, it took us some time to get past the rangers and down to the beach. By now it was a glorious day with a heatwave of 20c (68F) in this sheltered loch, and warm 16.2c (61.2F) water. The loch itself is located at 90m above sea level with high forested hills on the western shore.

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Loch Chon looking north. We only swam to the second island and back today.

It was such a relief to have warm sun on my back as I swam my one km, feeling the water warming my chilled body. There were late season flowers blooming on the edge of one of the islands we swam past. I remember swimming in this loch in February a few years ago, with ice covering most of the loch and only a small channel to swim along. That was my first time swimming near ice, and the sounds of the ice cracking and humming as we edged along were magical. But not today.

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The beauty of it all

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The group eager to throw themselves into Loch Chon

Off we went from Loch Chon in our convoy on the way to Loch Katrine, the ninth loch on the adventure. This loch flows into Loch Achray, and has a few steamships that ply their trade for the tourists. It is famous due to Sir Walter Scott, and his poem The Lady of the Loch, and for the book Rob Roy. It is also the main water supply for Glasgow, with swimmers only recently allowed to bathe in the pristine waters.

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Loch Katrine with Factors Island

We had decided to enter the loch at Stronachlachar, a place we had swum from earlier in the summer. Unfortunately, today the water level was much higher, so the wee beach was not accessible, so we had to walk further around through recently cleared trees to find a safe place to get in. It was also cold, as the wind picked up, and the clouds blew in. We doubted the official taking the temperatures were entirely accurate with an air temperature of 16.4c and water of 15.9c. It really felt a few degrees lower than that, but perhaps we were chilled and tired at this time of day.

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The Lady of the Lake making its way to Stronachlachar

The swim out to Factors Island was cold, with some very cold patches. We were making our way back to shore when we noticed the Lady of the Lake coming along. The tourists on board were rugged up on this windy afternoon, and they must have wondered why anyone would swim in these frigid waters either with or without wetsuits. Next time we would check the timetable to keep out of the way.

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The majesty of the Highlands overlooking Loch Katrine

I was glad to get out of the loch, as for the first time today we had some wind and chop to deal with. It was clear to us that we were in The Highlands, and that summer was definitely over. I only swam 600m here, which probably meant my goal of 10km today was not achievable. I was not the only swimmer to notice the cold.

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Our last swim at Inversnaid on Loch Lomond

Out last drive in wet swim gear lay ahead as we would our way from Stronachlachar to Inversnaid on the shores of Loch Lomond. this loch was to be the last, and was a fitting one to end the challenge with. It is the largest body of freshwater in the UK, and drains into the Irish Sea via River Leven and River Clyde. Every second year the BLDSA do a marathon swim race down the 35km length of the loch.

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The waterfall at Inversnaid, the source of cold water for our last dip

As we assembled for one last photo the wind picked up once more, chilling us further. It was also late afternoon and any heat the sun had graced us with at Loch Chon was long gone by now. There is a waterfall that drains from Loch Arklett, and this made this one of the colder places to swim today, with the official temperature of 14.6c. It was cold going in, and I knew that I would not make up the distance I had dropped at Loch Katrine. But hey this was all about having ten swims in ten lochs on the one day, and anything else was a bonus. I did manage to get my total distance up to 9km for the day, with a tough swim into increasing chop before turning back to the waterfall and harbour to exit.

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The last group photo at Loch Lomond

A small number of the hardier swimmers finished off the day with a shower under the waterfall. The smiles on the faces were huge as everyone reflected on the achievement. What had started out as a short conversation had morphed into a fantastic day bringing 30 swimmers together to enjoy a huge challenge. While our swim group is quite large, it is rare for so many of us to get together for a swim more than a few times a year, due to the huge range of swims on our doorstep. Today though we had celebrated our love of swimming in the outdoors, had raised money for charity, and introduced some people to our passion.

Maybe we could make this an annual event. But if we do, we might do it in July when we would have more daylight hours and could be more leisurely with our timetable, or even try to swim in more than ten lochs.

A huge thank you for each and every swimmer who took part in this day: for the drivers who swam and drove; for the people who organised and prepared the lunches; for the shaky temperature person who also organised swim caps, shirts and hoodies; and lastly for Scotland for having enough rain to fill all these bodies with fresh clear water. The day was one of the best days of swimming I had ever done, with a lot of distance, fantastic scenery, and excellent company.

