Final blog post
It has been two weeks since we returned from our swim challenge, and there has been plenty of time to reflect on how it went.
Let me start by expressing my thanks to everyone who donated to the Student Hardship Fund here at Stirling University. We raised £1,600 and are very grateful for all donations. And thank you for all the lovely messages that we received – it was wonderful to read these in the evenings after the swims.
If you followed our progress on Facebook, you will know that everything did not quite go according to plan. Here are some insights into our trip:
While the lochs we opted to swim looked swimmable on all the maps, images and documents we consulted, the realities on the ground frustrated some of our swim plans. For example, the access roads at both ends of Loch Laggan are located within an estate that refuses the public vehicle access (walking access is problematic when you are providing safety cover for a swimmer). Loch Glascarnoch was a BAD choice – when we visited the loch, the water level was so low that the old Ullapool-Inverness tarmac road that became submerged when the reservoir was built was clearly visible on the western end for quite a stretch. It was not a bad thing that thunder and lightning strikes in the area frustrated our plans to swim this loch on the day after the massive storms hit Central and Eastern Scotland. Loch Mhór was equally depleted of water, and the 2km connecting channel between the two historic lochs was by no means swimmable. Clearly, while research beforehand is very important, scouting the lochs in person before attempting to swim them is even more important and may result in the need to change your swim plans there and then.
Wind strength will always be a factor when it comes to open water swimming in Scotland. Even more so in the highlands where the wind behaves differently from what the various apps predicted! We had to shorten our swim in Loch Assynt because the wind was gradually picking up during the morning to a predicted maximum strength of 50 miles per hour. At least the anglers were very excited about this development, while I will have to go back to Assynt next year to realise my desire to swim the length of this particular loch!
After swimming against the wind and current on the first day in Loch Naver, I am now a full convert to swimming in the direction of the current! If you are swimming the full length of a loch, there really is no sense in swimming against both current and wind, even if one preferred to do so in the past. When we travelled to the start of the Loch Garry swim, the water did not move much on the eastern end, but when we got to the fish farm about 7km up the loch, the current was clearly flowing from east to west. This led us to turn around and go back to the eastern end of the loch to start the swim there instead. It was a good decision and Loch Garry became the fastest swim of the challenge.
Before this swim challenge, I was definitely what one could term a ‘purist’ when it came to swimming the full length of a loch. In my mind, swimming from the furthest point at the one end of a loch to the furthest point at the other end was the only acceptable option. Well, this silly idea is a distant memory. I now firmly believe that you swim as much as you can. You see, I ran out of water deep enough to swim in twice during the swim trip. In Loch Naver, I was about 250m short of the chosen exit point when that happened, and in Loch Garry, I ran aground about 100m from the shore. I am not sure which was worse: Loch Naver has a rocky bottom, so there were literally thousands of slippery rocks of varying sizes between the shore and me. Loch Garry, on the other hand, had almost no rocks but lots of tall grasses anchored in the soil that created a very silty surface. One can only swim in water deep enough to swim in even if that means ending the swim sooner than anticipated. And if you cannot find the narrow swimmable channel at the historic end of a loch that connects it to the additional 3km created by hydroelectricity works after WW2 after searching in vain in all directions, the only sensible thing to do is to exit the water where it is possible – which was the case in Loch Garry. I had expected a lot of issues during the swim challenges, but honestly, I did not expect to run out of water deep enough to swim in so regularly. And this was true of all the lochs we swam in. Some were just easier to manoeuvre than others!
We promised in one of our FB posts that we would make up the loch we missed on the Wednesday (i.e. Loch Glascarnoch; we are both too South African to go near water when there are lightning strikes!) before the end of August. Sadly, that did not happen. We’ve managed shorter swims since we returned but have not managed to create the time on weekends when the wind was kind enough for an end-to-end loch swim. I will have to owe all the donors a full length of a loch swim in the future. We may even do a similar swim challenge next year since it really was a wonderful trip around our beautiful country. Next time, however, we’ll probably think about compiling lists of possible lochs to swim in the different areas from which we can choose the most suitable and swimmable when we are on the actual trip. But that is for 2021 if all goes well.
For now, we wish you all a good new academic year (ours starts on 14 September at Stirling University), and an active winter. Stay safe and keep to the Covid-19 restrictions!
Phia and Janine
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