Outdoor Swim Review: Gullane Beach (Iain)

If you are familiar with UK politics then you might have heard of the West Lothian Question.

It is a phrase coined by the West Lothian MP Tam Dalyell asking why Scottish MPs can vote on laws that will only impact England.

There is also a East Lothian question. One which is less political but equally contentious. How should you pronounce Gullane? Should it be Gillan, Gullan, Goolan or Gull-ane?

A former Gullane minister took the trouble to write to the Scotsman newspaper’s letters page to explain how it should be pronounced.

“A good many years ago now the BBC wrote to me to ask how the name ought to be pronounced.

“I told them that, though most of the old folk pronounced it Goolan, the other version Gillane had prevailed and that it would be now impossible to re-establish Goolan.

“The one thing to avoid was the tripper vulgarisation of Gullane. It had nothing to do with seagulls.”

Darn! I pronounce it like sea gull. Sorry Rev.

It was a very windy day when I visited. It was actually warmer in the sea than on the beach as the wind was baltic!

My photographs showing sunshine and blue skies but don’t assume that means it was warm. There was a strong cold wind! It was actually warmer in the sea than on the beach.


Ease of Access: Gullane is close to Edinburgh. There is a paid car park near the beach. Beach access is a short walk from the car park. It can be very busy in summer especially at weekends.

Water quality:  The water quality is tested and it always ranks highly.

Swim Quality: Cold. Water temperature was 9.3C. I managed 15 minutes of wetsuit swimming. There wasn’t anywhere to swim to so I just swam aimlessly and admired the view.

Other People: Even on a cold, grey, dreich day the beach was busy with walkers and dogs.

Would I go back: Yes. I love East lothian. The beaches here are great. Just avoid high season.

Learning To Swim (Iain)

The site of Stornoway Leisure Centre. The pool was knocked down and replaced. The only surviving bit of it is the clock tower.

I learnt to swim in the 1980s. My dad taught me using the “do not drown” approach.

He got me to stand two metres from a pool wall. I then tried to swim to the wall. If I did not drown, he would increase my swim to three metres from the wall, and then four metres etc.

My fear of drowning meant I quickly learnt to swim. Unfortunately, my Dad only knew the breaststroke so that was all I learnt. He did not see the point in freestyle swimming. His view was “Why do you want to stick your head under the water? There is nothing to see there except peoples feet.”

My school attempted to teach me other strokes but I was not very good at them. I hated the weekly swimming lesson at our local leisure centre. I found the smell of chlorine in the pool overbearing.

I have subsequently discovered chlorine has no smell. The smell in the pool was from chloramines, which build up in pool water when the water is not properly clean. A smelly pool is an unclean pool.

If I had known that, I would have hated swimming even more than I did.  

A common sight, in a leisure centre, in the 1980/90s was a footbath in the changing rooms. A sign above it would read, “Always dip your feet into the foot-bath before entering the swimming pool.” Supposedly the foot-bath contained chemicals that prevented foot infections like verruca’s.

Modern leisure centres do not have footbaths. Therefore, have we discovered a cure for verruca’s? No – we haven’t. What we have found is the cause of verruca’s. It was the foot-bath! Leisure centres did not clean them often enough. The foot bath was basicaly a seething cesspit of fungal infection.

I got a foot wart. Andrew got a verruca. Everyone in my school class got something.

As well as pool swimming my first ever open water swim occurred during my school years. My class went away for a weekend to an outdoor centre by the Atlantic sea.

For some reason, which I cannot remember, the teacher made us all stand on a pier next to the sea. Strip to out swim shorts and then jump in the sea. It was November. The water was freezing. I nearly drowned. As soon as I divided into the cold water, my body seized up and I struggled to breathe.

Imagine the scandal now if a teacher forced a class to jump into the Atlantic in November without checking if the pupils could swim!

 Its no wonder that I didn’t swim again after leaving school for university. My abiding memory of learning to swim was verrucas, unclean pools and nearly drowning.

Third Best on Strava (Iain)

In a previous blog titled “Second Best On Strava” Andrew wrote about a Strava segment in Stornoway where he was the second fastest person in the world.

It’s not the steepest or longest or hardest climb but it does provide a few minutes of running to take you to a vantage point over the whole of Stornoway and out to the mainland.

And for the last few years I’ve been trying to be the fastest to run up it. 


His ambition is to be the fastest in the world on that segment.

I was at home a few weeks ago. I ran the segment. A Todd is now the fastest in the world but it is not Andrew.

I told Andrew the good news. I’m now waiting for his blog titled “Third Best On Strava.”

