Published 17 Jun 2024

Calum Maclean’s top 5 wild swimming spots in Scotland

Calum Maclean is a TV presenter, adventurer and writer based in Aberfeldy. He is also a wild swimmer and author of 1001 Outdoor Swimming Tips: Environmental, Safety, Training and Gear Advice for Cold-Water, Open-Water and Wild Swimmers.

Here, Calum shares with us his top 5 wild swimming spots across Scotland and some tips to stay safe whilst exploring the waters.

Loch Maree, Wester Ross

The long and vast Loch Maree, backed by mountains and ringed by woodland, offers a true feeling of relaxation. There are various entry points from carparks along the loch, though I recommend footwear as it can be very stoney. All swimmers, from just dookers to people looking to take on long-distance, can satisfy themselves here. It’s a great place to spot wildlife but be aware - in summer, the midgies can be nasty!

Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye

This beautiful, remote-feeling loch is surrounded by mountains, with some of the best views in the country. The adventurous swimmer can head from the shore out to the rounded islands which you can dive off into the cool fresh water. You can either take the long and challenging walk in, or a much easier boat ride from Elgol, to make a perfect day trip.

River Tay, Aberfeldy

A local favourite, with a few swimmable spots when water levels allow it. In summer, when the water levels are low, walk upstream from Wade’s Bridge, on the north side. Once you see the shingle stone beach, cross onto it and from here you have a lovely pool without current to swim back towards town. You can complete laps to your heart’s content.

Vatersay, Outer Hebrides

For the best beaches, I think you must head west. Bagh Bhatarsaigh is a large sheltered bay, facing east and protected from most of the wild Atlantic gales. When the sun shines the clear water offers the perfect picture-postcard image. There’s a good chance you have actually seen a photo of it already! Clear, cold and beautiful water.

Fife Tidal Pools

Three places in one..! Here is a fantastic chance to swim and walk (or run) between three historic tidal pools in the East Neuk of Fife. Starting at St Monan’s Tidal Pool, swim in the shadow of the last remaining windmill, a remnant of the former salt industry. The scenic Fife Coastal Trail then leads you on to Pittenweem and the newly-restored tidal pool. Despite losing a pair of goggles in the deep end here, this might be my favourite of the three! From there continue on through Anstruther to reach the pool in Cellardyke, the longest of the three.

Tips for swimming outdoors:

Look after your extremities. In Scotland the water is often cold, even in summer, and your feet, hands and head are likely to suffer the most. Keeping these warm by using neoprene socks, gloves, and something for your head like a swim-cap or bobble hat, can let you swim longer - and means you can still use your hands afterwards!

When you’re swimming in a new place, work out where you’ll get in and out of the water before taking the plunge! Sometimes the entry point isn’t the easiest - or most fun - spot to get back out, such as swimming in a river or a point-to-point across a loch.

Check the water is deep enough before jumping straight in! Get in first and make sure there aren’t any hidden dangers lurking like rocks, branches or… shopping trollies! Currents and high water flow can cause changes underwater, even to places you think you know well.

Take a friend, or a few! Adventures are always best shared and bringing other people means you can look out for one another, whether that’s in the water or on land getting warm with a hot drink after. Plus you sometimes need that peer pressure to get into the water when it’s a bit cold and windy…

Calum Maclean is author of 1001 Outdoor Swimming Tips, published by Vertebrate Publishing. His book is available to purchase online here or at our Roastery Café.

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