Outdoor Swim Review: Hebrides – Braighe Beach (Iain)

Recently I was browsing Instagram and I spotted this photo from the Isle of Lewis. It shows a couple walking a dog on a nice beach. It’s a nice pic.

Something about the pic seemed familiar but I couldn’t work out what. I looked at it more closely and realized that the couple in the photo are my Mum and Dad. They were walking on one of their favorite beaches – the Braighe. I doubt either of them have ever heard of Instagram or know that the photo even exists.

Braighe is an apt name for the beach as it means sandy strand in Gaelic. The sandy side of the beach is a fine sandy strand between two parts of the island.

You can swim on either side but normally the west side is calmer as it faces a protected bay.

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There are three car parks available. The middle one has toilets. It is only a 10 minute drive from Stornoway to the beach.

Water quality: The water quality is crystal clear and perfect for swimming although on a wild day it can get a bit sea weedy on the bay side.

Swim Quality: Cold. In December the temperature was 7C. I had a short swim in a circle. In the summer I’ve been here and swam the length of the beach.

Other People: Not a soul.

Would I go back: Yes. Its the easiest place to get to have a sea swim that is near my parent’s home in Stornoway. Normally one side of the beach will protected from any bad weather.

Outdoor Swim Review: Hebrides – Reef Beach (Iain)

Next month Lewis Pugh, an endurance swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans, will attempt to swim 1km of a lake of melting Antarctic ice ( https://lewispughfoundation.org/east-antarctica-2020/ )

To train for the brutally cold endeavour he could have chosen anywhere in the world –Norway or Iceland etc. He chose the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

He trained twice a day on the island. Each day he would post details of his training swims on social media and invite anyone to come and join him.

Initially he was based on the west side of the island. Its a great location for swimming. Some of the beaches are stunning. Especially when the weather is good.

Cliff beach in summer

Occasionally the weather is bad…very bad. In England, during bad weather, the MET office might issue a “danger to life” warning. In Lewis, during bad weather, you just get on with it. As my Dad said whenever I complained about the weather – it is only a bit of wind and rain.

The stunning views and bad weather makes Lewis the perfect place to train. if you can swim here you can swim anywhere!

Scottish outdoor swimmer/filmmaker Calum Maclean, me, Lewis Pugh

REVIEW

Ease of Access: Reed is 60 minutes from Stornoway. There is a parking spot beside the beach. It is a 5 minute walk from there to the sea.

Water quality: The water quality is crustal clear and perfect for swimming.

Swim Quality: Cold. In December the temperature was 7C. The beach is 1km long. I did a length of the beach and then jogged back.

Other People: Not a soul other than a few hard folk joining Lewis for a swim

I’m in the wet suit.

Would I go back: Yes. Uig is a beautiful spot. When I was younger I hated coming here because the road to it was terrible. I would get car sick. Nowadays the road is much better!

2020 (Iain)

According to the Daily Mail Astrologer my Horoscope for 2020 is.

“You’ll want to keep your vehicle in good shape for endless errands.”

Normally a horoscope has positive statement like “you will come into money” or “you will meet a tall dark strange who will give you good news”

But mine is make sure you MOT the car as you’ll be going to Tesco’s allot. What a fun year for me!

I prefer the Daily Record’s horoscope which claims I should

“Look out for a Taurus, who is super-sexy. Your dream partner!

I googled “sexy Taurus” and it suggested Uma Thurman, Adele or The Rock.

Uma Thurman or The Rock would both make good partners but I don’t think my wife would forgive me if I didn’t shack up with Adele. My wife loves Adele!

I once bought my wife two Adele tickets for her birthday. The tickets were very expensive but I as least with two tickets I would see Adele as well.

My wife took one look at the tickets and immediately said. “I can’t wait to tell Mairi about this.” Mairi is her best friend. I worriedly asked “Why do you need to tell her?”

“Because she loves Adele and will want to come with me!”

