Learning to Swim (Andrew)

No one needs a bag when they have a towel

It’s funny. I can remember swimming, but I can’t remember learning to swim. Instead all I remember is trunks and towels. 

We would swim on holiday in the small Perthshire town of Aberfeldy. It has a sports centre with a 25 metre pool and every day on holiday we would go for a swim. We would get ready by grabbing our towel, folding it lengthwise in half and the rolling it up with our trunks inside. We’d then carry it under out arm up to the centre. We’d then unroll it, get changed and then repeat again on the way home – except this time our armpits would get wet because we were carrying a soggy towel and trunks. 

We never thought to use a bag. There was no need, once a towel was rolled up with your trunks then you didn’t need anything else. Not even goggles because for some reason our Dad didn’t believe in goggles. “You don’t need them”, he’s say, “If you duck your head under the water, it’ll sting for a minute but you’ll soon adjust.”

Which was okay for him, as, due to an illness, he only had nerves attached to one eye so was basically a cyclops when it came to swimming. He’s suffered an aneurysm behind an eye and been subject to a medical procedure that  he said “used a soup spoon to pop out my eyeball so that it could hang down my face like a Christmas decoration.” Somewhere there’s a medical case study describing the procedure he went through. We’ve never looked to find it – in case there’s photos of our Dad sitting proud with an eyeball like a yo-yo.

Because of his operation, he would never use goggles and would dive straight in, swim back and forth for 20 minutes and jump out with bright red eyes. “See,” he said, “you’ll get used it!”

We didn’t.

I could never put my head under the water. I still struggle now when water gets into my goggles. I need to stop and clear it.

But we never got our own goggles. It never occurred to me. Just as it never occurred to me to get a bag. I was learning from my Dad and we just did what he did – even if he was medical miracle who thought he was Aquaman – and somehow I learned to swim. But I don’t remember how. It certainly wasn’t by listening to my Dad.

Training for Celtman 2021: October (Andrew)

The day I didn’t make it to the Windfarm when my derailleur broke

Through lockdown I’ve tried to keep to Windfarm Wednesday. This is a ride out to Eaglesham wind farm on the Southside of Glasgow on a Wednesday. Unless it’s raining in which case it’s wind farm Thursday. Or, because it’s Scotland in the summer, Windfarm Maybe Next Week When The Rain Finally Stops.

Now that the clocks are going back I will need to pause Windfarm Wednesday until the Spring, assuming that we’ll still be working from home, which, given current conditions, is a safe an assumption as Donald Trump will lie when he opens his mouth.

I will miss Windfarm Wednesday because it’s been the first time in six years that I’ve had the chance to consistently ride outside during the week. Normally I’d be commuting to and from Larbert and would only get the occasional chance to head out between arriving home and dinner and dog walking and all the other things we need to do at night. Instead, I would try and grab 45 minutes on an indoor bike before the evening overtakes me.

Having the chance to spend at least one night a week outside has been fantastic and has provided a good break from lockdown life as it allowed me to not become too insular by living and working from home 24 hours a day. Instead, it’s an escape to flee the city and, most importantly, to find new places and visit parts of Scotland I’ve never been before, even if only an hours distance from my house.

Over the last six months I’ve tried to explore new routes but to always pass the windfarm on the way out or the way back. It’s good to have a target – the Windfarm – but the journey changes every week.

Over the winter I hope to flip this approach to the long nights and not fall into an easy routine on the indoor bike as the journey doesn’t change: the bike doesn’t even move.

Instead I’m going to try various simulated climbs and try a new one each week through Zwift and other apps so while my journey may not change each week then at least I’ll always have a different target.

Introduction to Winter Swimming – Part 1 (Andrew)

If you want to know the first signs of hypothermia then here’s a video of me trying to eat a Twix after 90 minutes of cycling in zero degrees in just a short sleeved t-shirt. I’m wearing three layers of clothes to warm up and I still look like this:

Now, try to imagine swimming when you can’t control your body. Grim – and dangerous.

I normally stop swimming in October, once the water temperature falls below 12 degrees, and will only try a few quick dips until April. While I like the ‘shock’ of cold water I don’t like the ‘reward to travel’ ratio as it shrinks considerably in winter months. Why do I want to travel for an hour or more just to spend five minutes in the water? Instead I could walk to my bath and sit on some icecubes for five minutes and still have time to read a good book by an open fire?!?!

