Create your own swim challenge

Two friends who swam across Scotland give advice on planning your own swim challenge

Raw Pixel

In 2017, swimming friends Graham Donald and Kerran Traynor took on a personal challenge to swim across mainland Scotland from coast-to-coast. The adventure took part over two weeks, covered 120 kilometres of open water and had minimal support. They swam from Corran in the West to Edinburgh in the East, just past Fort William to Beauly Firth. The swim took in the length of Loch Linnhe, Loch Lochy, Loch Oich. Loch Dockfour and Loch Ness, all connected by rivers. To the best of their knowledge the coast to coast swim had never been done before. (View story here >). 

Want to plan a similar challenge for yourself? Kerran Traynor shares their process.

How to begin?

To begin, you need an idea, and like any good idea it needs to have enough intrigue, adventure and challenge to keep you motivated. Too easy and complacency can be an issue, causing lack of preparation and potential implications during the challenge itself. Too hard and it becomes intangible, also resulting in implications during the event, if you make it that far.

So, how hard should the challenge you set yourself be? I’m hesitant to answer this as its unique to each person, their attitude and their desired outcome. But in short it has to push some physical and mental boundaries to be a challenge. How far you’re willing to push yourself is a different question altogether.

Any good idea needs to have enough intrigue, adventure and challenge to keep you motivated

A starting checklist:

– An idea

– Initial research – is it physically possible?

– Commit to the idea, set dates and deadlines.

– Create a plan of what’s required to achieve the idea.

– Physically and mentally prepare – are you fit? Do you need to train?

– Research the trip in finer detail – we made three recce trips.

– Contact relevant parties – do you need permission or support?

– Plan route – we had an optimistic and a worst case scenario route planned.

Things will almost certainly be different to what the vision in your head is.

What to expect:

The main thing to expect and accept is that things will almost certainly be different to the vision in your head. This can materialise in many trivial elements along the way, with each having the potential to derail your challenge. The important thing is to understand this before you commit to undertaking the challenge. In doing this it helps prepare you mentally and allows for adaptability during the journey. This I would say is one of the most important personal aspects to be comfortable with before commencing.

Leio McLaren on Unsplash

What can go wrong:

A lot can go wrong even with the very best preparation, much of which can be outside of your direct control. However, being adaptable puts you in the right mind-set to overcome obstacles as and when they happen.

The quantity of desktop research, mapping and logistics was something we underestimated along with costs.

What surprised us:

The occasional rapid, coldness of the water, how much we ate and how much people got behind us and the charities we were supporting. These were all things that came about during the trip and were things we were in part aware of at the start. The quantity of desktop research, mapping and logistics was something we underestimated along with costs. Organising the practicalities of the trip we found to be more time consuming than the actual challenge itself.

outdoor-swimming-society-story-post-create-your-own-swim-unsplash-stephanie-krist Stephanie Krist on Unsplash

Things to note:


One of our initial ideas and a simple of route was via the Caledonian Canal. However, after speaking to the relevant authorities this was a nonstarter, we were never going to get permission. This meant the more natural and fun rivers were our only option. The other type of permission to consider is the secondary ones that helps facilitate what you intend to do. For us this was not the gaining permission for the volumes of water we intended to swim. It was access to and from the water’s edge, in order to achieve this we had to speak with several landowners and lodges along our route. 


Plan what you require in terms of food and drink. This will depend on dietary requirements and type of trip planned. It’s important that you have enough of the right kind of fuel and ideally you will be able to integrate this into training in order to see what works for you. We ate obscene amounts of vegan flapjack.

outdoor-swimming-society-story-post-create-your-own-swim-unsplash-william-ferguson William Ferguson on Unsplash

Support team:

A team of willing support members was a vital part of the success and overall enjoyment of the trip. This can be crucial on multi day challenges and can be extremely handy even on shorter swims. They provide and facilitate in terms of safety, nutrition and equipment.


Water condition and type of swim dependent – but you almost always have more equipment than you imagine. Although can be done with a relatively minimal kit in warmer waters (swimsuit and goggles). We on the other hand had a load of cold weather gear for both swimmers and supporting kayakers. Spares are also a luxury not to be overlooked. We spent and completed most of our swims in our backup, warmer surf wetsuits.

Graham and I set out on an adventure that would challenge us. It was important to us that the challenge was set in a natural environment. I would encourage anybody else thinking of a wild swim or outdoor excursion to respect nature but fully engage with it and appreciate its beauty. We wish anyone undertaking a challenge in 2018 all the best. Graham and I are having a rest at the minute but our thoughts are never far from future adventures.


Whatever swim plans you create, good luck! And please do keep other OSS members in the loop via Facebook, instagram (#outdoorswimmingsociety #sharetheswimlove).

Words : Kerran Traynor