Some people make fun of the term ‘wild swimming’ but, given that so much of Scotland is spectacularly wild, if ever there was a place to use this term, it’s here. For most people, it’s really more a case of wild dipping, screeching and then delighting in having immersed themselves in Scotland’s chilling but totally exhilarating waters. If you are up for the challenge on one of our walking or cycling holidays, check out our top wild swimming spots in Scotland.
Swimming along the West Highland Way
The West Highland Way, walkable in ten days, covers 154km between Milngavie, just north of Glasgow, to Fort William. One of the most celebrated places for wild swimming here is in Loch Lomond, which is a sight for happy eyes as you walk through Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. There is a section between Drymen and Rowardennan that takes you to Balmaha on the shores of the loch where you can take a dip. However, by walking on another couple of kilometres, you come to Milarrochy Bay, a perfect plunge spot.
If you crave a waterfall swim, then there’s a beauty just 3km outside Inverarnan on the way to Tyndrum called the Falls of Falloch. This is at the start of your walking day, so fill your flask with coffee and get some cake in Invernarnan, where you stay the night before so that you can warm up after the chills, shrills and thrills of the cascade.
Swimming along the Great Glen Way
If you love a loch, the Great Glen Way is for you, with Loch Lochy, Loch Linnhe, Loch Oich and Loch Ness lapping alongside you as you hike the 118km trail between Fort William in the west to Inverness in the east through the Great Glen Valley. So, no shortage of dipping diversions on this holiday then. One of the favourites for water sports enthusiasts is Loch Linnhe, a tidal sea loch at the foot of Ben Nevis, so it’s quite something lying on your back with a view of Scotland’s big Ben. And one of the popular access points is at the small beach in Fort William itself. Loch Ness is iconic, of course, but it also has a lot of boat traffic and, given its size, the wind can play havoc.
Swimming on the Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides archipelago and a bit like a microcosm of the mainland’s natural highlights, with its lochs, rugged peninsulas and valleys wrapped around the foothills of its mountainous interior. The Skye Trail covers most of Skye’s length and passes through the best hiking areas of the island, including the Black and Red Cuillin, Trotternish Ridge and Loch Coruisk. Along this route you have some swimming havens too, such as the Torrin Pools, just outside the small town of Torrin. They are off the beaten track, so, in true wild swimming style, just ask in the town for directions. Small, peaty presents for any water lover, there is a series of pools climbing up the hill, so give yourself some extra time if you want to explore more.
The Sligachan River is another lively spot along the Skye Trail for a dip, and one of our hotel options is located right on the river at Sligachan Bridge. If you follow the water up from the bridge, there’s a multitude of swimming holes just waiting to be dipped into. If you’re really together, you can have a splash before breakfast while taking in views of the Cuillin Mountains from the water. If there has been a lot of rain and the river is fast flowing, it’s best to pass on this one. Another option is at Elgol on the shores of Loch Scavaig, where you also spend a night, where you can take a dip in at Elgol Bay. It’s a stony but stunning one.
On our Walking on the Isle of Skye holiday, where you dip in and out of the main Coast to Coast Trail, you also get to dip in and out of the island’s most famous swimming spot, the Fairy Pools. An icy blue collection of pools at the foot of the Black Cuillins, they have been formed over the centuries by the River Brittle. Be warned though, they lose their fairy vibe when the Instagrammers hit the hills, and they have become very well-known over the last few years through social media. So get in early in the day if possible. This holiday also takes you to Sligachan, as mentioned above so you have many other options.
Swimming on the Rob Roy Way
Named after Robert MacGregor, an infamously wild clan man from the 18th century, the 150km Rob Roy Way has all the wildness but a lot more serenity than its namesake. As the trail starts in Drymen, near Loch Lomond, you get to benefit from some loch swimming at the very start of this tour, with various more Highland treats to come. Such as Loch Ard, a freshwater loch about 5km west of Aberfoyle, where you spend a night on this tour, although it’s a diversion from your main route. A worthwhile one though, even if it does mean adding an extra day to your itinerary.
You also spend a night in Callandar on this holiday and, just one kilometre out of town, you will discover Bracklinn Falls, which catch the sunshine most of the day so they retain some heat in summer. And then, for a grand finale of swims, Loch Lubnaig is very popular with serious outdoor swimming on your walk between Callander and Strathyre. With views of Benvane, Ben Vorlich and Ben Ledi and, unlike many of the lochs, a relatively sandy beach to swim off from if you start near the car park off A84. There’s also a great hot chocolate to be had at The Cabin cafe.
Always put safety first when wild swimming. This means going in slowly, letting your body adapt gently to the change in temperature, and never swimming alone. Also, always check the weather forecast, especially for wind which could whip up the water unexpectedly. If you want to swim a bit of a distance, make sure you have a tow float, a bright hat and always steer clear of anglers. For more details, see the safety guidelines from RNLI.
You can also dip into some of our other Scotland blogs about walking and cycling in one of our favourite parts of the world for natural adventures. We have everything you need to know about the Great Glen Way, a round-up of the Best hikes in Scotland and How to deal with midges in Scotland. And you may come across a few of those when wild swimming. We also highly recommend the book, Swimming Wild in Scotland, by Alice Goodridge. If you have had any spectacular swimming experiences while on our adventure holidays in Scotland, do please share with us on social media via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.