In our series that hears from people who love Scotland's great outdoors, Mark Majury, a consultant radiologist at RAH Paisley, reveals his joy of wild swimming in Scottish lochs, even in winter. His adventures are enjoyed with his wife Taransay and their two sons.
Mark writes: It’s mid January and I’m standing at the waterline on a small beach on the northern shore of Loch Venacher. I take another deep breath, drinking in the silence and check the thermometer on my watch. It reads: Air temperature 0°C and water temperature 4°C.
The hills surrounding me are snow covered and the air is still and crisp. Everything around me is frosty and silent, with my breathing creates a fine fog in front of my face.
There are three words that describe my feelings: Peace, freedom and, as we say in Scotland, baltic!
Then, suddenly, my revery is broken by a splash in the water. I look over to my right and the boys are throwing stones in the water. They’re so wrapped up that only their eyes are showing between hat and scarf.
Taransay looks over at me with that bemused expression that says, “You’re an idiot. It’s freezing.” But, there’s also pride and encouragement there.
I slip my goggles over my head. I’m wearing my wetsuit but it’s little comfort as I step out into the near freezing water. As always my thoughts transition from: “Ah, that’s not too bad actually” to “wow that’s cold” and then “oh dear, what have I done?” as the level passes my waist and shoulders respectively and the water finds the gap that all wetsuits seem to have at the back of the neck.
But then I’m floating and not far from the shore. I can see the boys playing and Taransay is taking a few pictures on her phone but the only sound that comes is the lapping of the water.
I lie back and look at the hills and the snow as I acclimatise to the cold temperature. I’ve learned over the years that I’ve done this that taking a few extra minutes here, getting used to the feel of the water and allowing my body to adapt, makes the actual swim better.
So, I relax. Breathe. Take it all in. I can already feel the endorphins kicking in. This is why I do this. The sense of freedom and release are almost instant. Gone are the stresses of work and the worries of life that I brought in the car with me. It’s just me, the loch and the hills. I’m completely in the moment.
I start my watch and begin to stroke out into the loch. The first few breaths still catch as I get used to the final bits of my skin being submerged in the cold water but I quickly find my rhythm.
Choosing a nice distinctive peak in the distance as my reference point I swim out, aiming to complete around 1km today so it’s a simple out and back. I stay within sight of the beach for safety as things can always change quickly in the cold water but I have no issues as I go.
As always, when swimming solo, I’ve got my tow float strapped to my back so I’m confident that if anything does go sideways I can buy some time and float back to shore.
There’s no wind today and the water is calm and glassy. It’s a beautiful day and the sense of freedom is heightened by my surroundings. I reach the half way point and take a moment to float and look around before turning back.
There’s a few wisps of cloud and I can see the black dots of some climbers on the Ben Ledi path. Ben Venue lies off to the west and Achray forest to the south. It’s a perfect moment and there really is no place like it.
I take in one last big gasp of winter air, submerge into the black water and power back to shore.
I’m greeted with cheers, laughter and applause from my family as I stagger out over the stones back onto the shore. I quickly throw on my Dryrobe, attempt to strip the freezing wetsuit off and pull on dry clothes with numb fingers.
The Kelly Kettle was prepped before heading out so it’s easily lit and piping hot before I’m even changed. I pour out the hot chocolate into mugs and we all crowd around the small fire bowl for a little relief from the cold. Holding the steaming mug in both hands I sip the sweet drink and feel warmth spreading back into my bones.
There’s a huge grin on my face. I could not be happier... Until of course my oldest pulls out the extra marshmallows. Bliss.