We also had an article published in the October 2017 edition of Outdoor Swimmer if you can find a copy.

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Media coverage of the day

 

 

 

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Loch Venachar looking so inviting with Ben Venue reflected

Our ten lochs challenge continued to Loch Venachar. This was only a short drive from Loch Lubnaig, and the conditions were excellent for swimming. There was hardly a breath of wind whispering over the calm surface as we invaded the loch from the car-park. Most times I have swum here I have witnessed the wind swirling around from multiple directions, so it was a welcome change to have calm conditions.

According to several sources, this loch sits at 82 metres above sea level and empties via Eas Gobhain into the River Teith, which is the source of water for Deanston Distillery. In turn, the River Teith flows into the River Firth which flows past Edinburgh out to the North Sea.

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It was easy to follow the bubbles to return back to the starting point

But enough geography. This swim was so pleasurable, with it being so still that the bubbles caused by the swimmers moving through the water staying visible on the surface. I had to stop several times just to watch the wake from some of my fellow adventurers. The water felt very warm at 15.8c (60.4F), and the air was warming up nicely to 12c as the morning grew longer. I did an easy 1km to keep myself on target.

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In they go at Loch Drunkie

Our next loch was Loch Drunkie, another of the lochs that I had yet to swim in and I had been looking forward to getting in after our reconnaissance. A few of our group had been here during the week working on a film, and enjoyed it. The loch sits in a shallow basin just above and drains into Loch Venachar, just below Duke’s Pass. I am not sure of why the loch has that name, but there must be a good story behind it.

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Loch Drunkie

It was a twenty minute drive from Loch Venachar, down dusty forest tracks to get to the water’s edge. There were lots of tents pitched by the side of the loch as we went in. The water was not as clear as some of the others, but it was a warm 16.1c (61F) according to our official shaky statistician (though it did not feel that warm). I did an easy 900m, stopping to look at the forest surrounding the loch on all sides. This would be a beautiful spot in the autumn to see the trees show off their colours before going into hibernation for the cold winter. This was loch number five, and we were half-way to our goal.

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Enjoying the serenity of Loch Drunkie

 

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Those smiles in Drunkie

The process of drying off, and getting into the dryrobe and maybe getting a small drink, and driving to the next loch was now getting into a routine. Our next stop was Loch Achray, which we had actually already driven past on our drive between Loch Venachar and Loch Drunkie. We had decided to swap entry points to the forest side of the loch after our inspection the previous weekend as it was less muddy than the normal place we used.

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Loch Achray with Ben Venue watching over our swim

Loch Achray is a shallow loch, that also drains into Loch Venachar. Our entry point was adjacent to a campsite, and the campers were fascinated by a pod of thirty swimmers laughing and smiling as they entered the refreshing 15.9c water. A group of us swam across the loch to a small chapel that is used as an idyllic wedding venue. I was starting to notice the chill, and only did 820m on this swim. Six lochs now finished, only four to go.

 

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Another group shot taken by one of the campers at Loch Achray.

There were lots of photos taken by other swimmers, and I have put some of this in the blog. One of the interesting observations about the day was that each and every swimmers had a different experience of each swim, but they all were enjoying the day.

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The loch was rocky as we entered Loch Achray

After Achray, we had the longest drive of the day, up and over Duke’s Pass and down into Aberfoyle, and then to Kinlochard. Here we had booked the hall to have our lunch break, after we of course had swum in Loch Ard. This small loch is one of the sources of the River Forth, and it is one of our favourite places for a swim. Today, the fog of earlier had cleared and it was starting to warm up, with the air at 17.5c (63.5F), and the water a tropical 16.5c (61.7F).

We had a couple of fox terriers greeting us as we entered the water, running up and down the stone jetty looking confused about these people going for a swim. The wind was still light, and even though there were some dinghies sailing, we were moving through the water quicker than they could. I swam just under 1100m to get me back on track. It was great to see everyone still eager to get in and swim.

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The welcome party for the swimmers at Loch Ard

Into the hall we went for a well earned hot soup and cakes (after all what is an outdoor swim without cake) and hot drinks. I managed to talk to a lot of people I only get to see a few times a year, and the smiles on their faces and the joy in their eyes were wonderful. We even had a few hardy souls who decided to embark on their wild swimming adventures today. Not for them a leisurely swim in one loch: no ten swims in ten lochs for them.

