A fortnight ago I had a epic swimming week. Planning like Kæstur hákarl is foreign to me and it was only at the end of the week that I was fully surprised when I realised the full journey I had been immersed in. I thought I would share it.
It was my wife’s Birthday on Saturday. Generous friends accepted our boys for the weekend and we found our selves in a castle in the eastern parts of the Cairngorm national park.
Our lodgings were off the beaten track and surrounded by large round grassy rocky hills. Not big hills by Alps or the Rockies standard but when the sky is blue and with enough wind to keep the midges away these hills are paradise. My plan was a 10km jont up a picturesque Glen to lochan nan Eun just west of Glen Shee. I was quite excited but didn’t show it as it was Clare’s birthday, if Clare had other ideas then she would not tell me if she knew how excited I was. (Trust me this was not Homer’s a bowling ball for Marge, I honestly felt the best present for Clare was a few days away from the day to day pressures of life, and the pressures of life seem less beside a Scottish loch, I had suggested Europe but the hassle, the anxiety, flights, border control, then finding the hotel then getting some decent scran, all increase pressure, sometimes its easier staying in God’s country). We got a picnic and directions from the castle’s kitchen the first obstacles were a small slope covered in nettles and a stream, there was a massive boulder in the stream, winter storms had eroded some of the rock and removed the build up of stones leaving a shoulder deep plunge pool, I suggested we set the rug down and spend the afternoon. Tempting as it was Clare was curious what was up the Glen, it resembled a massive half pipe for giants that stretched north and twisted round to the west. Clare’s decision was a result, and happened without being coerced by me.
Jumping on rocks we crossed the stream keeping our feet dry, we started up the fire track. Oyster catchers and curlews were noisily chasing us away from their nests. After about an hour Clare remarked it was a pleasure concentrating on the walk and personal thoughts instead of let’s play the alphabet game or my legs are sore or I am hungry, can I get a chocolate I saw you pack. Our youngest, needs constant entertainment during any walk and we were enjoying the peace. The first 7km was a flat fire track and went by without incident in fact it was only about the last km up to the lochan, that the tough climb and sun started taking effect draining our energy. Some nuts for me and Blairgowrie Stawberries for Clare helped get us up to the water edge. We found a suitable spot, set out our rug and spread out the boiled eggs, ham, Salmon and tomatoes.
We had passed an older couple climbing the hill, they were camping for the night, it sounded great being able to relax have a swim and enjoy the long summer evening without keeping tabs on the clock, they arrived as I went for my first swim, the water was cold and shallow for about 20m then dropped off quite fast, my confidence swimming skins is pretty bad, wearing a wetsuit is like wearing a safety harness and being clipped on at heights, thoughts of danger are taken care of and I can relax. I swam about the shallows for about 15 minutes, then returned to warm dry clothes. The lochan turned into Sauchiehall street well that’s what it seemed like as 7 people sat at different spots, separate couples and a soloist.
Clare slept after her lunch, the endorphins coursing through my veins from cold water dispelled any chance of a power nap, with no one to talk to, I went back in the water, we left soon afterwards and headed down following the small stream, the two of us striped off for a quick dooking in one of the many a waterfall pools.
At about 7km back along the track we stopped for a rest that resulted in a dual power nap, it was only interupted when my snoring woke us both up. We ended up back in the stream at the first suggested picnic site close to castle.
We certainly required our five course meal after our walk, Clare reckoned it was a perfect birthday. The next day arrived with blue skies again so left the Castle and headed home to be invited for another picnic down the blue banks. Rope swings into the river Teith and Pimms were a brilliant end to the birthday weekend.
No swimming on Monday
Solo 4km in loch Venachar Tuesday night. I swam out passed all the sailing markers, the light breeze dropped, resulting in a glassy calm return swim back to shore. I always find it harder to swim out, it’s swim for a few hundred meters then stop check how far I swam, then swim some…..but the way back seems to be a full on challenge these days let’s see if I can get everything right. Legs up, head down, trying for a high elbow stroke, I have been recently working on ( In the same loch last night, we were talking about strokes and I have been getting some things right), it seems to lessen the niggling pain in my left shoulder than using big full arm strokes. Also changing when I breath a lot earlier on my fourth stroke, (sometimes six these days, can’t figure that one out) so it does not feel as though I am pushing my head out the water with force of my left arm pushing down.(This may read like code, or just nonsense but it seems to be working.)
Wednesday, we reversed the plan to push the bikes up Bein Ghlas onto Ben Lawers, sleep under the tarp then drop down into corrie for a swim in the morning before returning to the van via the fire track and tarmac. With the lightest camping pack to date we set off from the visitor car park half way up the hill. It was the second time out on my bike this year, the first, a week previous should have been a quick blast up Pendreich hill round the reservoir back down into Bridge of Allan then home, but it is a staight up 200m that feels vertical at times and I was pretty gubbed at the reservoir so took my time getting home. I was not looking forward to the climb close to 4000ft with camping gear and a bike.
