Outdoor Swim Review: Carron Valley – Winter (Iain)

Worst Hitchhiker Ever

I was recently asked what my secret is for swimming in Winter. I don’t think their is any secret to it – I try to be consistent, I make sure I have the correct clothes and I accept the fact it’s going to be cold!

I’ve got better at handling the cold by being consistent with my swimming. Over a number of years I pushed cold boundary. When I started I only swam outdoors May to September. The next year I tried starting in April and finishing in October. Now I swim all year round.

I enjoy swimming skins. I’d like to swim skins in winter but I’ve tried it and I struggle with the after effects of the cold. I could keep at it but I’d rather enjoy a swim than endure it. Don’t let you ego determine your clothing! Use common sense and wear as much as you need to feel warm.

My winter kit (to wear with a wetsuit) is:

I was wearing all this kit when I recently visited Carron Valley Reservoir. My aim in winter is to try to do at least 10 minutes. It was hard to stay in for that long due to a strong wind the water was very choppy and difficult to swim in.

I tried my best to get some swimming in but I was happy to stop when my stop watch said my time was up.

REVIEW

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

Water quality: The water level was very high. Normally there is a rocky “beach” but it was completely covered by water. The tree were I normally leave my stuff was half submerged by water.

Swim Quality: Hard work. The waves and a low sun made it very tricky to sight to swim in a straight line.

Other People: Not a soul.

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

Outdoor Swim Review – Pinkston Water Sports (Iain)

“Pinkston is home to Scotland’s only artificial whitewater course, a flat water basin with bathing quality water, meeting rooms and storage facilities for clubs and groups, Pinkston Watersports is an official Glasgow 2014 Legacy project and is operated by Glasgow Watersports Ltd, a registered Scottish charity run by a volunteer board of trustees.”

https://pinkston.co.uk/facilities/what-is-pinkston-watersports

Threre is much debate about where the name Pinkston originates from.  Supposedly the Scottish version of the name originated in the old barony of Pinkerton near Dunbar. The barony had the motto “Post nubila sol” which translates to “After clouds sunshine,” which is a fittingly apt motto for an outdoor pool because anyone who uses an outdoor pool needs a positive attitude – it might be cloudy today but the next time I swim it will be sunny!

I’ve used the facility for the last few years. It’s a great place to get an outdoor swim in a safe environment.

This year they have been running pay and swim session which has been hugely popular. During lockdown Pinkston was the only swimming pool that could open as it could operate in a COVID safe manner due to it being outdoors.

The only downside is that Pinkston can’t open the changing rooms to users. Everyone has to get changed outside. Which I think is a positive move as getting changed outdoors is a skill all outdoor swimmers have to learn.

I’ve been swimming regularly at 1700 on a Monday. Up unti this week (late Oct) the swim was in daylight. But this week the clocks went backwards. My 1700 swim became a night swim.

I didn’t realize just how dark the swim would be. I brought the wrong swim googles. I brought my shaded ones. I couldn’t see a thing. I was blinder than Stevie Wonder in a dark room with his eyes shut. I’m glad I did not record the swim on my GPS. It would have shown me swimming all over the place and, at one point, I’m sure I was swimming in a circle.

Lesson learned. I’ll bring a torch next time… and clear googles.

Link to booking: https://pinkston.co.uk

REVIEW

Ease of Access:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The area around Pinkston is getting regenerated. Local roads and access points are sometime closed so always check google maps first to find the best way there.

Water quality:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The water is murky. Don’t expect to see the bottom of the basin. The pool is not that deep. I can stand up at any point in it (I’m 6ft tall)

Swim Quality:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Their is a 400m-ish loop when the basin is fully open. The site is open to the east and west which means it can be tricky swimming at sunrise/sunset as the Sun shines directly into your face.

Other People:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Due to Covid regulations only a small number of people can swim at a time. It never feels busy and there is plenty of room to swim in.

