There’s nothing quite like a swim in nature. Wild swimming, sometimes known as outdoor or open water swimming, is an extra special watersport in Scotland. Here, it means gliding into a still loch in the shadows of Munros and castles, or slipping straight into the salty seas of the Atlantic Ocean or North Sea.
The virtues of the sport and the concept of ‘cold water therapy’ are making a splash in wellness circles. The benefits? Experts believe the rush of endorphins released from stepping into chilly waters can reduce stress, improve circulation and metabolism, and boost our happiness levels.
What better time to try it than now, during Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters? Read on to discover more about the sport and find out ways to stay safe on the water if you’re just getting started.
We’ve selected some unique places to experience wild swimming in Scotland. These spots are loved by outdoors influencers across Scotland.
The majority of Scotland is now under a temporary lockdown, though some island communities are under level 3 restrictions. Please follow any current restrictions – you might need to save these ideas to try later on a future trip.
Find out what level each area is under and read more about the 5-level Covid-19 restrictions to plan and book ahead when considering a future trip. You can search for businesses that are Good to Go, where they have a Covid-19 risk assessment.
1. Loch Achilty, Highlands
This glistening loch is thought to be a great one for first-timers and experienced swimmers alike. Wade into the refreshing water without the worry of clambering over slippery rocks. This is a very pretty place to be indeed, with brightly-coloured wildflowers and picturesque picnic spots to enjoy in the summer. Surrounded by birchwood trees and a few inlet islands, you’ll find several peaceful, sheltered spots for your swim.
Loved by: Outdoor swimmer, Louise @lulublueberry. She shares her love of wild swimming in Loch Achility in the film I Swim.
2. Milarrochy Bay, Loch Lomond
There are 22 lochs to discover in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, but this one stands out to wild swimmers for a few reasons. The stunning stretch of water has a sandy bay giving great access to the water, and it is close to the town of Balmaha so you can warm up with a hot beverage from St Mocha Coffee Shop after your dip. Surrounded by Munros and walking trails, a refreshing swim is the perfect way to cool off after a day of exploring.
Loch Lomond is the site for the Go Swim Loch Lomond event scheduled for 28 August 2021.
3. Loch Morlich, near Aviemore, Highlands
In the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, this freshwater loch is a beautiful place to be, whether you’re a budding wild swimmer or not! The award-winning beach here, Scotland’s highest beach, is surrounded by Glenmore Forest and the snow-capped peaks of the Cairngorms and offers easy access to the water. There’s a circular path all around the loch so you can see it in all its glory.
Loch Morlich is the location for Swim Wild’s Introduction to Open Water Swimming which is aimed at total beginners. Watch out for 2021 dates on the website.
4. Castle Stalker, Argyll & The Isles
Glide through the water in the shadow of the impressive Castle Stalker, found just north of Oban. Sitting on its own tidal island in the bay of Loch Laich, this castle dates to around 1320 and makes for a special swim indeed. The castle is privately owned, but there are a few small tours organised every year, so watch out for the chance to see inside.
Loved by: Shetland blogger and influencer, Bee @bumblebambi
5. Great and Little Bernera, Outer Hebrides
Nope, this is not the Maldives. It’s the secluded lagoon of Little Bernera, an uninhabited island off the coast of Great Bernera on the Isle of Lewis. You can reach this beach with a guided swim experience from Immerse Hebrides. They will take you by RIB boat to all the best swimming spots, and they offer swims for more experienced swimmers, as well as beginners and families.
The Outer Hebrides is famous for its turquoise blue waters and there are plenty of lovely spots for wild swimming. In the summer, the sea water can even reach an almost tropical 14 °C.
Loved by: Immerse Hebrides @immersehebrides
6. Lower Diabaig, north west Highlands
A secret little cove along the north coast of Scotland, this spot is found at the end of the road in the tiny Highland hamlet, around 10 miles from Torridon in the north west Highlands. A handful of white-washed cottages line the country road, before a shimmering, sheltered bay beckons you in for a quick plunge. Follow your dip with a meal at the amazing restaurant owned by a local couple, the Gille Brighde.
Loved by: Edinburgh influencer, Pippa @pippaperriam
7. River Tay, Perthshire
Discover the joys of Scotland’s longest river that flows through the city of Perth and on towards Dundee. Follow the river upstream to find pebble beaches or little bays dotted around the city centre. To the west, Loch Tay is another lovely swimming spot. Don’t forget to visit the Aberfeldy Distillery for a tour and taste unique Tayside whiskies, lovingly made from the pure fresh waters you just swam in.
You can do an organised wild swim on the River Tay with Willowgate Activity Centre, based in Perth.
Loved by: Outdoor adventurer and wild swimmer, Calum @caldamac
8. Gullane, East Lothian
How about a gorgeous beach swim next? Gullane is one of East Lothian’s loveliest towns with a narrow, sandy shoreline with great views of the Firth of Forth. You might want to choose a quieter time of day for your swim, as the beach is a popular spot for windsurfers and kite surfers when the wind blows.
Warm up inside Tom Kitchin’s cosy gastropub Bonnie Badger and enjoy a hearty post-swim pub lunch or dinner.
Loved by: Wild swimming coach, Colin @wildscottishswimmer
Fancy a go?
Here are some top tips:
Go with a friend
Never swim alone, even if you are an experienced swimmer. If you’re looking for some swim buddies, join the Wild Swimming Scotland Facebook group and get recommendations for new spots to try!
Keep it quick
Take it slowly and if you’re new to the sport, go in and out quickly for your first few swims to get used to the feeling of the cold water, and stay close to the shoreline.
Do your research
Pick your spots carefully and take recommendations from other swimmers and community groups.
In the summer, watch out for poisonous blue green algae and avoid swimming anywhere near it.
Wear a colourful swim cap
Always be wary of what’s going on around you. A visible swim cap can help you be seen by other people on the water, and by people on the shore. Some swimmers like to swim with an inflatable bobble so they can be seen on the water.
Warm up afterwards
Get changed quickly and make sure you come prepared with lots of layers, a woolly hat and hot sugary beverages.
For more advice on getting started with wild swimming, read tips from:
Looking for more inspiration? Here are some other articles you might like:
- 11 Ways to Boost Your Wellbeing in Scotland
- 12 Amazing Photos of Scotland’s Coasts
- Our Guide to a Scottish Digital Detox
- 13 Fun Outdoor Activities You Probably Haven’t Tried Yet
- A Beginners Guide to Watersports in Scotland
- Scotland After Hours – Ideas to Get You Outdoors at Night