For anyone considering longer swims in winter than I thought it would be helpful to share a few links on how to prepare, what to expect and what to do if you get too cold – or, worse, get hypothermia and can’t eat a Twix. The links are below but if I had any tips to share these would be them:

  • Never swim alone
  • Swim for less time than you think you would comfortably manage
  • Never swim alone
  • Keep to the edge, the water will be much colder the deeper you get
  • Never swim alone
  • If in doubt, don’t get in or, if you are in, get out.
  • Never swim alone

And for more on hypothermia.

First Time Swimming Outdoors (Andrew)

I was told before I swam outdoors for the first time that the best thing I should do is to splash my forehead with water. 

This seemed like terrible advice. The last thing I want to do before swimming in open water is to splash my forehead with water because… well, the water is BLOODY FREEZING!!! Firemen don’t set themselves on fire before tackling a burning blaze so why do swimmers have to freeze before they jump in??!

But cold water it was.

Or at least it was in May in Scotland: the water had only started to reach 10 degrees aka Highland Tropical.

Below 10 degrees, if you’re going for a dip, you need balls of steel – and toes of steel and feet of steel and basically an entire body made from a metal that doesn’t know how to gasp. Above 10 degrees and you can start to consider a paddle, just as long as you don’t dip your head below the surface as otherwise it’s instant brain freeze, faster than sticking an ice lolly up your nostrils.

But the thing is, you adjust to it. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s an ice lolly this week, next week it’s a three bar heater. The more you swim outside. the more your body adjusts to the temperature until eventually your skinny dipping in Ben & Jerry’s and wondering why it’s so warm.

First, you have to go in. And the first dip is always the hardest. The water runs down your back. You’re slapped in the face with an ice cube and you lose all feeling in your feet and toes.

If you’re really unlucky, the shock of the cold, causes you body to contract and it feels like Mr Freeze is hugging you, and not in a good way. In a “I’m going to crush your chest coz I’m a strong supervillain type” way.

However, next time, it get’s easier. And the time after that you’re Mr Freeze’s equal. You’re Kettleman! The only man who can make Mr Freeze disappear!

But first you’ve got to get in. So, I splashed my forehead with water and got in the loch. It was freezing. And it was fantastic. And one day I might get my feeling in my feet back.

Training for Celtman 2021: September

Mark the day. Sunday 27 September 2020. That was the day I started to ride away from the house for a cycle round Renfrewshire and, before I got a mile away I turned round, rode home and picked up full length gloves and an extra jacket. Brrrrrr. It’s getting cold!

Now the cold should be good training for Celtman but I can see from my training this month that I’m starting to do more indoor rides rather than heading outside. I think October will see that accelerate along with the last of any serious swims (anything longer than 10 mins!).

The water temperature is falling too. I didn’t think of starting a swim in skins this month but I did manage to finish a few swims with a five minute dip without a wetsuit at the end of a swim. I then spent the rest of the night trying to warm up. Baby, it’s cold outside… and in the water.

The sky is so cold it’s turned blue too

In Praise of the DryRobe (Andrew)

The towel is not something we spend a lot of time thinking about. We mostly take them for granted – until we forget to bring one to the shower, or, worse, a loch after swimming outside.

There is nothing worse than coming out of a loch, looking in your bad and finding nothing to dry yourself except the t-shirt and jumper you were going to use to keep warm.

That’s why it’s important to dress right for swimming outdoors and there is no way you can go wrong if you wear a dryrobe.

Now some folk have fancy dryrobe’s with a waterproof outer shell and a nice soft inner lining to keep you dry and warm. I however have no time for such luxuries. If you want to wear a towel then wear a towel, like the one above.

It’s still a dry robe, for that all important branding when lochside, but it is nothing more than a towel stitched to another towel with an added hood and arm holes.

It’s brilliant. (And cheap).

Once you get out of your wetsuit you can use all of your new towel robe to dry every single bit of you just by rubbing yourself all over. It’s actually better than a towel because, while wearing it, you can feel it rub against all the bits you can’t normally reach if you had a towel. Between the shoulder blades? No problem. Just sit in your car with your towel robe on and rub your back against the back of the seat. It’s brilliant, and despised.

I will admit that it’s not the fashionable item. In fact it’s banned in my house as, when my wife sees it hanging up, she does threaten to burn it on the basis that it is a crime against fashion. But it’s not meant to be fashionable. Just look at the photo above. No one is going to go out on a Saturday night to a fancy restaurant in a towel robe. But it is practical and effective and I would recommend it to all budding open water swimmers… and to monks who want to keep warm.

However, despite my wife’s claim that it is not fashionable, I would beg to differ. Maybe it’s too fashionable?

