Take a dip into Scottish waters: The ultimate introduction to wild swimming

Let’s not kid ourselves, here: Scotland is an incredibly wet place. But we’re not just talking about dreich rainy days.  

Our stunning little country is home to more than 31,000 freshwater lochs. We’ve also got 11 major rivers, dozens of tributaries and over 150 waterfalls. Toss in a whopping 6,160 miles of gorgeous coastline, and you’re starting to get the idea: we’ve got a lot of water. 

That’s part of the reason Scotland has rapidly risen to become the top spot on every wild swimmer’s bucket list.  

But if you’re new to wild swimming and wondering how you can get involved, don’t worry. You don’t have to be a professional swimmer to enjoy Scotland’s wild waters.  

There’s a special swimming location for everybody here in Scotland – and Stirling itself is a treasure-trove of secret swimming spots. But before we divulge some of those secrets, let’s talk basics.  

This guide will walk you through what wild swimming is, why it’s so popular, important safety information you need to know and the top wild swimming spots in Stirling and the surrounding area.

What is wild swimming? 

First thing’s first: what exactly is “wild swimming”? You’ve probably heard it mentioned loads in the news and on social media over the past couple of years – but the truth is, wild swimming is a whole lot simpler than it sounds. 

For all intents and purposes, wild swimming is just when you go swimming outdoors in a natural pool of water. If it’s not man-made and you’re outside, it counts as wild swimming. You may also hear people referring to it as “open water swimming”, but both terms mean the exact same thing. 

Translation: swimming pools and fancy jacuzzies don’t fit the bill. We’re talking about swimming in a loch, pond, in the bend of a river, rock pool, the sea or anywhere in between. 

Why go wild swimming? 

Study after study has proven that open water swimming offers incredible health benefits. Taking a dip outdoors boosts dopamine and serotonin levels and stimulates the release of feel-good endorphins, improving your mood.  

Wild swimming is also an easy and affordable hobby. It gives you an excuse to venture away from your mobile phone and explore the beautiful (and often rugged) terrain right outside your front door. 

That said, there are a few important things you’ve got to bear in mind when wild swimming – especially where safety is concerned. 

What should you know before going wild swimming? 

Wild swimming is an activity you need to enjoy responsibly. Make sure you understand how to wild swim safely and do your homework on safe spots within your ability.  

If you run into trouble in the middle of a beautiful highland loch, there’s no lifeguard to wave at for help. You need to be a proficient swimmer, and you should choose wild swimming spots based on your ability. This means if you’ve not done much swimming in the last couple of years, you shouldn’t be trying to swim across the Sound of Gigha. Stick with shallow and calm water pools that have minimal currents. 

Even experienced swimmers can run into trouble under the wrong set of circumstances. Always check the weather, be aware of your abilities on the day and avoid flooded areas (as these can often host unwelcome and unpredictable currents). Likewise, always check the tide schedule if you’re swimming along a coastline. 

Professionals also recommend that you never swim alone. If you’re keen to try out wild swimming, take a friend. Even better, join a local or regional outdoor swimming club with experienced wild swimmers who can show you the ropes and teach you all the necessary safety precautions you should take before getting in the water. 

Next, you’ve got to be super careful jumping or diving into natural waterways. You should always check for depth and obstructions prior to hopping in. 

You’ve also got to consider safety gear. Wild swimming isn’t a hobby you need to invest a lot of money in – but there are a few basic hazards you can avoid with the proper gear.  

For example, one of the most common ways you can get injured while wild swimming is slipping on rocks. This can often be avoided with a basic set of water shoes. It’s also recommended you wear a coloured swimming hat to make sure that other swimmers (and passing boats) can always see you clearly. 

Wild swimming in the UK is bracing and exciting – but it’s also often super cold. Always test the temperature of the water before hopping in to avoid cold-shock. Don’t spend too long in a cold body of water to avoid developing a condition like hypothermia. 

This is where the right gear comes in handy. A thermal wetsuit will help to insulate you from much of the cold so that you can enjoy swimming outdoors for longer periods of time. But even then, you need to be aware of your environment and listen to what your body is telling you. 

