Me and my youngest son Patrick biked down to his Great grans house recently, below are some photos of the detour round our home town Stirling on the way home. They are nothing to do with swimming, hopefully they make my ramblings more interesting.
Rainbows at the Top of Stirling
Earlier in the summer my friend wanted to walk the Lairg Grhu. We discussed options, but to be honest, I have walked about the Linn of Dee before and the thought of a long meandering slightly hilly walk did not excite me, granted it was possible to see some fine Scottish scenery. There had to be something more than following a well trodden path through the Cairngorms in between Braemar and Aviemore. These days a walk is something you do to arrive at the water’s edge. Work commitments got in the way.
Bridge clock at Customs roundabout
For nearly 20 years up until January this year, my job meant working away from home for weeks at a time, not the best for family life, however, I never took work home. Sure, I might have went back early or did the odd course, but time at home meant no interruptions, no overtime late into the evening. no reports, no phones calls, I considered myself pretty lucky, sure I missed big parts of the their lives and the odd birthday, but I got weeks at home and was total focused on them. There’s not many fathers can say they made and prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for their family for six months a year, some fathers only see their kids at the weekend, leaving for work before the house wakes up and then grab a quick kiss at bedtime when they get in from a hard shift. I got to walk round to school then race them home for weeks at a time. Like everyone else, I had job lists and wasted some swimming time reducing the lists, but mostly as long as everyone was happy and well feed, I was allowed to spend weekdays doing whatever I wanted.
Golf, mountain biking or walking the hills obsessions transmognified into a new addiction of wild swimming. Ever tried to put a cold damp wet suit on, or neoprene booties and gloves on when they are not dried from the day before. This was a small price to pay to for jumping in lochs most weekdays. When most people were concentrating on spreadsheets and databases or organising contractors. I was busy trying to figure out if I had wind or the start of hypothermia in the middle of a loch.
About a year ago it all changed. I still work away from home but now I have to bring some business home, starting another couple other projects hasn’t helped the lack of swimming time either.
Break out the fiddles.
It’s not sympathy I am after, I love my new job. I am just painting a picture of how my swimming habit has transformed over the last year. It is now mostly evening and weekend mornings, similar to everyone’s else’s, I imagine.
Wallace Monument in background
Last week after finishing dinner, my wife suggested I get a quick swim before the light total faded, I started rhyming off tasks that required attention. She stopped me mid sentence and ordered me to go for a swim. She understands me better than I do, She understands that a quick ½ hour swim in Loch Venachar will adjust my head, prioritise things and put a smile on my coupon. I ran up the stairs and was down seconds later with a arm full of neoprene and a Tesco bag for life, full of goggles, jumpers and towels. With a quick kiss and slagging from my son’s for being so excited, I dashed off.
Looking back over this years swims. It seems its not only my swimming timetable that’s altered, it seems my swimming goals have changed too, you can’t really say I moved the goalposts, I am still desperate to swim outside at any given idle moment it is just that idle is not that frequent any more. (Writing about swimming is nearly repetitive as swimming. There not many things that alter, 4 large arm movements, one look to the side for a breath, maybe the odd kick. that’s the nuts and bolts. To give this blog a direction, instead of meandering, I considered my recent adventures, awarding them a scores). Goals for sports are different, could be into or over a net, in between two posts or a hoop. Goal, Point, Try, Touchdown or Basket it’s all the same, nearly. However they are worth something different. Goals are worth one point in football or soccer, that’s a few hours off to grab a quick swim at Loch Venachar or Lubnaig my closest lochs. A Basket is two or three points, a drop kick will give similar points, that’s a stolen or surprise swim or a new location. A Rugby try is 5 points and a extra 2 points for a conversion 7 points or Touchdown. That’s got to be full on adventure, a day out or something to get excited about. (Please don’t get to hung up on my points system, I know goals are totally different than baskets, its just to make these ramblings more interesting, any way I could have used 147 snooker breaks, tennis or the Tour de France, but to keep it simple I chose 1, 2&3 and 7 and lets be honest, Wrestling is the only true sport.
