A swimsuit might not be the first item you think about packing for a trip to Scotland, but let me tell you – it would be a big mistake to leave it at home if you visit during the summer months! Scotland might not have the hot springs of Iceland or the sauna culture of Finland, but we’ve got something else: cold water that is perfect for wild swimming!
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There’s nothing more refreshing on a hot summer’s day than jumping into a lake, river or even the sea – and Scotland is no exception. Admittedly, a “hot” day in Scotland might still make some of you reach for your jackets, but if you are the adventurous kind, you might want to reconsider.
The waters of Scotland – be in the North Atlantic sea or the rivers and lakes fed by mountain springs, rain water and snow melt – can be freezing cold. But they are also incredibly serene and who doesn’t need a breath of fresh
air water from time to time?
Here are some of my favourite outdoor swimming spots across Scotland. So, take the plunge!
But first a few basics…
Outdoor Swimming Basics
Swimming in Scotland’s cold waters is a fun leisure activity, but it can also be a dangerous thing to do. Every year, people drown in Scotland because of cold water shock.
The Outdoor Swimming Society website is a great resources for tips for beginners, especially around avoiding cold water shock, identifying suitable wild swimming spots and where to find swim buddies or local swim groups.
Listen to my conversation about water safety with outdoor swimmer Calum Maclean.
What to wear
Depending on how hardy you are, the water and air temperatures, and how long you want to stay in the water, you can wear a swim suit or a full wet suit.
For a short dip, I like to wear a swim suit with neoprene gloves and socks to keep my feet and hands warm.
How to stay warm after a dip
It’s important to get out of the water before you get cold as your body temperature will keep dropping even after you’ve left the water and dried off.
Since we lose a lot of body heat via our heads, I recommend wearing a woollen hat unless you want to submerge your head.
Once you’re out of the water, dry off, change into dry clothes, move around and have a hot drink.
You might also like: The Benefits of Water Wellness & 7 Water Activities to Try
Where to wild swim in Scotland
Ganavan Sands near Oban
Ganavan Sands is a sandy beach just outside of Oban. I went for a swim here with open water swim coach Dan the Merman who offers group and private tuition for beginners and experienced swimmers.
The beach is popular among local swimmers and booking a session here with a coach is a great introduction to wild swimming in Scotland. Dan taught me breathing methods, mindfulness practices as well as swimming techniques.
Ganavan Sands is on the Above & Below Wild Swimming Trail, full of great locations on the Scottish west coast to try outdoor swimming!
The River in Kinlochleven
It was our third day on the West Highland Way and so far the hottest. After a steep climb up the Devil’s Staircase and a long descent to Kinlochleven, we were exhausted and sweaty and really needed something to cool us down. We arrived at our hostel in the middle of the afternoon, when the sun was still standing high, burning down.
Following the advice of the receptionist, we therefore put on our bathing suits and made our way to the blue bridge across river … behind the hostel. We were the first ones to arrive, soon most hikers who had arrived here today, spread out across the rocky shore of the river and jumped into the icy cold water.
And icy-cold it was – nevertheless I jumped in three times from different heights and swam a few strokes to cool down. If you’re hiking the West Highland Way and the sun is out, this is an absolute must!
You might also like: 18 Fun Outdoor Activities to try in Scotland
Beaches on the Isle of Mull
There are beaches in Scotland, where the ocean looks more like the Caribbean than the North Atlantic. Bright turquoise and all shades of blue; white sandy beaches; kids building sand castles – exchange the sunbathing sheep for some exotic iguanas – all that is missing are the palm trees…
The Isle of Mull has a plethora of these beaches and one is prettier than the next. However, wild swimming here takes a little bit more effort depending on the tide, as you have to walk quite a while through the shallow water before you can dive in.
Other pretty spots for wild swimming on Mull are the beaches in Fidden & Loch Buie on the Ross of Mull peninsula.
You might also like: My guide to the Ross of Mull incl. where to wild swim
Loch Etive near Glencoe
I remember it like it was yesterday. I had spent New Year’s Eve in a small bothy in the middle of Glen Etive, surrounded by good friends and lots of stars – and maybe a drink or two. The next day, a bunch of us set out to ring in the new year in true Scottish fashion: jumping into a freezing cold lake – and we drove to Gualachulain to jump into Loch Etive. And if you think that’s a mouthful, just wait for how cold the water is!
I have to admit, I couldn’t make myself to jump in – it was just too cold… But in the summer the water looks significantly more pleasant, and who doesn’t love a quick cold refreshment to get the blood circulation going!?
You might also like: A practical guide for snorkelling in Scotland
Loch Ard in the Trossachs
Whether it’s for a hike up Ben A’an or a thrilling afternoon at Go Ape, the area around Aberfoyle in the Trossachs is one of my favourites in Scotland. It’s shocking – even to me – that I’ve never been to Loch Ard!
The loch is regarded one of the best wild swimming spots in the country, especially because of its sheltered position and clear water. The loch is also not as deep as many surrounding waters, and therefore slightly warmer than other places nearby. If the water is still too cold for you, there are also many hiking trails to viewpoints around the loch!
There even is a swimming festival here every September, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for upcoming dates here!
Another popular swimming loch in the Trossachs is Loch Lubnaig.
Glenrosa Pools on the Isle of Arran
Forget about the Faerie Pools on the Isle of Skye – on a sunny day in summer, I bet you they are too crowded for a more or less elegant dip in the water. You can find similar conditions in a beautiful glen much closer to Glasgow (and Edinburgh) on the Isle of Arran!
A hike along Glen Rosa valley is an easy alternative to huffing and puffing up Goatfell on a sunny day. If you’re brave enough, you will be rewarded with a relaxing bath in one of the many pools formed by the river flowing through the valley!
Anywhere it is safe
The most I’ve ever had outdoor swimming, was not when I went to a specific beach or bay – but when I picked a random loch or stretch of coast, and jumped right in.
As long as the conditions are right, anywhere is a fantastic place for wild swimming in Scotland.
Trying to swim in the sea? Make sure you check for currents! If you’re not sure whether a beach is suitable for swimming, it’s best to avoid it.
Listen to the wild swimming story ‘Uisge’ on my podcast Wild for Scotland.
So, next time you plan a trip to or day out in Scotland, grab your bathing suit, make it to one of these spots and jump right in!
Which is your favourite wild swimming spot in Scotland?
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