 

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A bark for each and every swimmer

Too soon it was time to drag the now partly refreshed bodies back into the cars to head for loch eight at Loch Chon.

 

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Loch Earn, our first swim

A short conversation in early July at Loch Ard with Gillian the Yoga guru swimmer along the lines of how it would be great to swim six or seven lochs in The Trossachs over a weekend during the summer. I thought we could do better than that. So I entered a short comment on our Wild West Swimmers group page about the possibility of swimming ten lochs in a day. I thought we might get at most a dozen interested people. Soon we had up to 50 people keen to do this, so the Ten Lochs Challenge was born.

What was the Ten Lochs Challenge? Well it was the possibility of swimming in ten lochs on a one day, with the ultimate challenge of one km in each loch. It would be possible, but of course a lot depended upon the weather. It would also give me the opportunity to swim a few lochs I had not yet swum in.

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A group photo before our first swim in Loch Earn

George (yes the friend I had swum into the rocks in our pier to pub swim) went for a drive the weekend before the scheduled swim to get timings for the itinerary. We had a great time driving through The Trossachs on a stunning summer day. We came up with this plan for our day on the first Saturday in September:-

First swim – Loch Earn 07.00 – 07.30
Drive to Loch Voil 07.30 – 08.00 (15 min)
Loch Voil swim 08.00 – 08.30
Drive to Loch Lubnaig 08.30 – 09.00 (15 min)
Loch Lubnaig swim 09.00 – 09.30
09.30 – 10.00 Lubnaig – tea /coffee snack & catch time
Drive to Loch Venachar 10.00 – 10.30 (15 min)
Loch Venachar swim 10.30 – 11.00
Drive to Loch Drunkie 11.00 – 11.40
Loch Drunkie swim 11.40 – 12.10
Drive to Loch Achray 12.10 – 12.30
Loch Achray swim 12.30 – 13.00
Drive to Loch Ard 13.00 – 13.45
Loch Ard swim 13.45 – 14.15
Soup sandwiches & chat @ Ard 14.15 – 15.30
Drive to Loch Chon 15.30 – 16.00 (10 mins)
Loch Chon swim 16.00 – 16.30
Drive to Loch Katrine 16.30 – 17.00 (15 mins)
Loch Katrine swim 17.00 – 17.30
Drive to Inversnaid 17.30 – 18.00 (15 mins)
Inversnaid Loch Lomond swim 18.00 -18.30.

The total distance to drive for this would be about 60 miles ( or 100km), pus the distance to the start from Glasgow of another 60 miles, and back to Glasgow from Inversnaid of another 45 miles, a total of 165 miles ( or 260km). So it would be a long day with lots of driving and swimming.

 

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Loch Earn at dawn from a drone (thanks Jim)

The day started with a 530am pickup from my driver for the day: The Actor. Our drive up through Stirling past the castle and The Wallace Monument as dawn was breaking was magical. The weather forecast was for a sunny day with calm conditions until mid afternoon. As we arrived at Lochearnhead, it as cold, with an air temperature of 6.5c. There was an excited buzz in the carpark as the 30 or so swimmers fell out of their vans and cars to get ready for the day. Some wear wearing the full wetsuit, others in skins (no wetsuit). It was great to so so many eager people with huge smiles on their faces, with a love of open water swimming.

I had decided to try to do the whole day in skins, and to try and get one km in each loch. I knew that the water temperature should not be a problem, as I had been swimming most of the summer in skins. However, the challenge was going to be staying warm and fed between swims.

After the photo shoot was over, we all went into the water. And yes Loch Earn was cold, with the water only 13.8c. But it was stunning, with the mist sitting on the water waiting to wrap the swimmers in their embrace, calm conditions, and the rising sun flooding the loch. I managed to swim just under 1km to start the day.

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The entry point looking towards Loch Voil

Back in the car, and the convoy shifted to Loch Voil. Our car went first as I knew where we could access the loch. We planned to enter the River Balvaig, a short 8km long river that connect Loch Voil to Loch Lubnaig. We would enter and then swim 200m upstream into the loch. Now this was the first time I had swum in this loch, and I had been looking forward to it. However, as we arrived, the fog had closed in, and the visibility was down to a few hundred metres. As we entered the river, and made our way through the weeds the fog thickened and visibility dropped to 50m or so. But the water was slightly warmer at 15.4c, a lot warmer than the chilly 7.9c air temperature.