Would I go back: 

Yes – it is convenient to have somewhere in the city. It is good for beginners and it is a great starting point for people who want to move from the pool to outdoor swimming.

Outdoor Swim Review: Huisinish Beach, Isle of Lewis (Iain)

A few years ago a local man met aged rock god and ex-Led Zeppelin front-man Robert Plant in a bar in Tarbert on the Isle of Harris and asked him what he was doing there.

Robert Plant said he was there to look at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle. It was for sale and he was interested. The local looked at him and said “What do you do to be able to afford a place like that?” The world famous rock start said, “I play music and I was in a band when I was younger”

Amhuinnsuidhe Castle - Wikipedia
AMHUINNSUIDHE CASTLE

The local replied, “did you play the sea angling club? I thought I recognised you!”

Robert Plant didn’t buy the castle. I suspect the main road that passes the front door of the castle put him off. The castle is a dramatic backdrop on the way to Huisnis beach who can only dream of living the downton abbey lifestyle!

What the picture doesn’t show is that there are some normal houses just out of shot. So I might not be able to afford a castle but one day I might be able to buy the smaller place and get the same view.

REVIEW

Ease of Access:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

There is a car park next to the beach. There are toilets and other facilities which are normally open but at the time I visited (July 2020) they were closed due to Covid.

The road to the beach is single track, very hilly and lots of bends. It will take much longer than you think to drive it as its difficult to see any oncoming traffic. On the bright side – the scenery is stunning.

Water quality:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The water was crystal clear.

Swim Temperature: 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

12C in July.

Other People:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I had the whole beach to myself.

Would I go back: Yes. It is a beautiful spot.

Outdoor Swim Review: Bayble Beach, Isle of Lewis (Iain)

I watched the Gaelic news and discovered there is a Gaelic pronunciation of “coronavirus” – it is “coróinvíreas.” But they haven’t changed “self-isolate” they pronounce it as “self-isolate.” it is surprising nobody has invented that Gaelic term as there is nothing more self isolating than a wet and windy day in Lewis.

My first school in Lewis was Point Primary. I don’t remember much about it as I was only there for a year before moving to the larger Primary in Stornoway.

Babyle beach is just along the road from my first School.

The School had been knocked down and replaced by a new building so I wasn’t able to see anything that would jog my memory about my time there.

It was whilst living down here that Andrew and I got two sheep as pets. They were called Donald and Shona.

A sheep is not a particularly good pet. It does not respond to commands. Donald would not fetch, sit or wait. He would only eat grass and baa’d occasionally. Shona was no better. She never once responded to her name and showed complete indifference to us as owners.

One day we came home and the sheep were gone. Mum said they ‘d gone to a better place where they’d be happier. In later life she admitted the better place was my uncles’ belly! He chopped them up to eat them.

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There is a car park next to the beach (by the pier)

Water quality: The water was clear and I could see a good distance under the water.

Swim Quality: 12.3C in June. You can swim from one beach to another just a few hundred meters away along the coast. The Pier blocks the worst of the waves. It was flat calm during my visit.

Other People: There was one couple sitting on the beach having their breakfast. Which was impressive as it wasn’t that warm a day and there was light rain.

Would I go back: Yes. Nice spot for a swim and easy to access.

Outdoor Swim Review: Lake Of Montieth (Iain)

The name Lake of Menteith is a mistake by a cartographer. It was originally called Laich o Menteith, where “laich” simply means “low place”.

Which is very apt because when I went the water was very low.

It is not the only lake in Scotland (as I thought) there are also lakes in Fife (Raith Lake) and Sutherland (Lake Louise)

I took advantage of some nice weather to pay a visit to the lake. I wasn’t the only one with that idea. the place was mobbed. Finding somewhere to park was very difficult but luckily I managed to get a spot close enough to walk to the water easily.

The water level was low and I could easily walk out 30m without going under. There wasn’t anyone else swimming but there was a number of boats and fishermen about.

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There is a car park on the B road by the east of the lake. It is currently closed due to lockdown (June 2020) but may by open when you are reading this.