I never got to see Adele.

Other than Marrying Adele my sporting goals for the year is the same as every previous year. Stay fit and healthy and do some fun races

So far my plan is

February

Kirkintilloch 12.5K ( https://www.entrycentral.com/kirkintilloch125k )

Glentress Trail Race ( https://www.highterrainevents.co.uk/glentress-trail-race )

March

Scottish Winter Swimming Championship ( https://swimwilduk.com/events/scottish-winter-swimming-championships )

John Muir Ultra ( https://foxtrailscotland.co.uk/races/ultra/ )

May

Etape Caledonia ( https://www.etapecaledonia.co.uk/ )

Stornoway Half Marathon ( https://srac.org.uk/half/ )

June

Celtman ( https://cxtri.com/ )

July

Wasdale half X ( https://triathlonx.co.uk/index.php/half-x )

October

Dramathon ( https://www.thedramathon.com/ )

I also aim to do the Gullane Triathlon. I’ve said this every year for the last five years but every time I try to do it something comes up that gets in the way.

Hopefully this year Ill finally do it!

My main reason for wanting to do the race isn’t sporting but is instead culinary. The Old Course Inn in Gullane ( http://www.oldclubhouse.com/ ) does the best Nachos in Scotland. I’m always looking for an excuse to visit and have some!

mmm Nachos

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.

REVIEW

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.

Outdoor Swim Review: Portobello Beach (Iain)

At my workplace, I sit next to a Dutchman. Last Friday, he asked me what my plans for the weekend were. I told him I was going to a Wim Hof Method workshop.

Wim is also Dutch. His nickname is The Iceman because of his ability to endure cold conditions. He has swam under the ice at the North Pole, he can sit in ice baths for 90 minutes and he ran a marathon in the Arctic Circle shirtless and shoeless. I assumed he must be very famous in Holland.

My colleague looked at me and said “Wim who????”

Wim needs to work harder on his Dutch PR.

My colleague then asked what the Wim Hof Method is?

“If I knew what his method was I wouldn’t be going on the course!” I replied.

#spoileralert (Don’t read on if you don’t want the method spoiled)

The Wim Hof Method can be summed up as “remember to breathe when you go experience cold conditions. Also try to go in cold conditions regularly”.

It was a fun class and I took away a lot of information about breathing correctly. Which is more than can be said for one attendee who, when told to breath calmly and gently, exhaled his breath so violently through his nose it was like a volcanic eruption of snot and air.

Despite the instructor reminding everyone to breathe calmly, the volcano continued his overly enthusiastic eruptions. I think he was trying to impress his partner who was also attending the course. Like a gorilla in the jungle marking their territory by huffing, puffing, and bashing their chest he was making sure she knew he was the manliest breather in the room.

When it came to the exposure to the cold we had to swim in skins in the North Sea. Unsurprisingly Wim Kong – the breathing gorilla was first to run in. I hope, like a gorilla, he didn’t piss in the water to mark his territory!

REVIEW

Ease of Access: Portabello is close to Edinburgh. Parking near the beach can be tricky but normally a space can be found in a side street

Water quality:  Murky. I was once told that it was a beach best to avoid for swimming due to nearby sewage pipers. I don’t know whether that is true or not but its always put me off.

Swim Quality: Cold. Water temperature was 12.2. I managed 10 minutes of skin swimming (without a cap) There wasn’t anywhere to swim to so I just swam aimlessly and admired the view of the town.

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

Would I go back: No. I’d rather travel a bit further and go to the beaches in East Lothian. They are sandier and more enjoyable to be at.

Warming up before swimming

Outdoor Swim Review: Carron Valley (Iain)

neoI recently purchased core buoyancy shorts for swimming. They are made of neoprene and they aid swimming by raising my hips slightly in the water. Similar to the effect of swimming in a wet suit.Higher hips mean higher legs, which means less drag therefore I can concentrate on good swimming form.  I think they are great. Andrew thinks they should be banned. He calls them floaty (or cheat) pants. My only reply to that is: I am not a pants doper! If you repeat the accusation then I’ll see you in court!