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A fellow skin swimmer in Loch Voil

As we made our way into the loch we could hear the shrieks  behind us. It was only afterwards that we learnt that a weed monster had appeared to terrorise some of the swimmers. A group of us did make into the loch proper, and it was a different swim in the slowly lifting fog that slowly revealed the beauty of this hidden loch.

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An islet guarding the entry to River Balvaig in Loch Voil

Back into the car, keeping warm and dry in my dryrobe. I had swum another 900m in Loch Voil, so was just under my target distance. two lochs down, only eight to go, as we drove down to Loch Lubnaig.

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The beautiful Loch Lubnaig with not a ripple on the surface

The third loch on our challenge was Loch Lubnaig, which is a loch we often visit during each year, because of its beauty. Today, it was on its very best behaviour with the smooth waters just begging to be swum in. The water here was a pleasant 15.1c, and by now the fog had lifted and the air had warmed up to 10.4c. Out into the water I went, and swum across the loch and back, and then up a short way, getting out after 1100m, which put me back on the schedule. It was then time to refresh with some snacks and warm drinks and chat to the other swimmers, who all had huge smiles.

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Looking across Loch Lubnaig to the entry point with swimmers just visible

 

So three lochs down, and our timetable was working well. Everyone was having fun, the weather was fantastic, and eager for the challenge ahead.

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

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The Pier at the start of the race, with the finish line at the Pub on Inchmurrin, the island in the distance

The middle of August 2017, and time for the annual Pier to Pub swim. This is one of my favourite swim races, and I was lucky to be doing it for the third year in a row. The race starts at Arden Pier on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, and finishes 2.3km away at the hotel on Inchmurrin, (the largest island in the Loch, and the largest fresh water island in the UK). In 2016 I had swum the race in skins, but this year I decided to revert to the wetsuit due to the conditions,, with a freshening headwind forecast for our swim east in the late afternoon.

I was joined this year by Vince,  who was aiming to win the non-wetsuit or skins category; and George our erstwhile kayaker and sometime swimmer who was making his debut in the race. Both of them had been part of the swimming adventure in Milos Greece in 2016. Also joining us was Emma our channel swimmer in training, both Davids the men who was only happy when the water was cold, and several other Wild West Swimmers. I also saw several swimmers from the weekday swim group that I often joined for dawn service on Loch Lomond.

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Hurry up and start us, some of the swimmers feeling the cold before the start

This race is magnificently organised by the owners of the hotel on Inchmurrin, and is a fund-raiser for local charities. The briefing at the start was short and to the point: start here, go to the right of the moored boats, then aim for the cruiser stationed half-way across. Then keep Inchmurrin on your left, the mainland on your right, and exit between the first and second jetty in front of the hotel.

This year, I was doing the swim for a bit of fun, and would be happy just to make it across. I had not swum as much this summer as I had in 2016, and as not in as good a shape as I would have liked. Regardless, this race is always fun.

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The start of the race

I started on the left hand side of the start line, mainly to keep away from the rest of the 60 or so swimmers in the race. I noticed that the wind was starting to pick up even as we had waited for the start. Away we went, and I was quickly passing other swimmers, and went out past the moored yachts. I noticed Vince steaming past me, as I recognised his distinctive windmill stroke, and his bare arms. I let him go, as I did not think I would keep up.

After around 500m I noticed that Vince was taking a good line and was no more than about 30m in front of me, with another swimmers in-between. I thought I would try to catch him, as the wind had definitely picked up, creating a small chop hitting us head on. These conditions tend to suit me, perhaps because of my experience of swimming in waves and chop in Australia. Within another 500m there were two of us jostling to get on Vince’s feet to get that small amount of drag.

 

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The finish with Vince standing just in front of me…great swim

Past the cruiser at the half-way point we went, with the three of us battling the increasing chop from the rising wind. It was tough to get a consistent pattern going, with a battle for every stroke to try to keep balanced. These conditions were getting tougher, but still we swam on, and still we swam no more than 5 metres apart.

We approached the island, and I sensed this year’s swim was taking longer than the previous year. The chop racing through the channel had pushed us too far north, and we battled to keep out of the shallow water along Inchmurrin. Suddenly I noticed another swimmer join our pack, and he looked fresher than us. I decided to use an old trick as we approached a shoal of rocks, and managed to force this anonymous person to ground onto a shallow bank as I kept going in slightly deeper water Was this fair? For an event like this probably not, but George and I joked about it over a beer in the hotel (yes it was George I forced to run aground).

