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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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!
This book was bought as a Secret Santa gift for a colleague moving to Elgin. As normal for Secret Santa, the draw was random and every gift was meant to be sent anonymously. It 100% should not be in Stornoway. And it 200% should not have been opened by my brother. It was 1010% meant to be a thoughtful gift to a colleague moving to a new town. Instead, my colleague must have Iain’s gift and I made a mistake when wrapping presents: bringing this book home to be opened by Iain and sending Iain’s gift via Secret Santa marked only with the message: “From Santa, you’ll need this in the new year!”
And now, for the past few days he must have been wondering why on earth an anonymous stranger has sent him a book called “So you want to be a gold digger?”.
(Iain was getting a gold prospecting lesson from the Wanlockhead Lead Mining Museum, but without context, my colleague is probably going to think someone’s rumpled why he married a rich widow).
I may have some apologising to do when I get back to work…
After that mistake on Christmas morning there was only one thing to do. After the traditional Christmas Day run, I had to drown myself in the North Atlantic. Unluckily the water was so cold I didn’t fancy putting my head under the waves and will still need to apologise in the new year.
Some times great ideas are not so great when someone else spots the obvious flaw in them. I remember watching an episode of Dragons Den where an inventor claimed to have developed a brand new spout for bottles that always guaranteed a smooth flow when pouring. (Not something I’d ever thought needed a solution but try pouring a large 2 litre bottle of milk quickly and you’ll see the milk comes out in ‘spurts’). The inventor spent five minutes telling the Dragons about the benefits of his invention and how an investment of £100k for 10% of the company was the best investment they would ever make. This optimism lasted only until one of the Dragons explained to him that if you just turn a bottle on its side then any liquid will flow smoothly anyway, without any invention needed, due to the greater air space created in the bottle. The inventor looked devastated and needless to say he didn’t get any investment that day…
I had a similar moment this year when I thought I’d invented the ideal solution for changing clothes when swimming outdoors.
Indoor swimmers don’t have this problem. They go to warm comfortable swimming pools with warm comfortable changing rooms. You can strip safe in the knowledge that (a) you won’t have a cold wind blowing up the north west passage; and (b) you will have a locked door between you and any unfortunate accidental nude incidents involving an outraged mother and the swimming pool manager.
Outdoor swimmers don’t have the same facilities. There’s no changing room at Loch Lomond. No locker for your clothes next to Troon Beach. Instead, you have to improvise – and most of the time that involves your car.
For some people getting naked in the back of a car is natural. But I don’t want to dwell on what you get up to in discreet car park on a Friday night, instead, I want to ask what you do on a Sunday morning when you’re parked beside a busy road and want to get changed into rubber. How do you get naked without breaking the Highway Code by flashing without using your indicators?
You can get changed in the back seat. This is one method I’ve tried which I can recommend as long as you’re prepared to lay down some basic covers because, and there’s no other way to say this, if you’re going to get changed in the back seat then you’re going to be rubbing your posterior on your rear leather interior. You might want a towel.
Instead, you might want to get changed outside your car. But then you run the risk of (a) hypothermia and, you’re a man, (b) shrinkage so that if you do share your budgie with a passing motorist, they won’t, as J-Lo so succinctly put it, be impressed by the rocks that you’ve got.
That’s why I thought I’d come up with a full proof alternative that combined the best parts of changing indoors and outdoors. My way involved opening both the front and rear doors and then getting changed in the middle between them. Genius, I thought. The front door acts as a wall to protect from the wind and any rain. The rear door acts as wall to protect your modesty. You can keep your clothes in the car to keep them dry if it’s raining – and it was all working absolutely perfectly until Iain said:
“You do know I can see your ass through the windows!”
Damn, windows in car doors!!!!
So, now, I recommend one way to get changed above all others. Buy a DryRobe and get changed under it.
A DryRobe is basically a large towel with a hood and two sleeves. It fits over your body and covers you from head to feet with enough material to host a marquee for 50 wedding guests. It’s as close as you can get to wearing a tent without actually wearing a tent.
I love it. And so do passing motorists who no longer have to avert their eyes.
So, if you’re looking for perfect gift for Christmas for the outdoor swimmer in your life (or, frankly, any relative who says they love dogging but doesn’t appear to own a pet) then you can buy them the perfect gift here: DryRobe
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!
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.
