Calum Maclean presents second series of Dhan Uisage

25th May, 2018

This week, Gaelic language channel BBC Alba launched a second series of Dhan Uisage (Into the Water), presented by OSS Ambassador and cold-water fan Calum Maclean. Here Calum shares the story behind the series and encourages everyone to swim a little wilder.

When asked if I’d be interested in filming a second series of Dhan Uisge, exploring some wild swims around Scotland, of course I jumped at the chance. The only catch – it had to be filmed in the middle of winter, which turned out to be the hardest winter in years!

My initial wish list of ten locations was whittled down to eight, with some harder to reach spots scrapped along the way. I wanted to include some challenging swims such as under ice and through a mighty sea tunnel, which luckily we got drone coverage in order to do it justice. We were all set. Until the snow and ice came with a vengeance!

The stunning pools of Glen Etive were knocked on the head: inches of snow and no gritter meant the road was blocked for days. Loch a’ Choire Àrdair, tucked under giant cliff faces was kiboshed; the walk in too snowy, Lochindorb had to be returned to two months apart in the hope the thaw had come! Wild wind put paid to a swim to the Hebridean island of Pabbay Mòr, and one location even had to be changed enroute, but you’ll have to watch the programs to see why.

Filming, which had been set for a two week block in January eventually spanned over three different trips, stretching into March. As much as I love swimming, filming a series like this in winter was a real challenge. As I stood thigh deep in Loch Morlich, chopping sharp slaps of ice apart with a snow shovel, I did question what exactly I’d agreed to do! Each episode meant me repeating swims so that we could film it from the various cameras, as the Director Alasdair Maclean, was also the Camera Operator. I was in the water for between 40 minutes and three hours each episode, and with the temperature not getting much above Baltic – I estimate seven degrees max on sea swims, fresh water rarely above three or four degrees. I feel as though the small team we had on both this and the first series of Dhan Uisge has now acquired a specialist knowledge of filming in and around freezing cold water all day: lots of snacks and windproof flotation survival suits are two of my tips.

My personal favourite swims were:

  • Gaylet Pot – a huge sea cave tunnel that leads out into a farmer’s field, a massive inland sinkhole.
  • Lochindorb – swimming under ice is always a thrill, your breath appears like liquid mercury trapped under the surface.
  • The Firth of Forth – swimming alongside the iconic Forth Rail Bridge by Edinburgh, wondering why you’d drive or take the train, just swim.

Safety was a factor taken into consideration, with BBC Scotland’s Head of Health and Safety, Nick Roxburgh coming along to oversee this. Nick’s in-depth knowledge of safety in a variety of situations, rope access skills and ability to spot when I needed to get out and warm up were vital in making the programs work. In addition we had a safety boat for every sea swim and good communication among the team as to my condition at any point. I would certainly not recommend trying to recreate any of the swims I did under the same weather conditions, without support.

I hope the series can inspire you to swim a little wilder, maybe even longer through the year, and also come to Scotland: we’re spoilt for variety up here.

To explore the swims in this series yourself, visit Calum’s Wild swim collection. One omission from the collection is Rubislaw Quarry in Aberdeen which is fenced off and permission and access was sought from the owner.

Dhan Uisge started on BBC ALBA, Wednesday 23rd May. It runs for eight episodes, all available on iPlayer after broadcast. All programs in Scottish Gaelic with English subtitles.

Photos: Alasdair Maclean