 

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Some more swimmers finishing, and you can make out some of the chop going left to right. We swam from the right of this picture.

Finally we got neared the finishing line, and Vince had put on his infamous burst to get away, and he was just ahead of me. With the support of the cheer squad on the jetty, I tried to catch him, but as you can see from one of the photos, he beat me by about a metre or so. Great swim for a determined swimmer in skins up against other wetsuit swimmers. George had recovered from his premature beaching, and was just behind us.

My time for this 2300m was a slow 49 minutes, in a wetsuit. I had swum the same distance in 2015 in a wetsuit in 37 minutes, and in 2016 in 41 minutes without the wetsuit. The difference was the tougher conditions, swimming into a strong wind and chop.

Once again a great meal was provided to the swimmers in the hotel. Vince did win the non-wetsuit category, George won a raffle prize, and I managed another top ten finish overall. I also won a prize, a signed book by Adam Walker about his efforts to become the first British swimmer to swim the Oceans Seven (the English Channel, The North Channel, Catalina Channel, Straits of Gibraltar, the Molokai Channel, Cook Strait, and Tsugaru Strait). Was this a sign from the universe of what I should aim for into the future? I contemplated this on the ferry ride back to the mainland.

Once again another fantastic swim. I hope to be back in 2018 for four years in a row. A big thanks to Kim for some of these photos too.

 

 

 

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Our transport to the starting point…the finishing point is above the grey rib

My first summer race of 2017 was the Royal West of Scotland Amateur Boat Club (RWSABC) Cross Clyde Swim from Kilcreggan to Greenock. This swim is in the lower reaches of the Clyde River as it flows through the Firth of Clyde out to the Irish Sea. It is an annual swim that is only held when conditions are favourable. I had the pleasure of swimming in the RWSABC 150th Anniversary swim last season, so I looked forward to this 3 km race.

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The competitors before the start

There was the option of swimming in skins (no wetsuit) for this event, but even though I had done plenty of skins swimming, I decided to wear the wetsuit. The main reasons were the chance of encountering the dreaded lions mane jellyfish, plus the lack of recent training.

Joe the organiser of this event wanted us there in plenty of time to get the briefing underway, take the photos, and then to transport us across to the start line. Kilcreggan is on the north shore of the river, and is part of Argyll, while Greenock the finishing point is on the southern shore. It also gave time for the kayakers to paddle across to the start point. The ride across in the rib was fun, though I did notice there was a bit of chop out in the middle. Luckily the wind was going to be behind us, and with an incoming tide as well, the times should be fast. I was confident that Vince and Jade from WWS would do quite well, and I was just hoping to keep up my 100% finishing record.

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Some of the trophies at the RWSABC

As we stood on the shore at Kilcreggan out of the wind, with the sun beating down, we looked into the distance to try to get our bearings of where to swim to. I had not swum on this side of the Clyde before, and it took a little time to work out which hill and buildings would be good sighting points. Finally as the twenty-nine swimmers gathered, we were given our final instructions.

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A map of our swim route with the start at Kilcreggan at the top and the finish at Greenock at the bottom

My tactics for the race were simple: finish and not to worry about racing anyone else. The start was quite sheltered and the fast swimmers were soon out of sight. I noticed that I was in the middle of the course with kayakers visible on both sides of me as I alternated my breathing. I could see a yellow channel marker in the distance, and thought that was a good place to aim for. I could see that I was keeping other swimmers in my eye-line on either side, which reassured me that I was heading in the right general direction. I remembered that part of the briefing where we were advised not to go too far left as it would be more difficult to swim against the tide at the finish.

I sighted my first big jellyfish, but luckily it was around 3 metres underneath me in the water. Then I saw another, but once again it as well underneath me. It was time to relax and enjoy the strange beauty of these creatures. The further we went in the swim, the stronger the following wind became, and its interaction with the tide resulted in some decent chop to contend with. I swam into some kelp, and my imagination immediately thought I had run into a rogue jellyfish. However, no stings, so just some debris on the water.

I was starting to get a bit tired at the 2.5km mark and could feel my energy levels dropping. By this time the finish line was in sight, and I was very happy with my navigation skills as it was straight ahead. I was catching a swimmer ahead of me, and I then decided to try to catch them. As we edged closer to the finish line we got closer and closer to each other, until I passed them in the last 50m or so.