For more professional tips on safe wild swimming, check out the RNLI website. Remember: your safety is nothing to play around with, and so you’ve got to take it seriously. 

You shouldn’t let any of this put you off giving wild swimming a go! It’s an incredibly fun and adventurous way to enjoy nature, get in shape and calm your mind.  

Fortunately for you, Stirling has got loads of stunning wild swimming spots that are ideal for both newcomers and experienced swimmers alike. 

What are the best wild swimming spots around Stirling? 

You’ve probably heard people say that Stirling is like its own miniature Scotland, right? We’ve got loads of castles, lochs, mountains, distilleries, forests, cultural hubs, unique shopping and amazing restaurants to boot. 

Bearing all that in mind, it should hardly surprise you that some of the best wild swimming spots in Scotland are located right here in Stirlingshire. To help you get started, here are five of our favourites:

1. Rob Roy’s Bathtub 

Rumoured to be a regular bathing spot of the Scottish outlaw-turned-folk hero, Rob Roy’s Bathtub is a large and deep pool located right below the Falls of Falloch. 

This beauty spot is just along the A82 between Crianlarich and the northern tip of Loch Lomond, and it offers enough room to accommodate a large group of swimmers. If you’re an experienced swimmer and can handle cold temperatures, the pool is deep enough in most areas for you to dive in from one of the rocky outcrops above. 

When you’re in need of a warm, crackling fire after your cool dip, there are some excellent traditional pubs nearby. 

2. Paradise Pools 

Located on Sherrifmuir, the Paradise Pools are a series of small pools located just past the Dumyat hill overlooking the University of Stirling campus.  

The spot is known locally as the “Devil’s Bucket”, but it provides a fantastic and serene wild swimming location for families or less experienced wild swimmers. The largest pool is fairly deep, and big enough to accommodate multiple paddlers. 

Meanwhile, if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s a natural rockslide that cascades down into the water that’s a lot of fun.

3. Loch Venachar 

Nestled in the hills just outside of Callander, Loch Venachar is one of the most beautiful (and overlooked) lochs in the Trossachs. 

Unlike some of the bigger highland lochs, Loch Venachar is crystal clear with soft currents – meaning it’s ideal for families and those trying out wild swimming for the first time. Loch Venachar is also a popular spot with kayakers and paddle boarders, so be sure to wear something bright so that everyone will see you while in the water.  

When you’re all done paddling, there are a couple of fantastic restaurants both on the water’s edge, as well as in nearby Brig o’Turk. 

4. Loch Ard 

If you’re not keen on the cold but still want a taste of wild swimming, Loch Ard is normally going to be one of your best bets.  

Located near Aberfoyle, Loch Ard is a small freshwater loch that isn’t as deep as some of the surrounding bodies of water (which means it heats up faster on a warm day). There are also no motor boats allowed on Loch Ard, which makes it a lot safer for swimmers looking to take a dip in the water. 

In addition to wild swimming, Loch Ard is also a great place for walking and taste of history. You can still find the ruins of a 13th century castle on the loch’s southern shores, and the Loch Ard Sculpture Trail features more than 16 miles of fascinating works of art alongside beautiful views.

5. The Lake of Menteith 

Based just outside of Stirling on the road between Thornhill and Aberfoyle, the Lake of Menteith is one of the most serene wild swimming spots in Scotland. 

The Lake of Menteith is also often referred to locally as “Loch Inchmahome” because it plays home to a small island that features the ruins of an ancient monastery: the Inchmahome Priory. A young Mary, Queen of Scots once took refuge inside of that monastery, and you can still visit its ruins today. 

The Lake of Menteith is a lot quieter than many of the surrounding lochs, and there are several carparks nearby. This makes it pretty accessible, and there are quite a few great points of entry for you to wade in and embrace the cold. 

These five swimming spots are just the tip of the iceberg. Stirlingshire plays home to a wide variety of lochs and unique waterways that are ideal for wild swimming. Make sure you do your research and take all the necessary safety precautions before you go to enjoy outdoor swimming safely. 

So, are you ready to dive in and try out some of our top wild swimming spots? 

To discover more about studying at Stirling and what makes it special visit our website.  

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