Into the waters of Sutherland and Caithness
After a family holiday trekking in the mountains of Patagonia, where we took relief from the intense heat by swimming in glacier waters, on returning home and walking around our local loch on a mild January morning it got me thinking, “Our waters can’t be anywhere near as cold as those ice cold waters, I could easily be swimming here at home in the Highlands and for longer in the year.”
Having had the precious and lasting gift experience for my 40th birthday of a ten day silent retreat learning the practice of Vipassana meditation, which I still practice to this day, I wanted something as impactful for my 50th birthday, which I did in receiving a triathlon suit. After christening my suit on our local beach here in Brora, Sutherland in early May my swimming journey began and so has continued every single week since.
When covid came along and changed all our lives, I myself am a Yoga teacher and have taken up what would have previously felt unimaginable to me - teaching online, wild swimming became more natural to me and indeed feels like a lifeline to my being compared with the challenges of technology that feel real and exhausting.
Reconnecting, and connecting on a deeper level, with nature has been the biggest joy for me. Swimming has been my decompression chamber, a time to just be, free of any demands, to breathe, stroke stroke breathe, that’s it…simple, beautiful, peaceful. Sometimes I swim alone, sometimes with others, the wild geese flying overhead, the smells and the sounds, the moving water, it encompasses everything, becoming part of nature and dissolving separateness.
I’ve swam in the sun, in the rain, at sunrise and sunset, in the sea, in the river, even the frozen loch. I’ve swam pretty much every imaginable condition and the more diverse the weather the more invigorating the experience.
Frozen Loch Brora
I’ve had to keep my swims local due to travel restrictions but I am so grateful to have the diversity that we have here in Sutherland, my home born and bred. I go with how I’m feeling; do I yearn to be cleansed in the sea with her minerals? Or breathe in the hills sheltering the loch? What draws me is the scenery or the cold, with the loch being around 4-5 degrees colder than the sea.
There are never two experiences the same: the time of day, the time of year, things are changing always changing. I learn so much about myself whilst swimming and processing and listening. I feel stronger physically and emotionally, and I’ve learnt courage, self-reliance and self-belief.
I get lots of questions and statements about the swimming, some curious some bewildered. Why do you do it? How do you do it? Every wild swimmer has their own unique answers. If it’s something you’re thinking about trying there are some useful considerations to get the most from the experience:-
· You can stay in the water longer in a wet/triathlon suit.
· In a swimsuit you may have a shorter time in the water but an even more natural experience.
· Transitioning from a wetsuit to swimsuit can be very helpful.
· Acclimatisation: it’s really important to gradually build up your cold tolerance and not start in the dead of winter!
· Boots and gloves for me are essentials, hat and goggles preferrable.
· A swim float can be a great option.
· To start with definitely go with another person, preferably in the water with you but on the shoreline if not.
· Try and enjoy the experience as opposed to seeing how long you can stay in.
· Download a tide and weather app.
Preparations for coming out of the water are key to a great experience:-
· Think about how far you are from home and dress accordingly – suitable easy-to-get-into clothing or, after doing this for a while and still being interested in wild swimming, invest in a dryrobe – Numero Uno Fantastico!
· I invested in a swim feral bag as I have two dogs and no matter where I lay my kit they will dig sand all over said kit.
· I like two hot water bottles to warm my back and hands on the drive home – heavenly.
· At home my bath is run and awaiting – bliss!
Do your research, learn your local weather, currents, tides etc. Be Safe, Be Seen. There’s loads of information out there easily accessible.
Sutherland and Caithness is the optimum treasure trove for such an adventure.
As well as teaching Yoga, Amanda MacRae is a qualified Breath Coach and organiser for Dance Exploration Workshops. For more information have a look at her Yoga Up North website which is currently going through a bit of an overhaul, so please be patient!