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Scotland: Best spots for cold water swimming

Fairy Pools

Want to find the best spots for cold water swimming in Scotland?

From the tranquil waters of Loch Lomond to the mystical Fairy Pools of the Isle of Skye, this blog is your guide to Scotland’s best spots for open water swimming.

Whether you’re a seasoned swimmer or a curious novice, join us as we dive into Scotland’s hidden gems, where natural beauty and adrenaline meet!

So, grab your dryrobe and wetsuit and get ready to immerse yourself in Scottish waters.

Loch Lomond | The Trossachs National Park

Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond on a summers day

Loch Lomond, situated in The Trossachs National Park, is the largest freshwater loch in Scotland, stretching approximately 24 miles (39 kilometres)!

The famous Loch is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, with swimmers being able to explore picturesque islands whilst in the serene waters.

The surrounding landscape offers a diverse mix of forests, mountains, and charming villages, creating a perfect setting for outdoor activities and nature exploration.

The Loch provides ample opportunities for water-based activities such as open water swimming, boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing. Its expansive size accommodates various water sports and leisurely cruises, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquillity of the Loch.

Loch Lomond is also known for its abundant wildlife, including a variety of bird species and opportunities to spot deer and squirrels in the surrounding woodlands. Cold water swimmers may even be lucky enough to meet some wildlife as they swim!

Features:

  • Entry Fee: Free (Loch swimming events do cost)
  • Location: Balloch, Alexandria G83 8QX
  • Lifeguard: Yes, in certain areas during peak tourist times

Loch an Eilein | Cairngorms National Park

Loch an Eilein
Ruin in Loch an Eilein

Nestled within the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, Loch an Eilein invites wild swimmers into an impressive yet serene setting.

The Loch’s beauty is unparalleled, surrounded by dense forests and the majestic Cairngorms Mountains. Its tranquil and crystal-clear waters create an inviting atmosphere, enticing cold water swimmers to immerse themselves in the natural oasis.

Swimming in Loch an Eilein offers more than just a refreshing dip. It allows visitors to embrace the unspoiled beauty of the area, relishing the peacefulness and solitude of the loch.

Many open water swimmers try to find hidden spots of silence to relax and de-stress, and Loch an Eilein is a perfect spot to unwind. Find out more about cold water swimming and depression in our CWS article!

Exploring the shores, swimmers can discover the intriguing ruins of Loch an Eilein Castle. The iconic setting adds a touch of history and enchantment to the cold water experience.

Features:

  • Entry Fee: Free
  • Location: Aviemore, PH22 1QT
  • Lifeguard: No

Easdale Slate Quarries | Easdale

Easdale Slate Quarries
Cliff face at Easdale Slate Quarries

Easdale Slate Quarries, located on the Isle of Easdale in Scotland, provide a one-of-a-kind swimming experience amidst a fascinating landscape. The quarries, once bustling with slate mining activities, have transformed into stunning water-filled craters.

The quarries’ freshwater pools provide an exciting swimming environment that many a cold water swimmer has explored. The clarity of the water allows swimmers to marvel at the submerged rock formations, enhancing the allure of the experience. 

While swimming in Easdale Slate Quarries, it’s essential to exercise caution due to the steep quarry walls and potential hazards such as submerged rocks – especially if it has rained.

Swimming in Easdale Slate Quarries presents a captivating combination of industrial heritage and natural beauty. The freshwater pools, breathtaking cliffs, and intriguing surroundings create a truly memorable and enchanting swimming experience. 

Features:

  • Entry Fee: Free
  • Location: 13A Ellenabeich, Easdale, Oban PA34 4RQ
  • Lifeguard: No

Fairy Pools | Isle of Skye

Loch an Eilein
Ruin in Loch an Eilein

Situated within the landscape of the Isle of Skye, the Fairy Pools are a collection of turquoise-coloured pools and cascading waterfalls in the Cuillin Mountains. The natural beauty of the surroundings is impressive, with rugged mountains and rocky formations.

The pools themselves have crystal-clear waters that create an inviting setting for swimmers. Diving into the Fairy Pools provides an invigorating experience.

The freshwater pools, formed by mountain streams, are known for their incredible clarity and cool temperature. As you explore the pools, you’ll encounter varying depths, allowing for leisurely dips or more adventurous swimming.

The journey to the Fairy Pools involves a scenic hike through the breathtaking Scottish countryside, where you can soak in the untouched natural beauty of the area.

Features:

  • Entry Fee: Free
  • Location: Isle of Skye, IV47 8TA
  • Lifeguard: No

Loch Etive | Gualachulain

loch etive
Mountains towering over Loch Etive

Loch Etive, situated in the Scottish Highlands, provides a beautiful setting for swimming. Gualachulain, a specific area of the Loch, offers a tranquil and secluded spot for swimmers to enjoy the pristine waters.

