No, no, no, we agreed it wasn’t a race. We were most definitely not chasing times or each other. If we didn’t get as far as we wanted, we would just come back another time to finish off. It was about completing the journey. That, at least, was our rationale. So instead of a race report I’m going to give a quick summary of events so far, compiled from various sources, with some longer posts planned and indeed half written. In the picture at the top are two kayakers, two swimmers and an inflatable. Just for scale.
In no particular order, as they say.
On the water – Kayakers Tim Dixon and Ian Kyle, Inflatable man Iain Dixon, Swimmers Christine Howson and Saartje Drijver.
On the land – Mobile catering operation and general PR Caroline Lamond and Chief Scout Pete Younger.
We had planned to swim in three 2 hour blocks a day, more or less. By the end of Day I, when we had done two swims of almost 2 hours, we figured that was too long. Maybe a bit more training might not have gone amiss? So we shifted our sights to four swims of 1 ½ hours, give or take, and we sort of managed that.
For two swimmers we had two kayakers and, because we swam at slightly different speeds, it ended up 1:1, so we each had a kayaker to follow. They picked the route and kept us in a straight line, more or less. There was lots of more or less. On Loch Shin we knew in advance that the wind could be an issue and that we were going to be a long way from the road. So for that stretch we also had a small inflatable that could plane; if there had been a problem (and there wasn’t) we would have needed the speed to get someone to shore without too much delay. The loch levels were about 15ft lower than normal in Loch Shin so there were large stretches of soft shore uncovered, which made launching tricky. Fortunately, Roddy Watt was able to help with his ArgoCat.
We had walkie talkies for communication between the water and shore but this was probably the one thing that didn’t work out. Although in theory we were within their range, in practice noone could hear anyone else. In fact, there was so little sound in the area that voices carried and the shore party could generally hear exactly what we were saying to each on the water. It was a good job we weren’t complaining about the banana cake. Mobile phones worked fine.
On shore, two vehicles followed us where they could, although it wasn’t always easy to figure where the swimmers would stop. Parking was often a problem if passing places weren’t to be blocked. There was a gathering of 6 cars in one passing place when all the locals stopped to cheer and chat, and it was just tough if anyone complained. Caroline ran a remarkable mobile catering operation from the camper van and fed us banana cake, bananas, coffee, CocaCola (the drink of choice for open water cognoscenti – apparently it kills all known germs. Haven’t spotted that in their advertising), whatever anyone wanted, when they wanted it. She says she can’t cook but we all know different. Pete had the bikes and did a lot of scouting for places to get in and out of the water.
The bad bits:
Lying in bed in the morning, trying to figure out which bit hurt least and could be moved first.
The midges – although we were fine on the water.
The point on those swims where we wanted to stop about 10 minutes before we’d got to the stopping point.
Slightly choppy water on the last morning – although that wasn’t bad so much as hard. It certainly blew us along.
Sore shoulders. Should have thought of that beforehand.
The good bits:
We had a blast! It was so much fun. Everyone got on, we all worked as a team. We were all still smiling at the end.
We both loved the swimming. The kayakers loved the kayaking. And everyone enjoyed themselves.
The weather (mostly). Very little wind, which is the one thing that would have stopped us.
Merkland Lodge, which we were loaned for the first night. Wow! What a beautiful spot.
The adrenalin. I’m still walking about two feet off the ground.
The welcome, kindness, generosity and enthusiasm of almost all the locals.
The next bit:
We go back in September to swim the pool between the dams at Lairg, the River Shin and the Kyle of Sutherland. We expect to finish at Bonar Bridge about lunchtime on Monday 16th September, assuming we get the tides right. Maybe we’ll swim the short stretch between the Angling Club and the upper dam on Saturday, and do that tumble turn off the dam. We’re not planning on competing with the salmon in the Shin Falls and will cycle beside the rapids.
More photos and more details will follow.
With thanks to:
George Woods, for lending us Merkland Lodge for the night and allowing Roddy out to play;
Roddy Watt and his Argocat, for helping with the inflatable;
Lairg Angling Club, and in particular David Ross and Dennis Cahill, for help, enthusiasm, friendship and the donation of a day’s takings to our charities;
Liz and John Quinn, for popping up at intervals, so much interest and probably an article in the Northern Gazette;
Various locals and passers by for cheering us on, and several donations;
Stuart and Dougie Anderson, for lending us an inflatable;
Tom’s mate for lending us an outboard;
Lothian Divers for some boat gear;
Chris and Hazel for radios and lifejackets;
Heather Cunningham, for more radios.
Brian and Bronwyn, for joining in.
And thank you to everyone who has donated and been enthusiastic on our behalf.
If anyone else would to contribute to our charities, here’s the link.