By Calum Maclean
I am an obsessive outdoor swimmer, and I’m always on the lookout for new places to swim. I’ll swim anywhere: the sea, frozen lochs, dark caves. Tens asked me, @caldamac, to pick out my Ten Best Natural Swimming Spots and my picks are unashamedly biased towards the Highlands of Scotland! The water in Scotland is generally warmest around September, so jump in now!
In no particular order...
Achmelvich Beach, Sutherland
In the far-north west of Scotland, down the end of a winding little single-track road: crisp clear water, sea air and white sand. You can paddle about in the bay, or even swim around the coast to explore the rocks. Beware: even on a sunny day, it’s usually cold!
Allt Daraich, Isle of Skye
A short walk from the road at Sligachan, away from the hordes of tourists you’ll find bright blue/green pools that invite you to slip straight in. You can slide down waterfalls, jump off rocks, hide from the midges under water. The Cuillin mountain range gives the most incredible backdrop.
River Feshie, Cairngorms
Very easy access for great jumping and underwater fun. At Feshiebridge there’s a deep pool directly under the bridge, and a shingle beach to walk in. But my favourite spot is hidden about 100m upstream! A deep pool that channels up to a small waterfall, with jumping and diving potential. In summer, laze on the hot rocks with friends.
It’s winter, so what? I like to swim all year and if you start in summer, you get used to the cold…(well, almost). Glencoe Lochan is a small and sheltered, and you might even have to crack some thin ice to get moving. Cold water is good for you! Or so I’ve been told…
Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye
As you travel in by boat, hills seem to fall straight into the sea all around. Loch Coruisk is surrounded by mountains, protected from the wild waves. Shout in joy and hear your echo reverberate around the mountain amphitheatre. Swim out to the rounded islands: they make for the best diving boards as the land disappears instantly into the water. Spend a whole day here.
Tràigh Mhòr, Tolsta, Isle of Lewis
Take a roadtrip to The Hebrides in summer: if you get the weather, you’d not want to be anywhere else. The sun barely sets, there are beaches all over and water that demands to be swum in. Tràigh Mhòr stretches out far into the distance: if you want a long swim, here’s the place. Clear water: beautifully cold.
Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
Wild, expansive, ever-changing. Sandwood Bay can suffer the brunt of some wild sea weather, coming in off The Minch. This is why it’s not always a place for the nervous swimmer! 4 miles from the road, the surf here can crash onto the shore, and rips pull the water back out. I love playing in the surf, slipping under the waves and letting it batter me into the sand when I miss-time it!
One of my very favourite places in all of Scotland.
Isle of Arran
The sea between the Isle of Arran and Holy Isle is teeming with wildlife. Anemones, urchins, fish. There’s a “No Take Zone” between Lamlash Bay and Holy Isle, meaning that sealife thrives.
Crossing to islands is a bit like munro-bagging for some swimmers, and what better one to tick off. Take a snorkel
Loch A’an, Cairngorms
Last time I swam at Loch A’an, it felt as though I was having a spiritual moment…I just hope it wasn’t hypothermia setting in! The most direct route is to a walk over a mountain - Càrn Gorm - and back. On a sunny day the water must be some of the clearest I have seen, with sand and soft grass tickling my feet. The perfect spot to camp overnight.
I have to admit, many of my favourite swim spots are far from roads. The River Douchary is about 8 miles inland from Ullapool: a long walk or cycle. But it’s worth the effort: there’s a series of stunning waterfall pools, a natural canal channel and clear water to plunge into. The best bit? You’ll probably have it all to yourself.
You can follow more of Calum's adventures on instagram at @caldamac.
Safety disclaimer: Always take your time getting in, go with someone else, and check out the depth before you jump!