The Loch is surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty; you can marvel at the ever-changing colours of the Scottish landscape, no matter what season in which you choose to swim.

The water in Loch Etive is typically cold, as is characteristic of many Scottish Lochs! Swimmers should be prepared for cooler temperatures and consider wearing appropriate thermal gear or wetsuits to stay comfortable.

Despite the chilly waters, the refreshing swim in Loch Etive can be invigorating, especially during warmer months.

The seclusion of Gualachulain adds to the appeal of swimming in Loch Etive. Away from the crowds and immersed in the tranquillity of the Highland scenery, swimmers can find a sense of serenity and escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Features:

  • Entry Fee: Free
  • Location: Ballachulish, PH49 4JA
  • Lifeguard: No

Loch Shiel | Fort William

loch shiel
Autumn day at Loch Shiel

Loch Shiel near Fort William in Scotland is one of the best spots for cold water swimming in Scotland – in our opinion!

Located amidst the stunning Highland scenery, Loch Shiel provides a beautiful backdrop for swimmers. With a length of 28 kilometres (17 miles), Loch an Eilein stands as the fourth longest Loch in Scotland.

What makes it particularly remarkable is that it retains a natural outflow without any manipulation of its water level. This untouched beauty has deep water of 120 meters (393 feet)!

The Loch is surrounded by rolling hills and thick forests creating a breathtaking setting that immerses swimmers in the natural beauty of the area.

The Loch is often less crowded compared to more popular swimming spots, allowing swimmers to enjoy a sense of solitude and peacefulness, which many of us need after a hectic week.

Features:

  • Entry Fee: Free
  • Location: 20 kilometres (12 mi) west of Fort William in the Highland Council area of Scotland
  • Lifeguard: No

FAQs

Are Lochs safe to swim in?

Swimming in Lochs can be safe, but it depends on several factors, such as water quality and currents.

Always consider the water quality, as pollution or contamination can pose health risks. Check with local authorities for monitoring information.

It’s important to be mindful of the depth and temperature, as sudden drops or hidden hazards underwater can be dangerous, and colder temperatures may increase the risk of hypothermia.

You should also pay attention to currents and tides, especially if the Loch is connected to the sea or has rivers flowing in or out. Strong currents can make swimming hazardous.

Additionally, be cautious of algal blooms and harmful aquatic life that may affect water quality and pose risks.

Seek local knowledge and advice from authorities, lifeguards, or residents familiar with the area. They can provide valuable insights into specific hazards and safe swimming spots.

Can you swim in any Loch in Scotland?

While there are numerous Lochs suitable for swimming in Scotland, not all may be safe or appropriate due to factors like water quality, depth, currents, and local regulations.

Access to certain Lochs might be restricted or require permission due to private ownership, nature reserves, or other factors.

Always respect any signage, and local regulations, and seek information from local authorities or residents to ensure that swimming is allowed and safe in a specific Loch.

By considering these factors and obtaining relevant information, you can identify suitable Lochs for swimming and enjoy a safe and enjoyable experience in Scotland’s beautiful lakes.

Do you need a wetsuit for wild swimming in Scotland?

Whether or not you need a wetsuit for wild swimming in Scotland depends on factors like water temperature, personal tolerance, and safety considerations.

Scotland’s Lochs can be cold, especially outside of summer, so wearing a wetsuit can provide insulation and maintain body heat, especially for longer swims. It also offers buoyancy and some protection against rocks or obstacles.

However, personal preferences vary; some swimmers may be comfortable without a wetsuit.

Consider the season, location, and comfort level in cold water when deciding whether to wear a wetsuit for open water swimming in Scotland.

Research the specific water temperature and seek advice from local swimmers or outdoor enthusiasts familiar with the area for guidance.

Are there undercurrents in Lochs?

Undercurrents can exist in certain Lochs in Scotland. The presence and strength of undercurrents can vary depending on the specific Loch and its geographical characteristics.

Lochs that are connected to the sea or have rivers flowing into or out of them are more likely to experience undercurrents. Additionally, larger and deeper Lochs may have stronger and more complex underwater currents.

It is important to be aware of the potential for undercurrents when swimming in Lochs, as they can pose risks, especially for inexperienced or weaker swimmers. 

Summary

Cold water swimming in Scotland offers a thrilling experience in the country’s stunning natural landscapes. With numerous Lochs, rivers, and coastal areas, Scotland provides ample opportunities for adventurous swimmers to explore its waters.

Researching water quality, checking for advisories, and avoiding areas affected by pollution or algal blooms are essential for maintaining good health.

Seeking local knowledge and guidance from residents, outdoor organisations, or experienced swimmers can offer valuable insights into safe swimming spots and any specific guidelines.

By embracing the beauty of Scotland’s wild waters while practising caution and respect for the environment, swimmers can have a memorable and safe experience in this great country.