The Call of the Wild
Forced to take a more creative approach to keeping fit locally, swimmers have answered the call of the wild and flocked to Scotland’s clear (and cold!) fresh natural waters. Don’t worry if the cold water has put you off from reading further… We’ve got some hot tubs ready for you on the estate that are kept at 40 degrees celsius all year round. Just click here for more info on our hot tub accommodation options.
Evidence suggests that wild swimming was already on an upward trend before COVID, but its popularity has skyrocketed since leisure centres shut their doors. And if you’re lucky enough to enjoy the kind of surroundings that we do, you’re not short of options in the natural environment.
When the time comes to exit lockdown, here are a few secret swimming spots to get yourself down to…
Health Benefits of Wild Swimming
If stripping off and plunging in freezing Scottish water sounds a daunting prospect at first, let us convince you with some reasons why wild swimming is making such a splash in the world of wellness. Amongst other perks, it’s been credited for weight loss, improved immunity, and boosted circulation due to the rush of endorphins our body releases when dealing with the cold.
And it’s not only about your body – particularly in recent times, we all understand how important it is to look after our minds and experts have argued that wild swimming can reduce stress, improve mental health, and boost our happiness. Don’t just take our word for it – see it in action, making a difference for @iceman_hof and others on a daily basis.
Against those arguments, we reckon the only question to ask yourself is ‘where do I start’?
Where better than on our doorstep? We weren’t kidding when we said we were lucky with local options – the Loy actually runs right through our estate! Give your calves a good workout and follow the river upstream through Beinn Bhan Corbett to find a couple of inviting pools where the summer tranquillity is interrupted only by the gentle percussion of pretty waterfalls overhead as it plummets towards the surface.
As your gaze extends out onto Ben Nevis and the lochs below, relax in the knowledge that just a quick dip can do you the world of good – the natural peat in the water here brings an amazing range of health benefits, including everything from detoxification to preventing skin ageing and breaking down fat cells!
Loch Lochy and Loch Arkaig
Heading out of the Glen where our Estate is situated, the road is flanked by the River Lochy that winds down the Great Glen and past the ruins of the medieval Tor Castle, fought over by Clans Cameron and Mackintosh for centuries. No doubt they were too distracted to notice what a fantastic little spot this is for a quick dip!
For a more modern adventure though, you’re better off turning towards Loch Lochy and Loch Arkaig, in search of the Witch’s Cauldron! The witch in question clearly had some beef with the local cattle, as legend blames her spells for their bout of mysterious illnesses, which supposedly healed instantly once she tragically tumbled into this deep pool…
Whether or not you believe the story, you can’t deny the impressive sight of the bubbling, black water that’s been likened to a pot of tar (though about a hundred degrees colder!). Don’t let the temperature intimidate you though – this is a spot of truly enchanting natural beauty. Falls drop down elegantly from one pool to another and the frightening ‘cauldron’ proves rather friendly in letting you swim right up to Chia-Aig, the largest of the falls at the bottom. This was one of many local scenes to feature in the 1995 film Rob Roy (find out more about film locations in the Highlands here).
Failing to locate any 17th-century Highland villages nearby, Rob Roy producers decided to create one of their own at the foot of Glen Nevis, amid all the ancient woodlands and trees rich with bilberries (or blaeberries as we call them here!). The gentle walk up from here through the Nevis Gorge offers a number of opportunities to stop for a quiet dip in the river and even a spot of cliff jumping if you’re brave enough!
Further uphill the glen opens out for a glorious view of Steall Falls – probably a good time to put all that cliff jumping to the back of your mind as the 120m drop makes this the second highest waterfall in the country!
Loch Shiel (Glenfinnan) and Loch Moidart
If you escape the cauldron’s clutches, you’ll find the path round Loch Arkaig continues towards the western coast. There are some great stopping points before you get there though – almost immediately you discover unbeatable mountain views around Glenfinnan, where the Loch Shiel offers several refreshing pools that are popular in the summer.
Further out, you can spend some time in Loch Moidart and take on the challenge of paddling round Riska Island. The long shadow of Castle Tioram, dominating the skyline from its own tidal island, is a reminder you’re swimming through the rugged wilderness of Rough Bounds territory, under clan rule at the time the 12th-century castle was built.
Glencoe and Glen Etive
Up against these kinds of natural landscapes, you’d expect that creating an artificial setting to rival their charm would be a challenge. Lord Strathcona made it look easy though, presenting the man-made Glencoe Lochan to his homesick Canadian wife in the 1890s. The romantic gesture ultimately failed and she returned home, but her loss can be your gain as you wade into the cool depths of this secluded beauty spot!
Continuing south through Glen Etive, you can’t help but notice the surging rapids of the River Etive almost within touching distance. The long canyon is not only generous enough to offer direct access from the road without the need for a trek, it also makes for an ideal introduction to wild swimming, with a series of deep plunge pools and little waterfalls, surrounded by high cliffs.
This western coastal village is perfect for a truly remote experience. Quite literally off the beaten path until fairly recently, Glen Uig was only connected to the power grid in the 80s!
Not only is it well isolated, it also comes recommended as a fantastic place for those new to wild swimming, where the sandy bottom and clear waters complement the lack of strong tides for a gentle introduction to open waters.
The Arisaig Skerries
Further up the coast you start to encounter more and more hidden bays and coves. The Skerries are a real playground for wild swimmers as dozens of semi-submerged rocks and islets constantly change shape with the rise and fall of the tide, offering the kind of welcome respite from exhaustion that seems to disappear on longer-distance swims!
The temperature might surprise you too – but in a good way! Particularly when the summer sun lends a hand, you might find things nice and toasty here where the Gulf Stream washes up. Plenty of locals certainly do – just ask the seals bobbing up and down around you.
The Silver Sands and Loch Morar
Continuing north yet further you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve somehow landed in the Caribbean. The magical white beaches of Morar could easily be mistaken for those in warmer climes, forming a glorious coastline with stunning views out to the islands of Rum, Eigg and Muck.
While the beach is undoubtedly a fun place for a dip, you might find more space in nearby Loch Morar instead. At least around the surface – go underwater and you’ll want to keep an eye out for Nessie’s lesser-known cousin, Morag, though there should be room for both of you in Britain’s deepest freshwater lake!
While undeniably fun and healthy, wild swimming is not supervised by professionals and not without its risks even for experienced swimmers. Please NEVER swim alone, especially in areas you are not familiar with, and make sure you’ve read all these useful tips on swimming safely before dipping your toes in.
While we’ve tried to list some of the key locations in this blog, there are undoubtedly so many more beatiful wild swimming spots nearby. Please enquire for more info or visit www.wildswimming.co.uk which has a fantastic list of Highland swimming places.