Antonine Trail Race 2019 (Iain)

The route is called Antonine because it passes along Antonine’s Wall. The wall was the last line of defense for the Romans against the Scots.

It also gets a mention in the book World War Z, which is about a zombie apocalypse. The wall was the last line of defense for humanity against zombies.

As the event was close to Halloween the organizers encourage runners to wear fancy dress. I think I spotted some zombies on the hillier sections of the course. I think they were zombies, they were groaning and shuffling slowly along in a walking dead manner.

Disappointingly this years race seemed to attract more serious runners than previous years. There was far fewer costumed runners. For example, last year I was chased through a cornfield by a man dressed as Death. This year I was chased by a man wearing a Bellahouston Road Runners outfit.

It didn’t have the same level of excitement and danger.

The start of the race is on a narrow path.

The first mile can be slow as its tricky to overtake people. Annoyingly some slow runners started near the front and then ran beside each other blocking the path! I don’t mind slow runners being at the front but at least have the common sense to leave room for people to get past.

After the first mile the course enters Croy Hill. The overnight rain had made this section muddy. I always try to run through the first puddle rather than avoid it. There’s no avoiding mud during a trail race so its best to get it over and done with it.

Andrew trying to avoid the mud

The longest hills are towards the end of the course. Last year I walked some parts of the hills. This year I ran most of them. I was pleased to see on Strava that I’d PB’d on all the climbs.

My aim for the race was to finish in under two hours. I managed it with a couple of minutes to spare.

Neither of us manage to hold the medal the correct way up.

Hebridean Way – Lewis (Iain)

My name is Iain. I have a cousin called Iain. I have another cousin called Iain. I also have another cousin called Iain. Finally, I have a cousin called John. Which is the Gaelic version of Iain.

There was not much imagination in my family when naming children.

It’s common in the Western Isles for children to be named after a grandfather. Which is fine when if you are boy but annoying for a girl.

I once worked with a woman called Murdoina Donaldina Morrison. Her grandfather was Murdo Donald. Adding -ina onto the name supposedly made her name more feminine. I don’t think it works.

Whilst visiting a relatives grave in Lewis. I noticed the grave next to it had “Hugh Machonald and his wife Hughina” written on it. Shug is a common nickname in Scotland for people called Hugh. I wonder if they were Mr and Mrs Shug?

Check out the video to see the amazing view my relative has. Definitely a view to die for.

The last days cyling was a relatively short 28 miles. The weather was beautiful. The sun was shining and their was very little wind. The last section is mostly flat and boring so there isn’t much too say about it.

The route only get interesting once it reaches Ness. Ness has one of my favorite signposts. It’s always good for a childish laugh.

It also has an example of sign failure. The route of the Hebridean way is very simple to follow but there is one left turn just before the end of the route.

The left turn is hidden by other signs and is impossible to see on approach to it. I bet many people bike and only realize when the road runs out about one mile down the road.

The official route ends at a lighthouse. On a normal day there is a great view out to see.

But I enjoy going there on a bad day. Waves batter the cliffs as the full force of Atlantic storms reach land. The sign that marks the end of the route used to be in a much more open place. Watch it move back and forwards as the wind batters it.

It has now been moved to somewhere more sheltered.

There is one thing a cyclist does not want to hear when they complete a long distance cycle. My wife finised and asked “Where the car?” I replied “Two mile away!”

Its fair to say she looked at me in the same way a hungry lion looks at an antelope just before mauling it to death.

I was lucky to escape Ness unscathed.

We had lunch in Port of Ness. At a cafe with an amazing view but the slowest service. We had to with 45 minutes from ordering before the food arrived!

Considering how lucky we’d been every other day one late meal was a small price to pay for a great experience seeing the Islands.

Hebridean Way – Harris (Iain)

Instead of taking the west coast route, I decided we‘d go along the eastern side of the island. The west coast has some great beaches but the landscape of the east looks like the moon. If the moon had brown heather.

The other reason for choosing this route is that Santa lives on the east side. He stays in a bus shelter near one of the small towns. Although I am worried about him. I think he might have lost his head

Thankfully he was still there when I biked past.

Unusually for the western isles the weather was amazing. The sun was out and there was absolutely no wind.

I managed a couple of hill reps of the highest hill in Harris – clisham. The north side was pretty straightforward but the west side was a 300m climb from sea level up a 12% slope!

As the weather was so good my wife decided to cycle for as long as possible. She managed 100K. She stopped near an an alpaca farm at the Callanish Stones.

They claim they sell Fish and Chips but I bet its actually Alpaca and Chips.

Hebridean Way – South Uist to Berneray (Iain)

Day 1 started with torrential rain

Day 2 started with Torrential rain

Guess what day 3 started with….yup – torrential rain!

