Miles of shoreline, lochs and lochans aplenty and even the odd river – the options for swimming outdoors in Scotland are as varied as your imagination. It’s increasingly popular, so here’s our guide to the best places to swim in chilly rivers and lochs, by way of warm sea bays.
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It’s the home of the famous monster, but you are more likely to suffer from extreme cold here than you are to being scared by Nessie. At 230m (750ft), it’s a very deep loch, so bring a wetsuit as it rarely feels warm. It also often plays host to wild swimming events, such as the swimming stretch of the Monster Triathlon, but it’s such a huge area of water – 22mi (36km) long – you can always find a quiet spot where you can enjoy the scenery far from any crowds.
Cambus o’May, River Dee
© Iain Sarjeant / Alamy
This stretch of the River Dee is an ideal spot for wild swimming. If you are visiting Royal Deeside – maybe touring the many local castles – a visit here is well worth it. There is an attractive Victorian suspension bridge, painted white, that makes a good reference point for your swim. It’s 4m (13ft) at the deepest point, unless there has been heavy rain or melting snow, and there are flat rocks along the edge that warm up in the sun.
© Ian Rutherford / Alamy
You can travel to this spot on the west coast of Scotland either along the famous Road to the Isles or by taking the train, which winds among rugged hills, lochs and coastline. The coastline immediately around Arisaig and stretching to the north is full of shallow bays, silver sands and crystal-clear waters. In summer, the sea can get surprisingly warm, with the heat of the sun adding to the warmth of the Gulf Stream that heads across the Atlantic.
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In the heart of the Cairngorms, Loch Morlich isn’t short of wonderful views and outstanding countryside. It’s a popular spot with windsurfers, so take care when you’re swimming here. Because of its popularity, there’s a place you can hire wetsuits and even a cafe on the shore where you can warm up after your swim. The beach is beautiful, too, and it’s possible you’ll see a wedding ceremony on the shore, all tartan and kilts, as you swim out in the loch.
Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin and Glen Affric
© M & J Bloomfield / Alamy
This is the Scottish Highlands at its best, with mountains on all sides, Caledonian pinewoods, islands in the middle of the loch and the chance to see some of Scotland’s rarest wildlife. Further upstream, Loch Affric is also a good location for a swim, with the whole glen providing opportunities, including waterfall pools such as the Dog Falls or Plodda Falls. Combine your wild swimming with wild camping for an unforgettable experience.
© Alan Wilson / Alamy
As with Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin and Glen Affric, there are many opportunities for wild swimming all along Glen Feshie. At Feshiebridge itself, the river levels and speed are dependent on rain fall, so take extra care if it has rained heavily, as the current upstream can be powerful and there may be submerged logs in the water. However, this is a fun swimming spot, with pools, clear waters and forested banks. It’s also well worth exploring further upstream.
© Doug Houghton Orkney / Alamy
It is difficult to pick a single location for wild swimming in Orkney, the archipelago off the northern coast of Scotland. In her award-winning memoir The Outrun, author Amy Liptrot describes the regenerative power of nature – including the joy of wild swimming – following a return to her home islands of Orkney. With more than 900km (560mi) of varied coastline to choose from, it’s all here, whether you want to swim in the Atlantic Ocean at the (rather chilly) Bay of Skaill with its famous Neolithic village, at the identically named Bay of Skaill in the North Sea off Deerness, or at a secluded spot where you only have birds and seals for company. In summer, the sun only just dips below the horizon, so long sunny days can warm the water to a surprising level, such as at Waulkmill Bay in Orphir. The sun also heats the hills, and the scent of gorse and heather adds to the sense of bliss as you swim.
Fairy Pools, Skye
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These beautiful pools have become an iconic wild swimming location, and it’s not hard to see why. There are a number of spots, some deeper than others, linked by beautiful waterfalls and surrounded by nature and the magic of the Isle of Skye. One of the pools even features an underwater archway. The water here comes straight off the mountains, and is so clear, the depth can be deceptive. Like Loch Ness, it’s cold, but on a summer’s day the grass and rocks around heat up and give you a chance to dry off in the warmth.