and there’s no points in that)
Killin Loch Tay
Inspired by recent activities I hacked up my wet suit. A group of people I swim with had an adventure on Loch Tay, one of the swimmers swam the entire length, all 25km in 7 ½ hours, crikey! ( I had just returned home from a stint at work and was not match fit) I had the pleasure sitting on a kayak and accompanying a couple of swimmers down five miles of the loch. Lets be honest, swimming is not the most exciting spectator sport, the odd mouth full of water gives the odd cough and splutter but no ice hockey fights or rally car crash excitement. But there is meditative calm brought on sitting on the kayak on a late summer’s day, the sun was glorious, blue skies and no wind, a perfect day in the middle of a loch, I really enjoyed it. All the people taking part in the adventure were pretty inspiring. But this one dude ran down the side of the loch. When the jaggy brambles bushes got too much he would take to the water for a few hundred meters then disappear running into the foliage on the shore side, a wee while later he would reappear shouting ”This is Magic, Scotland is Brilliant” wearing a big grin and start swimming again. I hoped it was inspiration not madness on the Wednesday morning when I took Scissors to my 3mm wetsuit cutting the arms and legs off, hopefully turning it into a swim run suit. Next stop was to North Third Reservoir to make sure I had not murdered it.
Run swim suit. Awe Yeah
I had performed a small solo triathlon in North third Reservoir once before, by cycling up to the trig point and down to the south side about 13km then a 1.5km swim after removing the wetsuit, I ran round the 5km circumference including over the cliff. Finishing by biking back home.
North Third Reservoir
This morning was slightly different, I was on the first small island in March this year so knew there would be no difficulties, the next two larger islands ( when I say larger I mean still small but bigger than the first 15m squared island.) Tics in the ferns were a fear, and the brambles ripped my exposed ankles and knees to bits. But I managed to get across all three islands, up and over the cliff and back down, for the home straight or the home curve as my GPS tracker indicated. I was buzzing for days. Something I would never ever thought of doing, I never would have contemplated having the stamina and skills to pull off. That’s what’s it’s all about, 7 points right on the scoreboard.
We eventually got round to organising the Lairig Ghru walk The day before my friend traveled back to New Zealand. So we couldn’t reschedule, when the weather forecast was to be raining most of the day with 50mph winds gusting 70mph. Crikey not the best weather for a 30km walk.
We left his family’s holiday cottage on the Linn of Dee at 0430 in the morning. Dropped my van off at the Linn of Dee car park. The drove round to Aviemore’s sugar bowl car park. The wind was howling, Walking in a straight line was impossible and jumping across the boulders in the Chalamain gap, the wind was only a couple of miles an hour away from causing broken bones.
Dropping down to the Lairig Ghru the rain started. It was not falling but blowing horizontally into our coupons. The dark skies added to the atmosphere, it was a formidable place standing in the steep high walled valley was memorable.
The wind had died off a bit, it was still pushing the clouds at fierce speeds, there was the odd hint of blue sky, the sun pushing through the moving clouds adjusting the colours on the hills constantly like a massive kaleidoscope.
The Rain stopped
We met a young couple, a french dude and a polish chick who had stayed in the bothy for the night and enjoyed some local whiskey, the bloke was suffering from a bad hangover which was not helped by the smell of his massive rucksack, he had thought it would be a great idea to carry some pungent cheese into the bothy, now his rucksack was pretty ripe on the return journey.
Suns coming out
I am glad the wind had slightly died down because my friend, had showed some concern at attempting my plan. I had agreed only to accompany him if I got submerged, not just jumping in the pools of Dee but a wee swim at Loch Etchachan. There was just the matter of Ben MacDui, Scotland’s second highest hill, in between us at the the bottom the Lairig Ghru and my swimming destination. A big effort on a good day, even bigger with 70mph gusts. We were advised to follow Taylor’s burn. It’s was a pity we couldn’t find it. We were just a wee bit early turning up the hill. Taylor’s burn was a couple hundred yards down the river we were following. We gained few hundred yards up the hill, another glance at the map it was apparent that we were on the hard way up the hill, the straight vertical way up the hill.
Linn of Dee.
On the plus side we were sheltered directly from the wind. It’s one of the good things about swimming you never have to climb up hills, well that’s wrong, sometimes it’s against tide or current, we might not the have physiological battle of gazing up at a hill. But we have the demoralising effect of the scenery staying constant during every breath swimming against a current.