I 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. Its 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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
For 140 years, treasure hunters scoured the coast of Georgia in the United States for the SS Republic, a paddlewheel steamship that sank in 1865 in a hurricane with a reported $400,000 in gold and silver coins on board. In 2003 the ship was located and more than 50,000 precious coins, worth an estimated $75 million was discovered.
While the Challenge Roth canal may not contain millions of pounds of lost confederate gold, if there are any treasure hunters looking for a fortune then they need look no further than 50 metres from the start line – as that’s where my £500 Garmin 945 now lies.
It was a stupid mistake. One I’d even predicted. I’d bought the Garmin a few weeks ago so that I could play music at the end of the run. I’d changed the wrist bands to quick release straps and, during a race simulation at a training swim, Iain had pulled the watch accidentally as he tried to swim in front of me and it had fallen off.
I’ll be clever I thought. I’ll put the wetsuit over it and that way it’ll be safe.
I was wrong.
Just after the start, just as everyone was jostling for position, someone accidentally caught my arm with their stroke and ran their hand along my arm catching the watch.
Which was more than I could do. As I felt it slip, tried to catch it, but only managed to grab hold of the straps. The watch was gone! And with it my only way to know the time, my speed and how far I’d gone as I was relying on the watch to last all day. I had no back up.
And now no choice. I had to complete Challenge Roth entirely on feel.
Saturday was nearly 30 degrees with clear blue skies but the weather forecast for the race was for the heatwave to end and for rain to clear the air. We woke at 430 a.m. with the intention of collecting another athlete (a former member of Glasgow Tri Club) at 5 a.m. That left 30 minutes to dress, eat something and try not to think about the fact it was actually 3:30 am in UK time.
The drive to the start involved a missed junction, which wasn’t a problem for me but for Iain it meant we’d have to take the next junction and a car park which would be shut until 11am while the bike course was closed.
Getting round was okay though. Iain dropped us off at transition and then went to park while we checked the bikes and dropped off the swim and race bags. The swim bags needed to be dropped off by 6:15 but other than that we were free to enter and leave transition, even after the race had started.
A cannon signals the start of each wave with the rain stopping just as the professionals started. There were thousands of people around the canal, more than I’d seen at any other race.
Every five minutes another wave would set off and another blast of the cannon would sound.
I was swimming at 8am, the second last wave, and it was easy to get lined up. Swimmers could wait near the start and when your wave was called you were directed into a pen as volunteers checked your swim cap to make sure the time printed on the side of it matched your start time.
Once everyone was in the pen, the previous wave would start and you were allowed to enter the canal and line up.
I stayed near the centre, as it was quieter, and hung back so as not to be swum over by the faster swimmers. I thought I had it sussed. I would avoid a melee and be able to find my own pace. But we all know how well that went…
The race started. There was the usual flurry of legs and limbs but no fighting for position, just the accidental crossing over of a few hundred swimmers in a few short metres.
And the less said about the next five minutes the better…
The water was warm. Almost 25 degrees, and just shy of banning wetsuits all together, but it was calm and swimming was as easy as swimming in a swimming pool.
Sighting was easy too. There was very little need to look forward as you could always judge if you were swimming in a straight line by looking at the side of the canal. Provided you could see the bank, the people and the trees, you always knew if you were getting closer or further away.
Because of that, I swam most of the way in the centre of the canal. The side is reportedly easier but it was quieter in the centre and it gave me free reign to carry on at my own pace and just count out the strokes. 1. 2. 3. 4. Breathe. 1. 2. 3. 4. Breathe.
You swim around 1500 metres to the next bridge, then around 1700 back to the bridge overlooking the start before swimming under it and doing a u-turn back to transition.
I felt strong throughout, and the fact you’re always swimming to something – bridge, then bridge, then under bridge, meant the swim was broken up and didn’t feel like one long slog.
There are also metre signs on the bank but I didn’t look out for them. I prefer not to know how far I’ve swum when swimming. And, thanks to my accident at the start, I would also find out what it was like to cycle and run without knowing how far I’ve gone either. Damn!
This was the bit I was looking forward too. I’d read that the volunteers in transition will help you get out of your wetsuit – something I always struggle with as I can never get the wetsuit off my legs. Prisoners in shackles have more chance of getting free than I do with rubber wrapped around my ankles.
And it was true. As soon as you grab your bag from the ground as you go into the tent – each bag is laid out in numerical order – a volunteer starts to help you strip, empties your bag and hands you everything you need.
Except a watch.
Sadly, they didn’t have a spare Garmin.
I changed into full cycle gear and eight minutes later (a new record for me) l was on my bike and away.