At least the days were consistent. Thankfully that was the last we saw of rain until we finished the Hebridean Way.

We started at the Lady of the Isles statue. My wife and her sister headed off following the Hebridean Way but I decided to take a different route. I’d spotted a road heading up a local hill to a radar station. It looked like a fun climb so I parked up and took my bike for a spin.

The view from the top was superb. I could see all across South Uist, Benbecula and onto North Uist.

After the ride I drove through Benbecula. It was very flat and surprisingly ugly. Sorry Benbecula but you are the elephant man of Hebridean islands. The only redeeming feature was the Co-op. They had amazing cinnamon donuts. They were so good I ate two even though it wasn’t yet 10am.

I sped through quickly and caught up with my wife in North Uist. The sun had come out and it was a very pleasant day. I would have offered her a cinnamon donut if I had any. I offered her an oat cake instead.

North Uist was very nice. Quite roads and nice scenery. We could even see St Kilda in the distance. The people of Uist thought folk in St Kilda were a bit dim. They say one St Kilda man came to the island and spotted a lighthouse. He ran towards it, flung open then door, ran up the stairs and looked at the big bright light and said “is that you God?”

I don’t know how true that is but it makes for a good story.

We finished cycling in Berneray and were treated to a glorious sunset –

– Which was nearly as good as the sunrise the next day.

Hebridean Way – Eriskay (Iain)

Eriskay is famous for three things – whisky, horses and football. Which sounds like the ingredients for a great night out.  

Whisky – In 1941 the SS Politician ran aground off the Isle of Eriskay whilst carrying a significant cargo of Scotch whisky. The incident inspired the film Whiskey Galore. One Christmas I bought my dad a £250 bottle of whisky. I thought he would save it for special occasions so he could savour the taste. Instead, he tanked the bottle in three days. At least he enjoyed it.

Horses – I have only ridden a horse once. It was in India. I sat on the horse. The horse bolted. I tried shouting “woaaaaah” to slow it down. It didn’t stop as it only understood Hindi. Since then I have never trusted horses. Eriskay is home to the Eriskay pony, an endangered breed of horse unique to the island. They roam free but they seemed to enjoy hanging out at the pub.

Football – Fifa recognised Eriskay football pitches as one of “eight remarkable places to play football in the world”. I used to play football in Lewis. It was remarkable any of our pitches could be used for football. One pitch was so slanted I needed climbing equipment to make it out of my own half.

The journey from Barra to Eriskay takes 40 minutes. Luckily some dolphins appeared and swam alongside the ferry

Eriskay is very small. It only took the cyclists 15 minutes to cycle through. They missed all three of the things Eriskay is famous for because they followed the official Hebridean way route exactly.

One of my complaints about the route is that it does not point out interesting diversions.  For example in South Uist the route passed a side road that lead up a small hill to a magnificent view of the whole island. It only takes a couple of minutes to cycle up but there is no indication on the road that it is a diversion worth taking.

View from the radar station

We stopped for lunch at the Borrodale hotel. A recent Tripadvisor review described it as “tired looking…like the rest of South Uist” That must have been written by a man from North Uist.

I thought the place was nice and the food was tasty. In fact, It was so good we went back in the evening.

The riding in South Uist was very easy. The only problem occurred when a funeral cortege approached us on a single-track road. We stopped to let them through but it took 15 minutes for everyone to get past.

We finished the day at a statue called “the lady of the isle.” It was commissioned when the Ministry of Defence was planning to build a missle testing range on the island. The statue is a reminder of the power of church and community. I’m sure its intentional that it looks a little bit like a rocket.

Hebridean Way – Barra (Iain)

Barra is so beautiful it has the nickname Barradise. Unfortunately, today the weather was much like a Remainer’s view of the UK’s economic prospects after Brexit – bleak. Rain was battering the window and the wind was gusting to 40mph.

This was not good news for the cyclists. My wife’s sister does not like to ride a bike if the wind is gusting stronger than 30mph. When I saw her, she asked how windy it was. I did what any caring support crewmember would do. I lied. I told her it was windy but only 10 mph. I then added – it looks nice outside. It did not. It looked like the scene in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s house was blown away.

Wild Weather

The start point of the Hebridean Way is in Vattersay. Which is six miles from Castlebay along a one way road. Traffic can go both ways but I call it one-way because the only way back is the one-way I came.

Thankfully, the rain had stopped by the time we gathered outside the B & B to start the adventure. I took some photos to mark the occasion. My wife and her sister started cycling. The rain immediately restarted. The first 10 minutes of riding was so wet Noah would have taken it as a sign to gather animals on to his boat two by two. I could have ridden with them but instead I choose the warmth and comfort of my car.