My reason to swim has altered over the last few months, it used to be see how long I could spend in the cold water, before the effects sent me for warm clothes. My distance only increased as my cold water tolerance or water temperature increased. Swims were constant monitoring the effects of cold water, trying to learn my bodies signals to send to the shore side, push it a wee bit more see what I could handle. But since the introduction of the 5mm suit I feel as I can swim for ages in the warming summers waters, I observe the temperature it’s part of the life saving techniques we all develop like observing the wind direction, it’s just that my swims don’t concentrate on it. Since the thermometer has been left at home I don’t know what has happened but my of swimmming adventures has increased. I have started combining running and swimming like a dualathon but running in my wetsuit.( I was informed last night this is dangerous) This has happened three times now. The first a 1km run down a hill down to Lussburn reservoir, I ran the length of the water checking for any anomalies then swam back the 500m length. Wearing my running trainers. My feet were heavy and it felt I was dragging an anvil, returning to land, I ran up the hill, It wasn’t checking the environment it was monitoring my kit now. I enjoyed the wee adventure. It lead to a run up to Cockburn reservoir from the house and swim a length, skins (staying close to the edge) then run home, a distance of over 10km.
The next challenge was park below Cockburn reservoir swim the length in wetsuit then run up to Lussburn reservoir swim up and down then run back for a return length of Cockburn reservoir. Combined 10km with 1.5km swimming, all in wet suit and trainers. I discovered that mountain bike shoes five 10 stealth are buoyant not as comfy running as Brooke’s but did the job swimming. I got a few funny looks running up and down the Sheriffmuir road fully neoprened up, wearing goggles and trying out my new go pro camera on my head.
Any way back to Ben Lawers, my friend wanted a nights camping with the mountain bikes, I just wanted to swim somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere I would go THIS IS AMAZING. A couple of weeks previous another friend wanted a mid week camp and swim. I think he wanted somewhere close like Loch Drunkie or Loch Achray but I had been in both and needed to see somewhere new. Lettermay water Falls at loch Goilhead, the plan was arrive early evening, a short walk up the falls (find potential future plunge pools for my son’s), camp, get a swim in the sea early morning. As normal, I forgot the most important piece of kit, the map, we searched in vain for the waterfalls and were sent to different waterfalls, to find them unsuitable for camping so we started up the hill for a decent view.
we had to set the alarm clock an hour early to get off the hill in time, missed the sea swim however waking up in the fresh air on a hillside was worth all the effort.
Sorry, I meander off topic again, back to Ben Lawers. A swim in Loch nan Cat was decided on, we did reverse the orginal plan, as mentioned. We parked at the visitor car park then dropped down onto the road on the north side of Loch Tay ( “have a swim in Loch Tay”, I hear you say, been there, done it, tried to put the t shirt on but my hands were shaking to much blah blah blah. I wanted to swim somewhere different, not return to somewhere familar) For two weeks, summer had arrived to Scotland blue skies every day in fact it had rained about 3 times in last 6 weeks, we had decided to camp on the night the clouds arrived, we were met with heavy showers driving through Killin but data roaming gave us the BBC and WMIS weather estimations and we’re nearly confident of a dryish night. A crabbit farmer turned out to a nice guy after he gave us directions off his property towards the fire track heading for our (well, my) swimming destination. A solid constant climb of 500m turned into a push and stories of old train movies of Killin. Entering the corrie we were turned into panzer division and we started into bogland towards the lochan, the sky was grey there was the odd small cloud hiding the majestic Munros it was Mordor (Mordor might be over used for atmospheric grey hills, but it was pretty ominous.) We pushed passed the lochs cats head to its hint end.
There was a rusty orange small beach. Stripping off and wading into the surprisingly warm water, there was quite a bit of snow hid away in the corrie and was expecting a shock to the system, but the water was not bath temperatures but it not far off.
The ampithearter surrounding me was just freaking awesome it was truly remarkable and was everything I had hoped for,
Buts It’s hard to relax and enjoy a swim at 2100hrs looking up at the 500m hike a bike section left. It wouldn’t have been as bad, but there was no visible trail and we were surrounded by vertical to over hanging faces, they looked awesome, but daunting, how were getting up there?
My traveling companion’s dad had lead us to believe the east ridge was do able, but we were convinced he was now sitting at home with a wry grin. We surveyed the map and the rocky vista for safe passage. This was Bear Grills stuff infact he would radioed the film crews helicopter and got air lifted.