I finished the race, and felt elated that I had made it. The conditions had not been easy with the following chop causing my body position to shift in every stroke. I was ninth overall in a fast time of 48 minutes for the 3km distance. Vince had come second, Jade was first female and first in skins. Other members of the WWS acquitted themselves very well too.

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The RWSABC Clubhouse

 

The presentation was fun, with prizes to each and every skins swimmer for braving the cool 14c water. Another well organised swim, and a real sense of achievement to have swum across the Clyde. Well done to Kristy who realised her dream of doing this swim after living in Kilcreggan for many years.

My first summer race of the 2017 season completed with not enough training.

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Part of the crowd in Edinburgh on a Scottish summer day

This blog is about my swimming adventures around the world. However, bear with me while I diverge somewhat as there is a link. If I had not moved to the UK to further my swimming travels, I would not have had the opportunity to attend a garden party. The Australian High Commission in London had been granted passes for loyal Australian subjects of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second to attend a Garden Party at either Buckingham Palace in London, or at The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. As we lived in Glasgow, only 80 km or so from Edinburgh, it made sense to apply for a place there, rather than in London.

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We also thought that having a garden party on 4 July (a sense of irony perhaps) in Edinburgh would mean a lovely summer’s day.  It was with a sense of delight that I was told that our application to attend was successful. Wow, an opportunity to see the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in person.

The day of the event arrived, and I did not wear my kilt, unlike a large number of gentlemen who did (and they mostly looked very elegant as well). Unfortunately, the vagaries of the Scottish summer came to pass, with a cold wet day forecast, with a top temperature of 13c. We were going outdoors to have some tea and cake, and did not want to shiver and be miserable. I had lived in Scotland for a few years now, but can now share their disappointment of their disheartening summers and pale complexions.

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It is a fine day if you can see Arthur’s Seat

We made it to the Palace quite dry, as the heavy rain of the morning had stopped, leaving its presence felt with the cooling breeze and leaden sky. Just before this event it was announced that the Prince Philip would retire from public life over the summer, and that this event would be one of his last. We did manage to get within 2 metres of the 96-year-old Duke, and could only admire the way he could still converse and walk unaided around the crowds.

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Not looking like a local

We did enjoy the afternoon, despite the cold conditions. We felt honoured to have the opportunity to attend such an event, and recognised that sometimes it was good to be an Australian living in Scotland. You can certainly see that the Royal Family knows how to stage an event. Will I get to go again I wonder?

Sunny Corfu

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Another perfect dawn looking towards the Greek mainland

In May we headed to Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea for a well deserved break in the sun. Before I moved to Scotland I took the sun for granted, knowing it would shine in my native land down under more often than not. I would hide from it in the long summer from October to March, only venturing outdoors when it was absolutely necessary to compete or commute. After all the sun is a killer.

Now that I stay in Scotland, the land of mist and grey with a gentle sun that nurtures the body, to be sure of a sun filled holiday, a trip abroad is required. So a short three-hour flight to Corfu, the island made famous by the Durrell family, and as the birthplace of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. It is also recognised as one of the greenest of the Greek islands.

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The view from our room

The place we stayed was on the east coast of the island and had a large swimming area. Each morning I would get up at dawn and go for a swim in the cool waters, often with only the sea birds and fish accompanying me. The dawns were magic as the sun rose over the mainland, with smooth conditions that were too hard to resist. I would often go for a swim in the late morning, and in the late afternoon as well, exploring the local environs. I was more often than not the only person swimming any distance at this time of year, as the water was considered to be too cold at around 18c. A few years ago I would have agreed, but not now that I swim in the cool waters of the Scottish lochs.

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One of the pools in the complex that was more heavily used than the ocean

I did try to swim in the pools in the complex, as they were a decent size, and very clean. There was only one problem: they were too warm for me. They were also heavily used by other guests who did not venture too far from their sun lounges during the day. So I would leave them to their pools, and swim in the ocean, with the joy of some gentle waves generated by afternoon onshore winds, and the feel of salt water on my skin again. It was very relaxing to swim at dawn, have a shower, and then enjoy the delights of the breakfast buffet. Over the week I managed to swim around fifteen kms, a good way to get some time in the water under my belt before the start of the summer season ahead. My swimming at home had been mainly in the pool to date, with only short swims outdoors. It was good to swim with warm air on my shoulders and back again, after the blast of my first winter swimming without a wetsuit

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We never tired of looking at this view

We also managed to explore the island a bit, at least to see Corfu town. Whenever I travel in this part of the world, the sense of history is always there waiting to be discovered and lapped up. Having been born in the New World, this concept of a long history with all its monuments, buildings and myths are a constant source of wonder. It was hard to leave the island to return to Glasgow, but we knew that we would have to make plans to travel again.

