“Are you lot totally mental?!”
I guess we shouldn’t really have been surprised at the question. The unsuspecting couple had come down to the beach for a quiet dog walk only to be met with about 20 people stripping down to swimsuits or wetsuits and heading out into the sea.
It wasn’t even sunny.
Possibly even more surprising, everyone was laughing and chatting like this was completely normal. Considering that we are all part of the Cairngorm Wild Swimmers, it kind of is! The only unusual thing was that we were in Arisaig instead of the Cairngorm National Park. This was our weekend away to explore some new swim spots, enjoy the white sands of the West coast and generally have a right giggle. So far we are ticking all the boxes!
We were so excited to take the camper van away for this wild swimming weekend but did quickly realise that we definitely should have read the packing article more closely! Way too much stuff, but as we knew that the sea would still be somewhat chilly we wanted to be sure that we had spare warm and dry layers. We got packed away remarkably smoothly despite this with all the wee bits and bobs in the cupboards (I firmly believe that the van cupboards are modelled on Mary Poppin’s bag!) and the big holdalls on the floor for travelling (they would be stored in the pop-up at night).
Woohoo! Here we go! Road trip time! Half way there I was crying with laughter as we suddenly realised that us passengers had sung along enthusiastically to three songs in a row about rain, storms coming and bad weather…while driving towards the biggest blackest rain cloud you can imagine! Maybe time to find some songs about sunshine…
It is always so nice to reach the final destination at the end of a long journey and this was no exception. We made it especially welcome after a few wrong twists and turns on the tiny Arisaig roads, but turning up to our chosen spot safely and glimpsing views of the white sands and islands further out made it all worthwhile. Quick dinner and planning conflab with some of the other swimmers before turning in to get some rest before the planned early swim in the morning.
Well I’m not going to lie, the alarm was definitely snoozed. In our defence we woke to the sound of rain and when you are all cosy and comfy in your sleeping bag that is the most comforting sound, until you remember that you have to get up! However it eased off quickly and the lure of the “warm sunny beach” we had been promised was definitely too much to resist. So soon the bed was pushed back and breakfast was underway. (Not being able to open the fridge while the bed is out is also an added incentive to get moving and pack it away, foooooood!)
With an 8.30am swim planned we thought that there would only be a few of us there for the first dip of the weekend, we should have known better! The Cairngorm Wild Swimmers are an enthusiastic and hardy bunch and there were about a dozen of us there to test the temperature and the waves out (just fyi warm and sunny it was not!). However the feeling of getting to play in the waves was brilliant and the beach was soon full of joyful laughter punctuated by a few exclamations as people were fully woken up by an over-enthusiastic wave or two.
Just as we all started to leave the water and get changed (dreaming of hot coffee in my case at least) the sun broke through and the “warm sunny beach” vision we had been sold suddenly became a reality. There is nowhere like the West coast of Scotland when the sun hits those turquoise waters and white sands, just stunning. What a start to the weekend!
After the essential break to get the stove on and the coffee in, we swam at another fabulous little beach and spent most of a picnic lunch in fits of laughter at the antics of the various dogs we had with us trying to mooch treats and steal bobble hats!
Our next swim was in freshwater, just to change it up. The catch was that it was in Loch Morar which is the deepest loch in Scotland. None of us really thought that we would be plumbing the depths and meeting Nessie’s cousin, but that deepness meant that it was going to be COLD! Perfect test of a wetsuit for a bit of extra warmth methinks. (Packing a wetsuit and my super cosy Dryrobe had definitely meant for heavier bags, but they were totally worth it because they kept me cosy!)
The drive to the parking area was a fabulous tiny single-track road right along the side of the loch, this felt like a proper adventure already! We soon filled the parking area with excited chattering swimmers, so nice to be able to park right on the waterfront to get ready. The loch actually looked a bit forboding though, the clouds had come in and the wind was whipping the steely grey waters up into white capped waves. Scotland being grumpy. The bystanders shook their heads bemusedly as we all wobbled in over the rocks and waded out into the loch proper. Soon there was a ragged line of different coloured swimming caps stretched all the way out to the wee island as people found their own pace in the choppy water.
Despite not meeting Nessie’s cousin (thankfully) we definitely felt like we had earned our beach BBQ that night and had a great time despite the intermittent rain showers. The beer may have helped with that… 😉 We did eventually concede defeat and retreat to the cosy van when the rain got so heavy that it started to get our giant marshmallows wet. There is nothing better than feeling smug all curled up safe inside when the rain is battering down outside.
Back to the same beach (right next to the campsite) for the start of day swim and then a mini expedition to Ru beach, which we were promised was worth the muddy walk in. It did not disappoint. Two mini beautiful white beaches with clear turquoise waters and views out over the headlands. We even got to watch an Otter have it’s lunch while we had ours which was pretty special.
So that was it, time for one final dip at the stunning beach opposite Arisaig Golf Course and then hit the road for home. It had made such a difference having the campervan away with us, knowing that you have somewhere warm and dry with enough space to change in was such a luxury (if you have ever tried to get changed in a lightweight tent the you know what I’m talking about here!). It was great being able to negotiate all the wee roads with ease and park just a few metres from the swims, not to mention having our pick of stunning views.
My top tips for making campervan life even easier when you are away on a swimming and/or exploring trip are to take a travel washing line for all the swimsuits and pack your kit in waterproof duffles so that you can shift them around without being worried about things getting wet (or the wet things inside dripping out in our case!). Have I tempted you to give wild swimming a shot yet? I figure that even a paddle would earn you a slice of cake… Go on, you know you want to…
Enjoy your adventure!