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!

Celtman Race Numbers (Iain)

The race numbers for Celtman have been revealed. I got 230 and Andrew has 231.

According to the Todd book of numerology numbers are the God of triathlon’s way of sending a message to athletes. Each number is associated with specific letters. The number 230 is associated with the letters N, E, W, N, R, and I. The number 231 is associated with R, E, L, S, O

I wonder what the letters reveal?

In a shock twist to this years event there is a third Todd.

There is a real danger that neither Andrew or I will be fastest Todd. Although slowest Todd is still likely to be one of us.

We are not even the most Todd person there. That honor goes to Todor Todorov.

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!

Training for Celtman: December 2019 (Andrew)

Goals for December:

  • Training will officially start in January. December will be about getting into a routine of doing ‘something’ most days of the week but without any pressure to do anything in particular. It’ll just be about getting used to a routine. 
  • Work out training plan
  • See if I can try and be a bit more scientific and check stats like heart rate, functional training power, watts and a whole host of other words I don’t know the meaning of yet.

How did I do?

Training has started and I’ve managed to swim, run or bike six days out of seven with a couple of double days thrown in. I hadn’t intended to double up but it was sometimes easier to swim in the morning on a Wednesday and then catch train and run home than sit in traffic for over hour during the Christmas rush. An unexpected longer trip home to Stornoway due to a family illness also meant a few extra sessions as the weather was unseasonably mild so there were more times to go out then normal. Overall, I’m happy with what I’ve done and feel like I’m settling into a routine which will help when the training starts in January.

Speaking of training, I have a training plan. Unlike Iain – his plan here – I’ve bought a Celtman specific plan on Training Peaks. I’ve never used Training Peaks and I’m not sure yet how closely I’ll follow the plan but I liked the comfort of seeing what would be involved and I can then tailor it (or reduce it!) to suit. One for next month.

I didn’t manage to look at power or any other stats. I was going to do that during the Christmas holidays but being home meant I didn’t have access to a smart trainer. Another one for next month.

Random highlights (and one lowlight)

  • Running: This year’s Christmas Day run was a 10 mile run to the Iolaire monument and then a traditional run around the Castle Grounds.
  • Swimming: A new tradition. Along with the Christmas Day run we had a 10 minute dip in sea. It wasn’t as cold as I expected, but at 6 degrees it was still sharp and gasp inducing. But after a few minutes it was bearable to swim head above water. After 10 minutes though it was time to get back to land!
  • World Champion: Did I mention I was world champion of the War Memorial? I don’t like to talk about it (much!).
  • Mountain bike skills: Wet wood is like ice. A lesson I painfully learned after the bike slipped out beneath me on a wooden bridge in the Castle Grounds. My shoulder and hip took the worse of the fall while my left hand recovered after a night of icing it with frozen vegatables.

January Goals

  • Update and start training plan
  • Look into stats to help with training

Jimmy Irvine 10k (Iain)

I spent the week before the race full of the cold. Not the normal cold but life threatening man flu.

My fellow men will sympathise at just how potent this horrific affliction can be. Its only known cure is watching TV, drinking beer and replying “no. I’m ill” to any enquiries about whether any housework is going to be done.

I decided I wasn’t going to do the race as it always rains when I take part. Last years event was so biblically wet I spotted Noah leading animals two by two to his boat. I didn’t fancy running whilst being at deaths door.

But for the first time in my five attempts at the race there was no rain. It was actually a very pleasant sunny morning.

I decided to run. I was still ill and I definitely wasn’t fit enough for household chores. In fact, I think it might be a few weeks before I can even think about hoovering or helping out around the house. A run though is fine to do.

The course is two laps of Bellahouston Park. It’s not a very scenic park but it’s pleasant enough. It’s mostly flat but there is one hill that is tackled twice.

I decided I was going to run as fast I could. As soon as the race started I legged it away from Andrew. Later Andrew complained I went off too fast. No – he went off too slow!

The race was pretty dull. I spotted Andrews wife a couple of times so I gave her a wave. Which turned out to be more times than Andrew spotted her. He managed to run past her without seeing her.

I kept a good pace up for the whole race and I was happy with a sub 45 time. I didn’t expect to be as fast as that. Maybe man flu isn’t as bad as I thought….

Barney, Andrew and I

Dreaming of Celtman 2020 (Andrew)

IronMan UK was my one and only long distance triathlon. Never again I said. That was it. One go. Done it. Never need to do it again.

Except for Norseman.

And possibly Challenge Roth.

But the chances of getting in were so slim that IronMan UK was, I thought, the only time I’d ever swim 3.9km again, probably the only time I’d ever cycle more than 100 miles and definitely the only time I’d run a marathon as I don’t like running long distances. 

Oh, and except for Celtman too. 

Apart from those three races, I was never going to voluntarily spend an entire day racing again!

But what were the chances of getting into Norseman? Challenge Roth or Celtman? People try for years and don’t get into any of them. I applied, still with no expectation of getting in, and, straight away, I’ve got a place in Norseman.

A couple of years later and I manage to get a place in Challenge Roth too.

And now I have a place in Celtman.

I don’t know whether God likes a laugh, but he certainly enjoys a good ironic chuckle. 

While Norseman was fantastic. I’ve written about it on the blog and you can find out all about it. Roth too. And they were both ‘special’ and they have given me some great memories (along with a deep, deep fear of losing my watch while swimming – read about it here and, four months later, I’m still mentally scarred by it!), it’s Celtman which means the most to me because it was Celtman that got me interested in triathlons.

I never watched triathlons on telly. I’d never heard of IronMan or knew anything about the World Championships in Hawaii. I knew triathlons existed, I’d even tried to the New Year’s Triathlon in Edinburgh but I was like a dog playing football. It might know to chase a ball but that’s all it has in common with a footballer. I knew you needed to swim, bike and run but I didn’t know it was better to swim freestyle, that a mountain bike is not the professional triathlete’s first choice or that the run is something you race, not walk in to finish. 

Celtman changed that. I was watching the Adventure Show on BBC Scotland. Every month it reports from different events across Scotland. In 2011, it reported back from the first Celtman extreme triathlon. 3.4km swim on the west coast of Scotland, a 120 mile cycle round the Applecross penisula and then a marathon up a Munro and finish in Torridon. 

“That’s impossible,” I said, “how do they do that?” 

Every year since I’ve watched the Adventure Show and thought I would love to take part but secretly I knew that I wasn’t good enough. I don’t want to swim through jellyfish in freezing cold water. I’ve never cycled 120 miles. I’ve never run a marathon up a mountain. That’s what other people do.

But as I started to train for races in middle distance, then long distance, then Norseman and Roth, I started to think this year that maybe, with a bit more effort, I could be ready for Celtman. Because I don’t want to just complete it. I want to stand at the top of the mountain and be one of the few competitors who complete the whole course. In order to do that you need to be halfway through the run eleven hours after starting. Which means I’ll have around 8 hours to complete 120 miles on the bike, knowing that my swim time is the one thing I won’t be able to change no matter how hard I train. 

And, to make this Celtman, even better, unlike Norseman and Roth, Iain will be racing too, which will be a good incentive for both training and on the day itself. Though it has spoiled my support runner plans as he was going to run the final half with me!

Now that I’ve secured a spot I keep thinking of the first edition. I think how impossible it seemed and I think how possible it now is. I can’t wait to take part!