Nordic mobile sauna opens for wild swimmers on Elie Beach

It’s made from a converted horse box – and is providing a welcome pit stop for wild swimmers in Fife.

In Scotland, once summer has passed, wild swimming is reserved for only the hardiest dippers.

Perhaps those who are finding it nippy might want to visit the East Neuk, where local Judith Dunlop recently launched Elie Seaside Sauna.

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This converted horse-box sits in the dunes and has one side that’s entirely glass, so you have an unbroken view out to the Firth of Forth and are in prime position for any potential dolphin sightings.

Pic: Suzanne Black PhotographyPic: Suzanne Black Photography
Pic: Suzanne Black Photography

Inside, there are wooden benches and the interior is clad with aspen, for a smell Ms Dunlop describes as like “caramel”. The space can be hired by groups or individuals, with prices starting from a tenner for 45 minutes.

Obviously, as we’re not actually in Scandinavia, you leave your swimming costume/trunks on.

“I was inspired to create Elie Seaside Sauna, having long been interested in Nordic cultures and traditions that were, for such a very long time, so deeply interwoven with the Gaelic culture of Scotland and Ireland,” says Ms Dunlop.

She also runs the excellently named Elie Blue Tits Swimming Club and Elie Yoga, and was encouraged to set the new business up by various friends.

Pic: Suzanne Black PhotographyPic: Suzanne Black Photography
Pic: Suzanne Black Photography

They include Mara Seaweed owner Fiona Houston, who had a sauna installed in her garden during a break in lockdown, and another acquaintance, who, while on holiday, sent her a picture of a mobile version stationed in Copenhagen harbour.

It seems Ms Dunlop was ahead of the curve, as these saunas are gradually increasing in popularity in the UK.

As well as a couple of others, there’s already Beach Box in Brighton, as well as the ten-month-old Haar Sauna, which is usually either on Aberdeen Beach or beside the loch at Glen Tanaar. It’s no coincidence they’ve all chosen spots by the water.

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“Having a sauna by the sea is a joyful, life-enhancing experience,” says Ms Dunlop.

Judith Dunlop (on right) with friend in saunaJudith Dunlop (on right) with friend in sauna
Judith Dunlop (on right) with friend in sauna

“Saunas can be peaceful places, for reflection or social places for conversation. During lockdown, with pubs closed, many people found new, often healthier, ways to socialise – and I would like to help sustain this trend, helping others build healthier more resilient relationships and friendships that don’t necessarily revolve around alcohol”.

Since opening, Elie Seaside Sauna has had various guests, including a homesick Finnish couple, who visited the sauna to celebrate their wedding anniversary. There have also been those who have visited for health reasons, such as long Covid or motor neuron disease.

Ms Dunlop said she thinks there are plenty of mental and physical health benefits.

“Taking a sauna can be similar to going for a 5km run, in terms of pumping blood around your body and oxygenating your organs,” she says.

“We start low, around 60C to 70C, then build-up to around 80C to 100C. You come out to cool-down, then go back in, to warm up and repeat.

"This contrast of temperatures has so many benefits, not least in terms of how it releases serotonin in the brain, making us happy. The process of sweating also makes us more sensitive to endorphins. So, if you do something that gives you a massive hit of those chemicals, like a dip in the sea, and repeat the process, it can seriously improve your overall level of well-being”.