Hear me out: perhaps the highest praise for the towel robe is the fact that it is so ingenious and forward thinking an item that it’s not even listed in Wikipedia as a form of towel. Check it out. Here’s the entry: Towel but, under types of towels, there is not one mention of it as an item of clothing. So, there you go, a towelrobe is so fashionable that it’s not even mentioned on the website which knows everything.

So, get ahead of the public, get ahead of the fashion pack, next time you’re at a loch, or being dined out at Gordon Ramsay michelin starred restaurants, why not wear a towel?

Rugged Ride: Tourist Sites Of The Western Isles (Andrew)

The Callanish Stones are the second most famous stones in the UK after the prehistoric Stonehenge and, of course, the far older stones of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

I was home for the weekend in Stornoway and and decided to see if there was now a tourist friendly route to cycle in Stornoway. Over the last few years the island has become more of a tourist attraction with cafes popping up in villages that previously only saw food when the weekly grocer’s van popper round.

I started the ride by heading north west in an anti-clockwise route but only because the wind was coming from the south west and I wanted it behind me when I finished. part from that the ride can be done in either direction.

First up (1), on the tourist trail is the Arnol blockhouse, a tradtional croft restored and rebuilt. But, ignore that and look in the field next door where you can find the local bus.

Next up (2), you have the Broch, an ancient stone keep/castle/no one is quite sure what it for. My dad always used to say there was a secret tunnel which led out of the Broch so the clans could escape. When we were young we would spend hours looking for the tunnel until, a few years later, when we were older, he admitted there was no tunnel because “why would they have a tunnel which the enemy could enter and bypass the walls?”. We said “what about Star Wars and the Death Star, that had a tunnel?” because, when you are 10, history and science fiction are exactly the same thing.

After the Broch, head to the Callanish Stones (3) and the 15% climb to get up to it. Thankfully the climb is less than 20 metres.

(The Callanish Stones are, of course, not as good as the Calla Stones because the Callanish Stones are only Callan-ish…)

The stones are fantastic and only ruined by the fact that they are completely pointless. No one knows what they are or what they do or why they are there. It’s a mystery and one that I have to say I SOLVED!

Yes, I know what the Callanish Stones are for because, earlier in the ride I passed another stone and it had a sign beside it.

And I can’t believe that no one has put two and two together and realised that if that one stone can be a scratching stone then the Callanish Stones must have been a pre-historic cat sanctuary and they needed lots of stones for cats to scratch. I will write to Tony Robinson and get Time Team on the case!

The final stretch (4) is the old road from Stornoway. Don’t carry onto the main road as it’s usually busy with people driving to town and there’s nothing particularly scenic to cut straight up. Instead the back road leads you up to the top of the moor and, in the summer, you’ll find people cutting peat.

Overall, there’s not many hills but it is a very choppy route. There’s some great views of both the Hebridean moor and the North Atlantic when you get to the west coast.

Outdoor Swim Review: The White Loch Revisted (Andrew)

The White Loch looking a bit black

I’ve covered the White Loch before – see here – but as you’ll see, if you look back, it was less a review and more of a complaint about the weather. So, having been back a number of times, here’s the updated review….

It’s….

HOACHING!

Which is Glaswegian for really, really, unbelievably busy.

The White Loch is about five minutes drive from the southern edge of Newton Mearns and around 20 minutes drive from Shawlands. It is therefore within easy distance of around 200,000 people, all of whom are looking for somewhere to swim, which is great but… there will be times when you arrive and you’ll struggle to park. For parking see the previous review.

There is an ‘overflow’ car park. A gate across the road from the parking space at the start of the loch but be careful to close it behind you when you leave. I’m told the landowner is happy for it to be used by swimmers but he doesn’t want it left open and open to abuse by fly tippers. So, if you use it, make sure to close it.

Water Quality

You might feel a slight sliminess after you swim but according to swim forums on Facebook that is due to peat and nothing to be alarmed about even if you might feel like the Creature of the White Loch Lagoon when you come out of the water.

Swim Quality

Excellent location for different lenghts of swims. If you just want a dip then a paddle round the entrance is nice and shallow. If you want to complete a full lap then it will be around 1000 – 1200 metres. You can aim for the opposite bank at 4, then a bright and obvious life buoy post at 2 then a wind turbine at 3 before coming back to the start.

I’m told that some people experience a slight pull in the water around the dam at 1 so keep away from it.

Other people

At least one person every time I’ve been. If it’s been sunny then I’ve seen 10 people here, including swimmers, paddle boarders, a canoe – and one dog swimming laps after it’s owner. It’s a busy place so…

Overall

Avoid. I want to swim here and find a car parking spot so don’t swim here too! 🙂