 

 

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The colours of sunrise and the rain

I like to go for a swim in a local loch on special days, such as the summer solstice. For 21 June 2017 a short drive to Duck Bay just near Cameron House on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond for the 4am start time. I still find it incredible to live in a place where it really does not get fully dark in mid-summer.

A group of us decided to make this a swim event, even though it was the middle of the week. Such dedication from these crazy swimmers, with several getting up at 3am to make the half hour drive to the meeting point. Of course the weather forecast was for some cloud and rain, but we have come to expect that. After all we had our summer at the end of May when the temperature soared to 26c for two or three days with wall to wall sun.

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The colour at dawn

When I arrived at the beach, it was grey and cloudy, and I doubted that we would have much of a day. It reminded me of a few years ago when we could not even tell when the sun rose as the clouds were so thick and it rained steadily. As I measured the water at a tropical 16.3c I noticed a parting of the clouds and a small amount of colour trying to break. As everyone arrived it started to look more promising.

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Looking east towards Inchmurrin and Conic Hill

As we all got ready to swim and gathered on the shores, the magic of the summer solstice happened in front of us, with a glorious colour flooding the sky and reflected in the mirror smooth surface of the loch. What a sight, and how incredibly lucky we all were to experience this.

So then we all entered the water, and swam down to Cameron House and back, enjoying the warmth of the water and the calm conditions of the loch. I know that I stopped swimming several times and just looked at the amazing show that nature was providing for us, knowing that most people would still be sound asleep and missing it all.

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Two swimmers with the Luss hills shrouded in mist behind

It was not long before the dawn show faded, and we were left with the grey light of another cloudy summer’s day on the west coast of Scotland. An incredible swim with the rain falling gently on the still loch, with the reflection of a beautiful sunrise. There was a power to nature on this the longest day of the year.

 

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The smiles after making it across from Jura to Scarba

The Gulf of Corryvreckan is a body of water that separates the islands of Jura and Scarba off the west coast of Scotland. Most bodies of water are quite tame, but this one is famous for its treacherous whirlpool, which is the third largest whirlpool on the planet. When the spring tide runs, this whirlpool can be heard up to 10km away, and boats are advised to stay away.It is the place where George Orwell almost drowned as he was writing 1984.

A link to an article about the area:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Corryvreckan

Here is a link to a video of a boat trip through the area  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoOdnqODHNs

It has been a dream of mine to swim this body of water, and in July 2017, I organised a trip for 30 intrepid adventurers from Wild West Swimmers to do just that. Now, a swim can only be done on this trip when the tide is slack, at either high or low water. The actual swim is quite short at around 1.3 km, but the maximum window is about 45 minutes.

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A pod of swimmers starting out at Jura at the start of their swim

I had hired a local boat captained by Duncan, who had been taken swimmers across this gulf for around 15 years. He has forgotten more about this area of the coast than most people will ever learn. As soon as I stepped on board, it was obvious that he knew his trade, and I felt quite safe. There were 10 swimmers on our journey that morning, with another ten to follow in the afternoon, and the last ten the next day.

We set out from the village of Craobh Haven early on the Saturday morning, with clouds trying their best to hide the sun from us, and with a fresh breeze keeping us cool. Two of our group, had opted for a two-way swim, while the rest of us decided on a one way. Of the eight doing the one way, two of us were doing it in skins (including me). We changed on the boat on the short 30 minute journey out to the Gulf, and waited for the water to slow, as the second safety boat checked out the conditions, and we listened to the safety briefing. The two-way swimmers Vince and Alistair jumped in and they were off.