To be clear – if you even looks at me funny whilst I’m wearing my definitely not cheating pants then you will get a visit from my lawyer. Lance Armstrong said it best – “hard work, sacrifice and focus will never show up in tests.” I swim clean. End of story. Other than giving me a performance enhancement….ummm….skills enhancement the main reason I purchased them was for outdoor swimming. I wanted to swim without a wet-suit but still have some benefit of neoprene. I combine the pants with a neoprene top.
UntitledIts great for swimming as you get all the freedom of skins and all the benefit of a wet suit. Although it does make me look like a character from Little Britain.Daffydt

Carron Valley Reservoir is the closet loch to my house. I usually swim on the Fintry side as its furthest away from the fisherman who use the Loch. I’ve never seen them at this end of the loch. There’s a spot to park that’s next to the Loch that allows for an 800m swim straight across to the other side of the loch. It can be a bit choppy as the wind blows down the loch but its never too bad to swim in.55726593_167528670908225_6800533163390802350_n

REVIEW

Ease of Access: https://goo.gl/maps/vkcjfRm5cx6dYWt7A Park at the gate next to the loch. Its 10m to the waterside. 

Water quality: Warm and shallow at the edge of the loch but it can noticeably drop in temperature the further out you get. 

Swim Quality: Excellent. Lots of things to sight against. Water is choppy but that makes it more fun!

Other People: A couple of folk out walking and the odd car/cyclist going by. 

Would I go back: Yes. It’s my default swim location. 

Outdoor Swim Review: Loch Venachar (Iain)

In a scene from the comedy film Zoolander the eponymous male supermodel hero, Derek Zoolander, dresses as a merman and swims towards the camera to utter the line:

” Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.”

But in real life Merman are anything but beautiful. In contrast to mermaids, mermen are traditionally described as unattractive extremely ugly creatures with green hair, teeth and skin, narrow eyes and a red nose.

Which is also a valid description of what I look like when I’m hungover.

I learnt this “fact” after spotting two swimmers at Loch Venachar. It was a hot day. The water was perfect for swimming without a wet-suit but they were wearing multiple layers of neoprene . One of them was so covered up he looked like the gimp from Pulp Fiction.

But they were not swimmers or gimps. They were free-divers practicing their skills. They hold their breath diving 20m to the bottom of the Loch.

I looked them up on Google and discovered they do mermaid courses https://freedivers.co.uk/mermaid-course/

REVIEW

Ease of Access: I parked at the Loch Venachar cafe car park. It was just a short walk from here to the Loch side. There’s a few other car parks along the shore.

Water quality: Clear water close to shore. I could see the bottom of the Loch. Temperature (in July) was 19C

Swim Quality: Hard work. It was a bit windy. I battled waves as I swam out from shore. It made the swim more exciting.

Other People: There was a lot of folk in the cafe. They were watching from the terrace as I swam. There was also a few folk walking along the shore.

Would I go back: Yes. It was a nice spot. I’d like to try swimming to the other side of the Loch but on a less windy day.

Outdoor Swim Review: North Third Reservoir (Iain)

North third reservoir is strangely named as I can find no record of a North First or North Second reservoir. Maybe this one was third time lucky after the other two failed.

The reservoir is a great spot for swimming. It is surrounded on one side by cliffs and Forrest. It’s a nature lovers paradise but it’s also a paradise for lovers of a different kind. The Daily Record reported the story of a man put on trial after he was discovered naked in the Forrest.

My favorite bit of the story is his very British excuse – “I can’t possibly be having sex with men. My wife made me sandwiches!”

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There’s a small car park beside a gate next to the path that leads down to the reservoir. If the spaces there are taken then there’s spots nearby to park.

