Go Wild, Wild Swimming In the Cairngorms with our 10 top tips

There’s no better way to feel at one with nature in the Cairngorms than taking a ‘wild’ dip in one of the National Park’s many beautiful lochs. Lots of amazing wildlife make their homes on the water here so always be considerate of them when swimming.

With the myriad of health benefits associated with it, both mental and physical, it’s no surprise that wild swimming is growing rapidly in popularity. 

To get the most out of this most invigorating of outdoor pursuits here, follow these top tips from founder of Cairngorms Wild Swimmers, and founder of wild swimming adventure holiday company SwimWild, Alice Goodridge (photo above is of Alice swimming at Loch Insh, taken by Euan Cherry).

Alice Goodridge, founder of Cairngorms Wild Swimmers and SwimWild

Alice Goodridge’s Top Tips for Wild Swimming in the Cairngorms:

Loch Insh
Loch Insh

1. Wear something on your feet

“Wear something on your feet because this will really help when entering the lochs, some of which can be stony or squelchy!” advises Alice. As for the rest of you, a wet suit is advisable if you’re prone to the cold or not acclimatised. However, wild swimming aficionados swear by dipping just in ‘skins’ (ie. only a swimming costume) because the post-dip ‘buzz’ you get is more pronounced!

2. Have lots of warm layers to hand

“Make sure you have lots of warm stuff to put on afterwards,” adds Alice. “The lochs in the highlands are pretty cold. Even in the summer they can be around 12-14 degrees, so a woolly hat, lots of layers and a flask of hot chocolate are definitely recommended.”

Loch Morlich - DryRobe at the ready!

River Spey (credit SwimWild)
River Spey (credit SwimWild)

3. Enter the water gradually

While it may be tempting to run in as fast as you can so you get the painful bit over as quickly as possible, Alice stresses the importance of entering the water gradually. “Get in slowly and remember to breathe!” she says. “If you jump in you may gasp and struggle for breath as the cold water sends your body into shock. Whereas if you submerge yourself gradually and focus on your breathing, you will find it much easier.”

4. Splash!

Another top expert tip is to splash your skin with cold water as you get in, says Alice, because this further reduces the shock. “At this point you could channel your inner Outlaw King and jump around to get the adrenaline pumping! But be mindful of disturbing any wildlife and keep noise to a minimum.

swimming in ice at Loch Insh (not for beginner swimmers!)
swimming in ice at Loch Insh (not for beginner swimmers!)

5. Be aware of your body

Be aware of how your body is reacting. Shivering and teeth-chattering, for instance, are the first signs of mild hypothermia so get out of the water and warm up as soon as possible.

6. Don’t be alone

“Make sure you have someone with you, even if it’s on the bank,” says Alice. “And do not swim too far from the shore.” She advises it is always better to swim parallel to the shore, so you can get out at any point if need be. A fluorescent floatation aid is also a good idea. “The last thing you want is to get to the middle of the loch and realise you are cold and struggle to get back to the shore,” she adds.

Loch Morlich
The 'Pony Bridge', Glenfeshie (photo credit SwimWild)
The 'Pony Bridge', Glenfeshie (photo credit SwimWild)

7. Pick your entry point carefully

As for your access point, choose this carefully. While the access code in Scotland means that people can swim anywhere, be mindful of what else is happening at the loch, says Alice: “There may be watersports, fishermen or it may be a nature reserve protecting nesting birds or water voles along the shores. So read any signs around the loch and be respectful of any restrictions.”
Keep noise to a minimum so as not to disturb any wildlife.

8. Pick a good spot.

There are plenty of gorgeous wild swimming locations in the Cairngorms. Loch Morlich is particularly good for beginners as it’s easy to swim along the shore. Loch Insh is a preferred spot for all-year-round dips due to its easy access to a café serving hot chocolates, soups and home bakes. Or, if you fancy rock pool swimming, then head to the fabulous Feshiebridge just outside Kincraig, also within easy reach of Loch Insh’s cafe. If it’s a beautiful walk plus swim that you’re after, then Lochan Uaine (also called the Green Loch) up from Glenmore Lodge is a great option (though definitely remember a towel and warm, dry clothes for the walk back!).

Feshiebridge (photo credit SwimWild)

9. Join a club

If you’d prefer to dip in a crowd, or are a first-timer and would like to go with experienced wild swimmers, then why not join the Cairngorms Wild Swimmers? The friendly, free club always welcomes newcomers, locals and tourists alike. For more information, check out its Facebook page for swim meets and more tips about all things wild swimming. The sense of community that comes from doing this slightly bonkers pastime en masse is part of the appeal for many.

10. Get ready to get hooked

Beware that wild swimming is highly addictive, so be prepared to start falling in love with neoprene gloves and socks when you catch the bug! You may even find yourself doing it on January 1st at Loch Insh’s annual ‘Loony Dook’ (see right) to celebrate the arrival of the New Year!

Watch the ‘Ladies of the Loch’ and why the landscape inspires them to get out and swim in the cold, fresh waters!

Follow us and tag us in your snaps of your adventures! #VisitCairngorms @VisitCairngorms

Photo above is taken at the ‘Pony Bridge’, Glenfeshie

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