I managed a few swims whilst on Knoydart. Inverie Bay is safe area to swim with no nasty currents so I was able to start off with a few swims up and down the Long Beach when the tide was in. However if the tide is out due to the gently shelving intertidal zone there is a long walk to get to deep enough water to swim, in fact my plan to swim from the slipway just east of the site of the old pier to the beach would be a relatively short swim of 500 m at low tide.
My primary purpose was to work on the Rhodie Bashing with the rest of the John Muir Trust volunteers but swimming in the early part of the week was easy to fit in as high tide was early morning/evening and a good way to start and finish the day. As the week progressed so of course did the time of the tides and it was more difficult. The stormy weather plus the run off of water from the hills (there was a lot of rain!) churned up the water in the bay so once again I found an excuse for not swimming front crawl when I did get in the sea. My fellow volunteers were guaranteed to come up with suitable comments such as “What , you are not going swimming today ...you wimp” but I had help from Anke getting my wet suit off when I did go in. She also commented that I swam quite fast until I pointed out that I had been wind assisted. I had hoped that retired submariner, James, would be able to give me a few tips for swimming front crawl but he told me that he had never really cracked swimming more than a few strokes.
No-one offered to join me but on Thursday night a meal at the Old Forge (great pub, up for sale if anyone has a spare £750,000) was planned for the whole group and t’other James (retired meteorologist) agreed to take a bag of clothes down to the pub for 7 p.m. so I could swim over from the campsite and get a shower at the pub before the meal. Great plan, pity about the execution. High tide was at about 8.10pm. I wanted to allow about an hour for the swim but as the tide rose so did the wind (from the west i.e. I would be swimming against it) as did the height of the waves. The sea looked grey and there were a few white horses further out. I finally decided to start at 5.45 but had to walk at for about 200m before I could start swimming and even then I kept hitting the bottom. I was swimming in a straight line across the bay from the cabin at the campsite to the Old Church (converted to a house). Front crawl was impossible, back only marginally better and I failed miserably to get into a regular rhythm. I managed a few strokes then was swamped by a wave, stopped, drifted back before trying few more strokes. I inched past Inverie House and the white cottages next to it, the church appeared a little closer and I spotted a large rock on the shore which was a good reference point. I felt tired and dispirited but was determined to keep going if only those damned waves would let up! I swam ten strokes, stopped, looked to see if the rock was any closer, no it wasn’t. I don’t know how long I kept this up but was then joined by a seal that kept popping up around me. I became aware that I was tiring, getting cold and was making no progress unlike the seal who swam, well like a seal. I decided that I wasn’t going to make the church. I also realised that not only were the wind and waves were against me but of course so was the incoming tide. I turned towards the shore, also seeing at this point the figure of Sandy Maxwell (co-ordinator of the work parties) standing on the shore. This was very comforting. What I hadn’t realised was just how far from the shore I was. My hood felt restrictive as did the rest of my wet suit and I just wanted to take the whole lot off. I tried to let the waves carry me a bit but this was taking too long, I wondered (idly) if Sandy had a rope...and if he did would I be able to catch it. In fact it probably only took a couple of minutes to get to the shore but this was about 5 minutes too long! Sandy as ever had just the right thing about him to rescue one of his stricken volunteers...2 pairs of socks. These helped my cold feet and the problem of crossing about 2 metres of brambly ground that formed a barrier between the rocky shore and the road. I donned the socks as Sandy went in search of James and my clothes and shoes and I hobbled to the road where James arrived very shortly after.
|The slipway an Inverie bay on a previous occasion which makes my day look positively balmy|
I was tired, very cold and dispirited but cheered up when I found that in fact I was closer to the Church than I thought and the Church was only about 100m short of the slipway. The conditions had been bad, I had been in the water for about 45 minutes swimming against both the wind and tide and although had only gone about 400-500metres I had learnt a lot and knew what I needed to do to complete the whole distance.
I had a rest from swimming the next couple of days being a bit scunnered with swimming on Friday and spending the whole of Saturday away with Carole and Alan Scott climbing Ben Aden on the best day of the whole week. This was their last Corbett (mountain over 2500ft but lower than 3000ft) and although a bit if trek (assisted by a boat down Loch Nevis) the reward of the views from the summit was well worth it. However I also had time to consider a better formed plan to swim from the slipway to the cabin. This would involve taking time off from the last day of the work party at late morning (high tide) and swimming within 50 metres of the shore rather than the straight line. This would mean that if I did tire I would be in easy reach of safety and avoid the need of having a “beach buddy” I would also start with the tide and finish at slack water.
Sunday morning was near perfect, sunshine, blue skies and no waves! I set out at approximately 09.45. I tried front crawl but immediately ran out of puff, turned on my back and positively raced from the slipway (tide assisted) the Church seemed to take a little longer to pass and then I was heading for the big rock again, enjoying the rainbows the sun was making in the water I created with my strokes. The big rock again took a bit to pass but I had cottoned on to the fact that this was perspective and due to being a little further out at this point. At one stage I thought I heard someone shouting, I stopped, trod water but couldn’t see anyone on the shore or road so continued. Later I found out that some of my fellow volunteers had been shouting “encouraging” words of abuse at me as they were making their way to the boat that was taking them to Mallaig. I put it down to jealousy! My nosey seal (was it common or grey, I think the latter) did not reappear. I swam aground by mistake as I rounded the end of the (defunct) old sewer pipe at Inverie House, then was on the home strait to the cabin. No-one was at the campsite and I didn’t find out the time until a bit later but I reckon it had taken about 40-45 minutes for the 1km. A bit slow and I was assisted by tide to begin with but morale boosting all the same particularly as I felt that I could swim straight back!
I now have 133 swim days left before my swim. I know I can do the distance in good conditions, I need to improve my stroke (and get onto front crawl) have a few more rough water days to get more confidence in poorer (more likely) conditions. 2 weeks ago I could barely go 50 metres so I am feeling a lot more positive and have an increasing number of pledges plus lots of verbal encouragement.