Water quality: The water was low and the lake is shallow. I’d check carefully for blue green algae before swimming. It was fine in early summer when I visited but I prefer deeper water to be safe.

Swim Quality: Hot! 20C in the water. I could have had a bath in it.

Other People: Fishermen and some kayakers. It seemed a popular busy place. I prefer quieter spots.

Would I go back: No. It was fine for a one off swim but I would only go back if I was passing by for another reason (ie post biking or running)

Outdoor Swim Review: Loch Chon (Iain)

Last year I went to the Scottish Winter Swimming Championship. It was a great event full of nice people and good energy.

I vowed I would do it this year. I trained for it until Xmas and by swimming outdoors regularly I had become comfortable in 8C water.

Since then I’ve not had a chance to swim outdoors (for various reasons – see previous blogs)

The event is this weekend (7th March) so I decided I should test whether I could do it?. The answer was a very clear no! The water temperature was 3.6C. I struggled to get my face in the water. My hands and feet were ok but my body tensed up too much whenever my face got close to the cold water.

It took me 5 minutes to do 100m!

My face didn’ look great after the cold water. I hope this was because of the cold water and that I don’t look this rough all the time!

I realise it would be stupid to do the event. If it takes me that long to do 50m in a wet-suit then I wouldn’t stand a chance without it. I’ll aim for next year instead.

The training hasn’t gone to waste. Previously, I struggled to go in the water when the water temperature dropped below 13C but I can now get in at 3.6C.

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There was plenty of space in the car park and the water was just a 2 minute walk away. (https://goo.gl/maps/gvBbjcmostRTnj9W6)

Water quality: It seemed OK but I’d have to go back in Summer. I didn’t spend long enough swimming to decided whether the water was good or not.

Swim Quality: Baltic! I’m please I went in but I was even more pleased to get out

Other People: It was quiet but a couple of cars were there. Folk were admiring the view of the Loch.

Would I go back: Yes. It looks like a nice pl;ace to swim. I’ll be back!

Winner, you are a Loser (Andrew)

How do get slower by going faster? There’s a riddle for you.

If you’re a physicist then you would probably talk about how time slows down the faster you go and you’d try and convince me that Interstellar is a great film and not a deeply silly film about a mumbling Matthew McConaughey knocking over a bookcase for three hours. If he can push books then why doesn’t he push a keypad and type out his message?! It should have been called InterTheBin.

If you’re a novelist you might say how time slows down when you’re about to get shot. That life flashes before you’re eyes and you might have some meaningful flashback or revelation. Which isn’t true. The closest I’ve got to being shot is standing on a football pitch as a mishit ball shoots straight to my groin. The only thought that went through my head was “don’t scream like a girl when it hits me!”. It did and I did. I think I still speak with a falsetto.

But in triathlon going slower by going faster describes what happens when you’re moved up a coaching group. On a Wednesday morning I’ve been quite happily swimming in the masters lane – a lane for people who swim 1 min 53 seconds per 100m or slower. There’s also a performance lane for those who swim 1 min 42 or faster.

I swim around 1 min 50 seconds which means I swim at the front of the masters but I’m not fast enough for the performance. I’m like Matthew McConaughey’s accent – neither fast nor slow but some drawl in between.

Until today.

Today I was ‘promoted’ to the Performance lane permanently. I now swim at the back of a bunch of swimmers who all swim faster than me.

I also need to swim further. As they swim faster they cover more distance in the same time as the masters lane so will swim, for example, 150m instead of 100m.

“You won’t go faster unless you swim with people who are faster than you!”

Which was nice of the coach to say but I’d never asked to go faster or further as, again like Matthew McConaughey, I’m quite happy with my limited range.

Instead I spent this morning slipping further and further behind people who could swim much faster than me and while I was going faster it sure felt like I was going an awful lot slower.

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!

Christmas Day Swim (Andrew)

Whoops!

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.