It took 45 minutes to bike to the start. Only 15 minutes by warm dry car. I thought it would be busy at the start considering all the cyclists we had seen on the boat but there was no one there, except for one German man. He was standing at the start looking a little lost. I said hello but he ran away.

I took some more photos to mark the occasion. As you can see from the picture. I wore a wetsuit for the occasion. Which meant I was the only one suitably attired for the Hebridean rain. 

They headed off whilst I drove to the ferry terminal that would take us to the next island – Eriskay.

I had an hour to kill once I got there so I was able to ride my bike until they turned up.

The ferry to Eriskay takes 40 minutes. There was a nice café in the ferry terminal. I had a fruit scone. A dog jumped up and tried to scoff it. I shouted “NO!” to try to deter the beast but it didn’t stop. The dog’s owner turned to me and said “The dog won’t hear you. He’s deaf”

“How do you know he’s deaf?” I replied.

“I sneak up behind him and shout but the dog doesn’t notice.”. Which seems a harsh test. Imagine sneaking up behind people and shouting loudly. Anyone not deaf will die of fright!

On the ferry journey we spotted some dolphins. Which made me think that if Africa has the big five then the Hebrides should too. My suggestion is

  1. Dolphins
  2. Golden Eagle
  3. Eriskay Ponies
  4. Otters
  5. Seals

You would think there is less chance of death from meeting them than meeting the African big five but you would be wrong.

My wife crashed her bike when she spotted what she thought was a Golden Eagle. It wasn’t. She spent the rest of that day muttering about her sore leg and the face that “it was only a buzzard!”

Golden eagles are hard to spot. I know this because I once visited a RSPB hut. (Yes – I realise that last sentence is not very rock and roll but I am cool. Honest!)

In the hut bird-spotter’s record, in a book, what they have seen. One person had written “Golden Eagle” but next to it, someone else had written, “No you fucking didn’t”

Which proves Golden Eagles are hard to spot.

Hebridean Way – Oban to Barra (Iain)


“Do you sell bike tubes?”

I was in a bike shop in Oban. In ten minutes time, I was due to leave on a ferry to the Isle of Barra.

My wife and her family were going to cycle the Hebridean way – a 185 mike ride from the Isle of Barra to the Isle of Lewis via the Isles of Eriskay, South Uist,Benbecula, Berneray, Harris.

The route

My role for the trip was to drive a support car. It was a nice change not to have to be the one doing an event. My only responsibilities were to ensure they didn’t get lost, that I had carried their supplies and luggage in the car, and that I could fix their bikes if their was an issue.

There was only one problem. I forgot to bring any spare bike tubes. If any of them got a puncture they be walking rather than biking the route.

“What size do you need?” The bike shop worked asked.

“700×25 or 700×28” I replied. I was confident he’d have some. They are the most commonly used bike tube sizes.

“Sorry. I don’t stock those sizes!”

I was shocked but I didn’t wait around to debate the merit of a bike shop not stocking the one tube most cyclists need. I ran to the other side of Oban to see if the only other bike shop in town stocked them.

Thankfully they had some. I made it back to the car just in time to board the ferry.

I spotted a number of cyclists waiting to board. They were all female. The weather forecast for Barra was wet and wild. Does this mean male cyclists are wise or does it mean they are big girls blouses scared of a little rain?

Despite all the cyclists boarding the ferry, we didn’t see a single cyclists whilst doing the Heb way route.

The ferry was the one that used to do the Stornaway to Ullapool route. I’d taken it many times. It was looking a bit tatty compared to when I was last on it.

There wasn’t many passengers on board. I had the dinning room area entirely to myself. Mainly due to it being a rough crossing. Nobody wanted food, they were all lying down seasick.

What folk don’t realize is that the dining room is actually the best place to be. They were all in the observation lounge which is at the top and front of the ferry. The place which experiences the most ship movement.

If you want a smooth journey sit in the middle of the ferry on the lowest floor. Where the dining room was.

We arrived in Castlebay in time for dinner. My wife and her sister are both vegan. I looked at the menu. It was very meaty and fishy. There was only one vegetarian option and that had cheese in it.

I asked the waitress if they did any vegan options. “Yes – we do chips”

After dinner we checked into the bed and breakfast. I asked the owners what the vegan breakfast options were available? She replied “toast”

It’s fair to say the Hebrides has not yet embraced veganism.

Other vegan options we were offered on the trip were

Blue cheese and broccoli soup. Cheese isn’t vegan
Lentil and bacon soup. Yes – really. Bacon!
Smoked salmon. What do you mean fish isn’t vegan?