Loch who is talking

Calum Maclean shares his secret Scottish swim spots with us

© Calum Maclean in Coruisk

On 25th May, the Gaelic language channel BBC Alba, launches its ten-part mini series Dhan Uisge (Towards Water), presented by the intrepid cold-water swimming fan Calum Maclean. Calum shares some early highlights

Calum Maclean’s 10 part series Dhan Uisge (Towards Water), charts Maclean’s absolute favourite Scottish swim spots. Filmed in January and February, it includes a variety of locations from beaches, lochs and waterfalls through to gorges and caves.

To celebrate the launch of the series, which will also be available online, we have asked Calum to share his five favourite spots – ones you’d never discover in a whole month of pond-swims – with us. Here’s what he says:

Calum Maclean in Easedale. © Alasdair Maclean

River Douchary

The River Douchary is an unknown gem to most. Apart from the long-distance walkers of the Cape Wrath Trail and occasional locals, few stumble across this magnificent small river in the northwest Highlands. There are several beautiful waterfalls, which end in refreshing pools. Clear, clean water has carved out an incredible gorge, with a variety of swimming holes. The highlight for me is the pool on a river bend; a natural amphitheater tucked into the gorge. Here, an unusual stack of rock sticks out of the river, an example of the fascinating geology.

A good 8-mile walk or rough cycle in, you can feel that you have the place all to yourself. The walk – a swimmer’s pilgrimage – is well worth it.

Loch Maree, © Calum Maclean

Loch Maree Islands

Inside Loch Maree sit many islands. Inside one of those islands there is a loch. Inside that loch, there is another island and so it continues… It’s the Russsian doll of lochs. This vast loch, complete with wooded islands, is scenically spectacular, but there is a lot of history on show as well. Besides the island-loch-island-loch of Eilean Sùbhainn, Eilean Maruibhe contains ancient Viking graves, remains of a chapel and a holy tree. For years people would hammer coins into the trunk for good luck. The tree, which died of copper poisoning, was less lucky. I swam between the islands, with a backdrop of mountains and only the sound of calming rain as company. Perfection.

Douchary, © Calum Maclean

Sanna Bay

The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is as far west as you can go on mainland Scotland. Tucked away beside the remnants of an ancient volcano is the delight of Sanna Bay. Before filming Dhan Uisge I had never been to Sanna Bay. I shall return! A classic west coast beach of pale sand, calm water and rock pools to explore. I loved the calmness of the beach – yet the wild looking rocks slightly further out intrigued me. I swam out and landed on them, waves crashed around me, spray flying up above me. Timing my exit was key – get it wrong and I’d be fish fodder.

Easdale Island Quarries

Easdale was at one time a key part of the thriving Argyll slate industry. Times change and the vast quarries now sit silent, their angular shape bringing lidos to mind. The water is a brilliant blue, the quarries go down for many hundreds of feet. One quarry is recommended for swimming, but I’m not always one to follow exactly what’s been recommended… instead I made a beeline for the largest pool. Here, the industrial heritage is on show, with old pieces of metal and machinery jutting out of the rock. It also holds the annual World Stone Skimming Championships. As if I really needed a reason to return..

Calum Maclean in Douchary, © Alasdair Maclean

Loch Coruisk

Loch Coruisk must have the best views of any pool I’ve swum in. The loch is tucked behind the mighty Cuillin mountains in The Isle of Skye, inside the vast coire. The water is beautifully clear, and for me the place had a very meditative quality. As my arms turned over, my mind adjusted to that clarity that only cold water allows. An ideal spot for a longer swim, or even just a dip, gazing past your toes at some of Scotland’s most iconic peaks. Small islands stick out from the loch, rounded rock allowing for dives back into the water – you don’t want to be on dry land too long.

Dhan Uisge starts on Thursday 25th May, 10.30-10.35pm. It will be available to view online on BBC Alba. The series follows Calum as he shares his passion for swimming in remote lochs and rivers. As he states himself “I love to swim outdoors with no living person to be seen”. As well as featuring River Douchary, Loch Maree Islands, Loch Coruisk, Easdale Island, Sanna & Ardnamurchan, Calum also takes up the challenge to swim through punishing currents over the island of Luing. 

For more Calum Maclean swimming wisdoms, head to Calum Maclean’s Scottish Temperature Guide.

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Words : Calum Maclean