OUTDOOR swimming is a passion held in the British Isles by a dwindling number, who eschew the swimming baths for an experience once enjoyed widely in pre-war Britain.
River pollution and an improvement in municipal facilities have diminished the attraction of swimming in the wild for many bathers, but there remains a steadfast attraction to dipping a toe in nature’s pools and waterways across the country. Here are some of Scotland’s best spots.
Gairloch Beach, Wester Ross
Located in the north-west of Wester Ross off the A832, Gairloch Beach is a quiet, beautiful stretch of sand and clear blue water. It’s a sheltered beach with shallow water that should not present difficulties for even the most timid outdoor swimmer. There is a car park, toilets, a shop for amenities and a campsite near Gairloch, too.
Fairy Pools, Glenbrittle, Skye
The Fairy Pools, located at the end of a single track road that leaves Carbost and heads towards Glenbrittle, are among Scotland’s most photogenic swimming spots. There are beautiful brown rocks and rich fauna that encircle the water, which is as soft and clear as you could imagine a river to be. There are several pools to explore in this area, one of which, located higher up the glen, houses an underwater arch that is a real treat to swim through as it’s surrounded by pebbled ledges. The water is fairly cold, so a wetsuit is advisable, as is additional equipment such as goggles and a swimming cap. Walking boots to get to the pools are recommended. There’s a car park, too.
Loch Ness, Highlands
One of Scotland’s great expanses of water, and undoubtedly its most famous, but few would think to plunge into its murky depths. Loch Ness is a dense, thick lake that lacks the azure blue of other waters listed here, but offers some of the most awe-inspiring views you’re likely to see. The water will be cold, so wetsuits are a must, and the great expanse of the loch should deter swimmers who lack confidence in their ability or fitness - we suggest only taking it on if you’ve done this sort of thing before. Loch Ness is best approached just opposite Castle Urquhart, where the water is shallower.
South Queensferry, Edinburgh
The site of the traditional Loony Dook, held annually on New Year’s Day, South Queensferry has seen intrepid (and likely hungover) swimmers enter its waters for nearly 30 years. The water at New Year is, as you’d imagine, very cold, and is perhaps best experienced alongside an encouraging group of revellers who will be suffering the icy temperatures with you. Hundreds descend on the banks of the Firth of Forth every year, so you won’t be short of people to partner up with.
Undoubtedly the most varied and challenging waterways, Feshiebridge is a river with a mirror-like water that reflects the surrounding rocks and sky, and is full of trout, with places to paddle, swim and jump into. Though there are plenty of swimming spots suitable for beginners, there are stretches of water that demand the guidance of a more experiened outdoor swimmer owing to some fast-flowing, narrow stretches of water in the upper sections. Wetsuits, goggles and aquashoes are recommended if you want to brave these bits. Feshiebridge can be reached via the B970 south from Aviemore, and is about six miles from town.
• For more in-depth information on wild swimming, read Kate Rew’s Wild Swim.