One Wild Swim
Swimming in Loch Braden
First loch in my bid to swim in the 104 largest lochs in Scotland. It’s raining, raining hard and windy. I feel nervous, not really sure why, but I do. I’m trying to intellectualise it; left or right of my comfort zone, maybe it’s above or below. The only certainty is this is outside my comfort zone.
Why start here? Simple for me, this is where our local water supply. Nutritionists tell us that we are what we eat. Given that we are mostly water and that the water I mostly consume comes from here, I am in part Loch Braden. So it seems to make sense to start here, a journey from self to somewhere.
Driving up the dead end road to the loch, I was going to stop and take photographs of the worst road in Scotland, it’s pot holed surface like a lunar landscape. It’s been resurfaced, slick smooth tarmac, a surprise, maybe a good omen. I’ll take it as one. Rattle over cattle grid and drive slowly to avoid the lambs, they have no road sense.
Arriving at the loch I park so that I can shelter behind the car from the wind and rain. The loch is choppy with waves and white tops, still raining, windy and misty. This looks an unwelcoming place to swim today. Still as I like to say, “everyone can be awesome, but you have to work at it”. Quick change, quick photo stop and I’m running. Wetsuit stuffed into a rucksack.
Heading down towards the ford beneath Loch Braden dam, I’m pleased to see that the ford is dry. Maybe I will stay dry, don’t be silly of course you will not stay dry, this will be a cold, wet and muddy session. Uphill I forget how steep the climb is and to think this is one of my favourite mountain bike routes. Along the lochside path, someone has tied markers to trees every 20m or thereabouts. I can’t believe it, how could you get lost on this trail? The loch looks a little more welcoming from here, running and swimming in wild places, this is awesome.
I run past the headland I’m aiming for, turn back and try to pick my way across the tussocks of grass, trying to keep dry. It becomes increasingly boggier, I break through a tussock of grass and get a wet foot. Wet now, I’ll just walk straight through, squelching peaty mud is soon up to my knees. I retreat and take a different route squeezing beneath the trees, pressing their branches to the sides. I arrive on a pleasant rocky beach. This would be a great spot to sit and chill.
Across the other side there was Braden Castle, I would be swimming over it’s remains, now long lost to the waters. Originally two lochs, Loch Lure and Loch Braden, separated by a short stretch of river. When the first dam was built the two became one. At one time Ordnance Survey maps gave the body of water both names, Loch Braden to the east and Loch Lure to the west, but subsequently it has just been known as Loch Braden.
Shoes, socks tracksters off, already wearing jammers, I start pulling my wetsuit on, buff, gloves and tops off I pull the wetsuit on and stuff everything into my rucksack, stuff the ruck sack into dry bag and where are my goggles and swim cap. I think I have left my goggles and swim cap, my immediate reaction is I can’t swim without goggles and a swim cap. As I look about for them an internal dialogue breaks out. My demonic side is arguing from a growth mindset, no seriously, figure that out, the bad boy is saying “now Stewarty boy, it’s a setback but just step up to the challenge and get on with it”. That’s the stuff I tell athletes. My angelic side is saying “now Stewart, you don’t actually need to do this, it’s not as if you have anything to prove, you could come back on a nice summers day”. I find my goggles, swim cap and the argument is settled. It’s go time.
Clouds roll down the hillside, squeezing between the trees and across the loch.
Wet my face, not bad, I step into the water and plunge into the dark water. Surprisingly not as cold as I anticipated, I start swimming towing my dry bag. I check, reassured all my running kit is stuffed into the dry bag, it’s inflated and it floats, all good. The water is quite rough, but wait water is actually pretty cold.
Looking up the clouds have closed in and the other side is out of view. I’m not going to swim across this evening when I can’t see the end point, I could end up swimming in circles. Swim around here for a bit? No, I strike out swimming parallel to the bank, the way I had came.
It’s good to be swimming, that familiar dark peaty water, there is a reassuring pull from the dry bag, from times the wind catches the dry bag and bumps it up against me. It’s cold and I have a bit of an ice cream headache, my feet are cold. I start to worry if I will be able to run after this, what if my feet get too cold.
I hear voices, I stop and look around, but it’s the sound the wind is making. It’s a strange world my attention alternates between the cold dark water, watching my brown hand pass, then suddenly turning into the grey light to breath, the mist, distant trees, the sky and wind. Alternating between the sounds of bubbles and water slipping past to the sound of splashing and the haunting wind.
Ahead I can see a clump of trees, they look oddly square, I will bypass an inlet and head direct for them. The trees are getting closer and distinctly more square when I spot the wall. I have nearly reached the dam, those square trees are the tower. I’m annoyed with myself, I plan to keep well away from all dams, inlets, outlets and all that infrastructure. Now I’m between 50 and 100 metres away. Swam further than I had imagined. I turn and swim directly towards the shore. Check my watch, 27 minutes, I want to be sure, I have another three minutes in me, easy. I turn and swim along the bank. When I stop my watch say’s thirty something.
Swimming ashore the edge is a strange mixture of gravel and peat. Sitting on the peat, numb hands are challenged by the clip, I have to use my teeth to pull the safety knot undone. Opening my dry bag and dump the contents on the ground. Somewhere in the forest a bird is singing a very pleasant tune. Pressing need now out the water in the wind it’s a race against time before I become too cold. I quickly dress, tracksters are soaking, I stuff them into my rucksack and start running in jammers.
The run back to the car was good, a sense of achievement, running and swimming carrying all my kit in wild places. I’m for some more of that.