We set off on the imaginary safe route the first ten steps squelching into the boggy Heather we knew this would be hard work, after 5 minutes my legs were burning. There nothing else for it the dig in and keep climbing. By this point it was easier to carry the full suspension bike on my back than try to push hold brakes step up the steep slope. We were gaining height but slowly. Stopping for a breather we could see we were just above the low lying clouds. The clouds started to enter the corrie bowl covering my swimming spot they were increasing speed filling the small Glen with big white fluffy cloud at a furious rate we watched it engulf the area below with a pinking sky to the east as the sun started disappearing.
With the bike back on my back the mammoth task continued I had earphones on and the continual beats helped. I also repeated – this is easy over and over over again. Something I had learned a few years ago walking with a friend. We were both tired struggling up Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms when he accelerated away in front. After reaching the summit I asked him where he got the extra energy from. He mentioned that he realised this might be the last time he got the chance to walk up a hill, instead of reflecting on the aches an pains and lack of energy, immerse yourself in the joys. Dont waste opportunities grab them with both hands. This is easy. We reached the shoulder and a flat area just as the sun disappeared, a light drizzle had kept us cool on the climb, now it was going to make us cold. The first job was to make a shelter. We found a 6 foot( in length not height) dry stone wall (we did not care at the time why anybody would bother to make only 6 feet or why they left 6 feet of stone wall.) we used up turned bikes as poles for the tarps and set up camp we were facing the south east as the stove heated up the chamomile tea the rain had ceased it was brilliant camp but with the niggling doubt, we still had to reach the summit up the mythical east ridge. It didn’t stop us giggling past midnight about Falconhoof sketches from the lemmy show
My companion woke me at 0445, munching rolls and humus beside my head. The sun was up but had not been for long it was amazing and truly felt alive.
The camp was soon removed.( Leave no trace ) and we somehow managed to reach the summit of Ben Lawers by carrying and pushing the bikes.
To be honest the run down was very steep and most parts my self preservation kick in guiding the bike as I walked down the hill, we should have went round the back of Ben Ghlas,
Ben Lawers is no Ben lomond. I have moutain biked from the top three times it is 98% rideable and in fast chaotic way. We reached Ben Lawers car park, the ride down was great fun but the journey up was memorable.
Thursday night no swimming
Friday the map spread out on the floor a looking at a Loch Venechar adventure. I had to drop Patrick at Basketball training at 1800hrs, then realised I had flip flops on instead of the five 10 stealth adventure shoes, so didn’t get to the first car park until nearly 1900hrs
A member of a local swim group was there getting ready for a swim he promised to keep an eye on the bike and bag of clothes padlocked at the beach.
I drove round to Brig o’Turk after a few wrong turns and advice from the Lade Inn barman. I started the 2.5km run round to west side of Loch Venachar fully neoprened up. At the beach on the east beach it was calm with no prevailing westerly wind, on the western shore instead of a calm wind pushing me toward my bike there was an easterly wind blowing a few white caps, in for a penny in for a pound, this was going to be fun.
I am pretty nervous about swimming and with a 5km swim after 1930hrs I was filled with trepidation. I kept to the edge hopefully getting some shelter from the wind from the trees and if required I could stand up and run back to the van to perform the adventure another time. I kepted my eye on the cafe on the north side once there, it was only 3km to go nearly half way. Reaching the cafe took ages. I wish I could say it was because I kept stopping to catch a breadth and check distance, but no I swam constantly hard with no let up, it felt as though the wind was pushing me backwards. Eventually reaching the cafe by this time I was in the middle of the loch with no going back. Head down go for it the sailors had put their dingies away by the time reached their markers.
The winds had dropped off and managed to get to the beach at 2200hrs my bike and clothes protector left an hour previous pity the midges hadn’t, they made the wetsuit change a wee bit more frustrating than it should have been. But the bike ride back along the loch was fun with several near misses on the forest track because of lack of light.
Years ago I had friends that started walking Munroes to looking for airplane crashes, pretty morbid, in fact when one of them took a piece of spitfire home he reckoned he got ghostly visits from the pilot until he took the wreckage back. This reason to get on the hills became a bit of an obsession with lots of reasearch and big detours before the summits, it gave them a reason to get over their house threshold, get out doors get immerse in nature. I think my sky box would be get a hammering if I was not swimming. It’s like a force, like fuel for my turbos, get in the water. It has been a brilliant journey the reasons I swim have turned and twisted like a drovers track .
At present I am finishing this blog at 0500am on a Saturday morning I had swam 3km last night at Loch Venachar, and planned to swim this morning. The sky driving home was incredible so on arriving home I grabbed my rucksack a kiss and headed for the meeting point for the Saturday swim Loch Ard. Pitched the tarp at midnight and soon felI into a slumber, sheep ducks and oyster catchers woke me up.
Now I am struggling to read and write on my phone through my midge net with hands smothered in smidge repellent, I know my life’s adventure can only keep getting better because I am swimming.
Oh so to recap on my time on the water for the week, two swims in mountain lochans, 9km in loch Venachar and a afternoon splashing about in river Teith. It was not a bad week.