Water quality: A bit murky and a little bit shallow in places. There was much less water in the reservoir than when I was last here in March. The water temperature was 18.5C.

Swim Quality: Excellent – There’s a nice loop around the islands. The water was calm.

Other People: There’s usually folk fishing at the side of the loch and I’ve occasionally bumped into other folk either heading in or leaving after swimming themselves.

Would I go back: Yes. Its one of my favorite places to swim.

St Marys Loch Triathlon (Iain)

It is two years since I last did a standard length triathlon. Which is my excuse for why I forgot to take my bike helmet to transition. Thankfully, someone spotted my mistake. I ran back to the car to get it.

It wasn’t my only mistake, I lost my swim cap during the time it took me to receive my swim cap and then walk the short distance to the loch to put it on. I still haven’t worked out how I manged to do that.

The swim temperature was announced as 15C so I was surprised when I got into the loch that the water felt much colder. I swam a little distance to warm up and water suddenly became warm. I assumed it was just a cold patch at the start but the fluctuating temperature was present throughout the swim. On one stroke my hand would enter warm water and on the next the next it would enter freezing cold water. Very strange.

I enjoyed the 2 lap swim. The loch never felt too busy and I was happy to swim round with no one near me. I think swim drafting is cheating so I try to avoid it. I’d rather do the swim using my own power than be dragged along by someone else.

I got into transition after the swim and discovered the socks I had left there were inside out. I had to correct that before starting the bike. A gentleman has got to have standards!

The organiser had warned us that the roads might be slightly busier than usual because there was a classic car rally taking place nearby. There was also a beer festival on. Beer and cars. What could possibly go wrong?

Thankfully the classic car drivers must have been sleeping off their beers as other than a Model T Ford I didn’t spot any classic cars.

The organiser said no-one had ever got lost on the route. It was easy to see why. There is only one road and no option to take any other route.

The route itself was on a decent road surface. The road was undulating rather than hilly but there was a draggy climb near the end.

The race manual describes the course as “It’s almost completely flat (really!) – a couple of small undulations – maybe 5m climb on each. “

Not according to my watch. It shows there was 70m of climbing. Which is not allot but it definitely is not flat course. The trail means there’s lot of small up and down sections.

I like running off-road so I really enjoyed the run but it definitely did not match the description of the course.

OVERALL

It was a great race. I got a PB for the distance and its definitely a course I’d do again. The race gets a bonus point for its t-shirt which is a snazzy baseball style affair.

Outdoor Swim Review: Balgray Reservoir (Iain)

“Is this where the group meets for swimming?”

I was standing half-naked in a car park next to Balgray Reservoir when a man approached and asked me this. I don’t normally frequent car parks in the buff but I was getting changed to go swimming and there was no facilities nearby.

I was not part of a group and did not know what he was asking about so I replied “Sorry I’m not part of a group”

He looked confused by my answer. I realised he was probably confused as to why I would be half naked, trying to get one leg in a wet suit, if I wasn’t part of swimming group.

 So to put his confused mind at rest I added. “I‘m swimming too but just not with a group.”

He didn’t go away. He waited a minute and then said, “is it a 800m loop?”

“Is what a 800m loop?” I asked.

“The swim?” He replied.

“I don’t know. I’m not with the group!” I was starting to get annoyed.

He waited a minute and then said “Are you in charge of the group?”

“NO!!! I’m not in the group! I’m just trying to go for a swim!”

He looked like he finally realized I was not able to help him but it did not stop him from asking one final question.

“How much is it to join?”

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There’s a car park next to the reservoir. No toilet or changing facilities. I had to walk through mud to enter the water.

Water quality: A bit murky and grim but reasonably warm. it was 14.5C when I went (June)

Swim Quality: It was quite easy to do a reasonable loop by aiming for some of the local features e.g. a tall power tower, a big house on the hill etc. The water was calm.

Would I go back: Probably not. There’s nicer places to swim.