Lynsey Patterson: Outdoor Swimming

This week, in line with yesterday’s chat with Alex, we have this wonderful blog from Lynsey (@_yellowvanadventures) talking about outdoor swimming! It’s so great to hear real life experiences from people and find out the best advice from them!

Let us know if you plan on heading out into the lochs or seas when you can!


My name’s Lynsey and it’s been 87 days since my last swim.


Outdoor swimming can mean different things to different people. You might think of the hardcore year-round skins swimmers (no wetsuits), the long-distance swimmers, the triathletes, the swimmers who love to chatter as they bob along, the cliff divers, the list could go on. I would say I’m a bit of all of them. I love finding plunge pools for a quick dip but equally I love the sense of achievement after completing a longer swim. The one thing that I’ve found that all swimmers have in common is how friendly, welcoming and encouraging they all are no matter what your experience is. They also don’t care what gear you have; you could have spent £500 on a high-end wetsuit or picked one up from the middle aisle in Aldi for a tenner but none of that matters. They just want to enjoy the water. Outdoor swimming is for everyone.


I’ve always loved being in the water and spent most weekends of my childhood in Loch Earn surrounded by my family and friends. I’ve been open water swimming regularly for 2 years now but my first swim was 4 years ago, and I was talked into it by my Mum on her 56th birthday. I hadn’t been swimming in years but since it was her birthday I decided to give it a go and we headed to our local quarry to join an organised swim group. After the safety briefing I got my borrowed wetsuit on, squeezed my head into a swim cap and headed into the water.  It was the middle of July and I’m not sure what I was expecting but it felt was baltic. I swam about 200m, grabbed onto the safety kayak then swam back with the kayak beside me. I’m not sure if I enjoyed it or not but there are some photos of me smiling so I must have liked it a wee bit. After the swim we headed home for some birthday cake and as all swimmers will tell you, cake is essential after a swim. I remember being amazed at all the swimmers completing multiple laps of the quarry and thought to myself, “I want to do that”. My mum has been a swimmer all her life and took on the task of teaching me how to swim properly and just over a year later I was back in the quarry doing my own laps. I got that buzz you get from being in the open water and I was hooked. It was the end of the season so I continued to swim indoors in the pool and couldn’t wait to get back into the open water. I remember from about March time constantly annoying my mum asking her if the water was warm enough to swim in yet but now, I wouldn’t think twice about swimming in the colder months.


Since then I have done some amazing swims, all for very different reasons.  Last year I swam 3km in Loch Tay as part of an event which was a huge personal achievement for me. Glen Rosa in Arran has some amazing pools to swim in and I have lots of special memories there. My partner and I went on our second date here and jumped into one of the pools, in the middle of February! Loch Lomond is such an accessible place for anyone new to swimming and there are many groups that meet there like the Wild West Swimmers. My favourite places there are Milarrochy Bay and Aldochlay where you can swim over to the nearby island, Inchtavannach, and say hello to the friendly highland cows. My absolute favourite swim spot has to be Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan. The water is crystal clear and surrounded by white sand beaches. It’s like somewhere you would expect to see on a postcard from the Caribbean. We swam there on a Sunday morning and 24 hours later I was back in my classroom at work wondering if it was all a dream.


There are so many benefits to open water swimming both physical and mental. I know people who use swimming as pain relief from chronic illness, others who swim for fitness and others who use swimming to boost their own mental health. For me, swimming keeps my body fit and my mind healthy. I’m a pretty laidback person and tend to take everything in my stride but my job can be very stressful and swimming is not only my escape but my time to think. There’s something about being in the water that makes me feel so calm and I find that when I’m in the water I can get my head straight and think logically about how to tackle certain situations. I always get wee brain waves when I’m swimming and some of my best lessons have been planned underwater.  


This year I swam all through the winter. We started the year by doing the New Years Day Loony Dook in Dornoch and a few days later we were plunging into the Fairy Pools in Skye. Some people think I’m mental and others are desperate to get out and join me. There really is no better feeling than the one you get after a cold swim and I would encourage everyone to try it at least once! If you’re thinking of trying swimming here are some tips I’ve learned along the way.


  1. Never swim alone. There are so many groups and swimmers will always be delighted to have you join them. 
  2. Hug the shore. Don’t go in all guns blazing and swim 500m out because you have to get back. Instead swim parallel to the shore. 
  3. Use a tow float. Tow floats make you visible to boats and are also really handy if you get tired. You can use it as a wee pillow and can lie back and admire the surroundings until you are ready to set off again. 
  4. Footwear. Have a pair of flip flops or something (crocs are my favourite!) to get into the water that you can chuck back to the shore once you are floating. I once got a fishing hook lodged into my flip flop coming out the water. Neoprene booties are an essential part of my kit and I find they make a huge difference to my body temperature. 
  5. Acclimatise. Take 5 or 10 minutes before you swim to bob about and get your head under the water. 
  6. Breathe. Focus on your breathing, get it right and you will have a much more enjoyable swim.

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