Our wobbly drained tired legs got us up to the top shoulder that hiding us from the wind. My friend had walked the Lairig Ghru. My mission was the on other side of the hill. The wind was howling, we hid in one of the rocky igloo type shelters scattered over the top of boulder strewn plateau at the top of the Cairngorms.
My friend munched cereal bars and energy gels. I had beetroot and slices of salami. On the way down I started retelling (more shouting into the wind ) a swimming tale of Hammerfest from year ago.The loch appeared round the corner the same time the beetroot kick in.
Beetroot is my only stimulant these days it tastes like sweet earth and ruins clothes, furniture and anything else it looks at. The amount of times I am being careful and the next minute there’s purple stains everywhere. But it would take more than a few ruined T shirts to give up my new eating obsession, it must be four or five packs a week.
A wee bit windy
To be honest I can’t recall coming to a decent conclusion of the Arctic circle swimming adventure. I was busy analysing safe entry and exit points, trying to figure out if I could swim the length. The wind gusting across the surface caused not just the odd white horse, there were herds of them, it was manic. Mini tornados ripping across the highest body of water in Britain. I ignored my friends concern, I had already started to speed walk, this turned into a slight canter to a full on gallop down the well maintained path. I ran across the Moorland stopping at a boulder the size of small shop, it was still two hundred meters away from the wateredge. It would be too far to run in the wind, the windchill would have me shaking unable to change, I moved towards a small boulder I thought was the size of a transit van from up on the hill it turned out to be smaller than Del boy’s three wheeled Robin reliant. It was only 50 yards from the loch but gave no real shelter from the wind I returned back to the first tall boulder. I began pulling my long John’s and some merino wool tops out of my bag.
Preparation for getting changed is really important. Socks cannot be balled up they must be stretched out flat. Clothes turned the correct way, all legs and arms returned to wearable positions, outer garments at the bottom inner layers at the top. A systematic approach, making getting dressed as easy as possible. It’s hard pulling on clothes over damp skin, in a swimming pool changing room, when the only wind, is the pleasant Chiliean pan pipes muzak coming from the speakers. Getting dressed in a minus wind chill factor, hurricane strength wind, with freezing mild hypothermic shaking uncontrollable hands, is near impossible. It’s about the planning.
Everything laid out, shoes back on only wearing my pants, I rounded the big rock. The wind was cold with a goretex jacket on, now it was freezing. The dash across the couple hundred yards went by in a flash, no time to take stock, no gentle submergence, no splashing water in my face to acclimatise, (the wind was doing that anyway), right in, head under, 4 front crawl strokes one almighty ice-cream headache relax breast stroke the wind was making the headache worse let’s change direction lets go across keeping at a safe depth instead of out into the loch and into trouble another 4 front crawl strokes and breath start to calm down take a breath NO DANGER I am not calming down, this is NUTS, and relax and one and two and thhhhhhree Let’s try another 4 strokes. In fact let’s turn round and head for the big boulder with my clothes. Out of the water, I don’t think I have ran that fast in my life. With the endorphins and beetroot juice raging through my arteries, and wind pushing up to the big boulder changing room, Usain Bolt would have struggled to keep up with me.
I managed to get changed, my smile was massive, my hands were shaking, what a day, totally amazing. It was only a few minutes but what a rush. I shared the last of the beetroot in Hutchison bothy with an American Girl and an English bloke. The walk out was nearly fun, a never ending torturous meander to the van. It’s the walk out that’s kills a good hike in the hills, the highs are temporarily trampled over, as the finishing post stays impossibly far away, seemingly never getting closer. How far is that? What’s the time? How many km left? how many miles is that? We were both as bad a six year old on a road trip. We managed to reach the van. Removing my wet shoes, picking the first song to be played on the vans stereo, the walk out was soon forgotten. It was only the highs that could be remembered. What a day, freaking Epic that’s a Try and easy conversion on the board.
Swimming is fantastic, my technique is rubbish, but my aim is not to be the fastest, it is a focus to have adventures, something to remember, put a smile on my coupon. My goal is to jump in water, it might be a burn, loch, waterfall or the sea. These adventures don’t have to include masses of traveling, North third Reservoir is half an hour away that gave a 7 pointer. I honestly dont think I would see as much of scotland if I wasnt trying to get imaginary points on my imaginary scoreboard.
I think we should all have adventure scoreboards.