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A minke whale passing us as we swam across

We watched them head out on their challenge, and then it was our turn to jump in . The water was quite cool around 13c, but I could only think of the swim ahead. Off we went, with Tony leading the way. The water was not still, and it reminded me off my younger days of swimming off the beaches of Australia, and it was great to have that feeling again. I soon settled into my familiar pattern, and was enjoying the swim, keeping an eye on Scarba ahead of us, and the boat to make sure we were heading roughly in the right general direction. We were all so absorbed, that none of us saw the whale that swam near us (the passengers and crew on the boat saw it).

Now one of the things about this swim is that you swim in an arc, because that it is the way the water moves. We were pushed to our right as we started but as we got closer to Scarba, the water flow reversed and we started to head left. The trick is to make sure you compensate for this at the start, as you do not want to get too close to the whirlpool. The closer we got to Scarba, the more we could feel the gently rise and fall of the ocean swells, a feeling I had not experienced for a long time. Soon we had finished in around 25 minutes of swimming, and as we climbed back on board the smiles on everyone faces were huge. The two-way swimmers also managed to go across and back, a huge achievement.

 

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The boat, the swimmers, and goal achieved

A short ride back to the marina, and then off to the pub for a lunch and a whisky or two to celebrate our swim. I even managed to catch a game of AFL from Sydney on the tv. That night we all celebrated at our campsite, sharing yarns about swimming through the maelstrom. More than one person asked me if I was going to organise another trip next year, and with a twinkle in my eye I said maybe, as this was wild swimming at its best, with strange currents, salt water, sea creatures, legends, and superb company.

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Jura is the island on the left, Scarba on the right, with the Gulf in-between

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A piper at the IISA GB Ice Swimming Champs

The International Ice Swimming Association were holding the 2017 Great British Ice Swimming Championships in the waters of Loch Lomond in early February 2017. Our group of swimmers decided to enter, but at the time of the close of entries I had not progressed my training enough, so limited my entry to the 50m sprint. Others were entered in the 1km, 500m and 200m events. The rules were simple, swim with one cap, one pair of goggles and one pair of swimmers.

The event was held at a function centre situated on the banks of Loch Lomond. Usually at this time of year this location is sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds. However, for the few days before the event, and on the actual day, a cold east wind blew in from Europe, meaning there would be a large chop in the water. For the efforts of the various swimmers to be recognised the water had to drop under 5c, and the temperature had stubbornly sat at just over 5c. Luckily for everyone, the effects of lots of snow, and cold temperatures resulted in the water dropping to 4c on the day.

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Part of the course with Inchmurrin in the background, and Conic Hill just visible through the snow squalls

I had volunteered to time keep on the day, meaning I had to stand out in the cold weather to record the times of the swimmers as they pushed themselves round the one km course in testing conditions. The air temperature was just above zero all day, with snow showers blowing through with Ben Lomond and Conic Hills taking turns to disappear from view as the day wore on. To keep warm I would think back to my days of timekeeping in Australia where I had a hot sun burning my back.

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Officials and water safety wait for the next heat as the waves get larger

It was inspirational to watch swimmers from around the UK and the world swim in these testing conditions. It is hard enough to swim one km in water this cold at the best of times, but when there is a large chop on the water it became even more difficult. Fortunately for Scotland, a local swimmer of some renown won the one km and 500m events in very fast times (he also holds the record for the fastest skins swim of Loch Lomond).

I had entered the 50m event, and as my time approached I left the beach to get changed in the warmth of the function centre. It was cold as I walked down to registration where I learnt I was going to be in heat one of the event. We walked along the beach and entered the water. It was bracingly cold, but I knew that if I swam fast I would be finished in under a minute, hardly time to get cold. The gun went and we were off. I soon swam to the front, and kept my head down ignoring the screams of my body telling me it was cold. I crossed the finish line in first place, and obtained my time. I stood and watched the second heat, and watched as my winning time was surpassed by one other swimmer, but at least he was a fellow Australian (well done Nick). Yes the Australians had managed to come first and second on the podium in an event that we should not do well in.

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My medal and swim cap from my race

I walked back up to the function centre and got changed into warm gear. A bunch of our group from the Wild West Swimmers (all of whom had done extremely well in swimming on the day, with some winning medals) went down to Balloch for a nice pub feed. The event finished with a traditional ceilidh (pronounced keilie), which is a dance with fiddles and pipes. It is very much like a bush dance in Australia, and it was a lot of fun.

Maybe next time I will enter the longer events such as the one km race, as by next winter I would have had more training behind me.

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This gives you an idea of  size of the chop on the day