We had by then smoked so many joints that I missed a turning or maybe even two 😀 arriving at Kinloch Rannoch instead. So on a whim as we were almost there anyway decided to visit the infamous Rannoch station because of its legendary Trainspotting fame. My distant memory of that fabulous drug enhanced journey up the loch-side to the train station that day was years later to be the catalyst of my return late last winter with a good friend and my paddle board. Paddling up the loch that sunny November morning I rediscovered its attraction, enough to make me think again of considering the infamous Rannoch crossing which in turn lead to my journey across it on a Paddle Board earlier this year. Now that was a set of life’s connections right there ! How our future is built by our experience never ceases to amaze me as we we unknowingly lay the foundation of our future through the building blocks of our past. Fuck me that is deep 😀
During the Rannoch crossing I paddled across loch Rannoch in the blazing heat and after a hard night fighting it out on Rannoch moor and later Loch Laidon I had to regularly take a quick swim in its fetching embrace (Brrrrr) to both cool down and at times stay awake. I knew then that I wanted to return and swim the length of it, hopefully before winter. At 10 miles long it would be a solid test of my endurance and sensibility dictated that I should wait until after my 7.5 mile Ullswater end to end race and use that as a build up to the 10 miles of Loch Rannoch. Patience is a great virtue, one bestowing itself better as I get older.
However it has been a funny old year and as what is the new normal of 2020, the Ullswater end to end race didn’t happen the way it was intended. We arrived to find the race cancelled only 20 minutes before our arrival due to dangerous conditions caused by very strong winds and powerful waves on the lake.
Big waves do not deter a Scotsman as we would never get any training done if waiting for good conditions 😀 So as we were in the vicinity we decided to swim the unofficial Ullswater end to end fun swim 😀 It is a very busy lake with motor boats and even Jet skis on there, not to mention paddle boarders, kayakers, fishermen and even old peeps paddling at the side. Lovely scenery though and as is typical of the lake district no bloody parking. However it held a unique experience, one of difficult temperature regulation rather than swimming endurance but that’s another story…. Fuck I was cold 😀 😀
I really enjoyed our Ullswater swim and I was very keen to get to Loch Rannoch. The perfect forecast fell only a week later and I felt fit, didn’t have any niggles from the week before and was in a good place mentally so Frank and I set off from home late on the Friday night heading for the Schiehallion car park.
The plan for Saturday was to wait for the sun to get high in the sky which would help warm the lochs surface slightly and hopefully myself in it. Maybe it was all psychological but I like to think I have all the cards in my favour. I was hoping for a time somewhere between 5 and 6 hours so Midday would be as late as I would be comfortable with to allow plenty time in the water before the sun started to go down. This left Frank and I a chance in the morning to take a brisk walk up one of the finest hills in Scotland…. Schiehallion!
We arrived at the Schiehallion car park quite late and there was only one van, result!! I thought it might be very busy given the sunny forecast. However 6am the next morning the first car arrived and soon the car park was mobbed ! I dragged myself out of bed and cooked a light brekkie for Frank and I before we set off up the hill. Its a really nice mountain , accessible for everyone with a lovely path to follow right up to a rocky Summit with a fantastic view. We set a pace though as I wanted to be ready loch-side bang on midday. The weather was like peak summer and the sun was beating down from early morning although as we progressed up the mountain the chilly wind forced my coat out the bag.
Frank as always was up front waiting for me at every rise and soon we were summiting. I could see the full length of Loch Rannoch and beyond to the Rannoch moor. It was amazing to see almost the entire route of the Rannooch crossing before me , the terrain that I had travelled through was awesome !! and it truly put a scale to it that I could never imagine from water level. I smiled smugly remembering the toil of that 24 hours and the satisfaction of seeing the van.
No time to waste on the summit though and we headed quickly off. Soon we were back at the van. I started to get the food into me that would fuel me across the loch. Many will laugh but I really do like to fuel up with a pot noodle or two, they carried me across deserts in the Sahara and Gobi so don’t mock 😀 Later on though I had the KIND bars and my favourite Bounty bars at the ready.
We headed for the west end of Loch Rannoch where the river feeds in only to find that I was being forced into a change of plan. I would not be able to swim from the west where the natural watercourse lay due to the very slight wind. Loch Rannoch is 10 miles long and almost straight which means the wind travels the loch almost unbroken. Meaning that the phenomena of fetch causes large waves to form with even the tiniest of breezes, making the last few miles very hard work. I encountered this same problem on the Rannoch Crossing that day I didn’t have the option to swap ends and was forced to my knees, hugging the bank for a couple of miles until the waves dissipated enough to get going properly. This day thankfully was different.
I headed back to Kinloch Rannoch the way we had came and parked up on the east side in front of the beach, my last minute change of plan meant that hitching back was my only option as I was swimming away from Kinloch Rannoch not finishing there as I had intended. I don’t worry about things like that as they always work out, outdoor people never see each other stuck, ever! You can guarantee someone will stop to help you and Loch Rannoch is a mecca of campers, fishermen, walkers and canoe/paddle boarders so I would be fine.
Midday came and I bade farewell to Frank who after his morning Schiehallion adventures would no doubt snooze the rest of the day away in the van. I looked up the loch and could see the mountains in the distance marking the end, they looked very small but I was undeterred. I slipped into the water, heading out in a straight line towards where my next stop would be, the western shore 10 miles away. I found my pace, sank into a nice rhythm and went into my headspace. This is what I truly enjoy about endurance and being on my own, the undisturbed peace of my own head and the shit that’s in it 😀
Very rarely do I rewrite anything on the blog unless it is to correct a fact but this time I have had a respected friend comment that there appears to be 9 miles of the story missing?, so thought I would explain. The fact is that this is exactly the way it is in my head. When I go into my long distance solo swimming headspace it is like a trance state, one of almost deep meditation, every stroke the same, breathe first left then three strokes later breathe on the right… repeat. My head goes to a special place, one of deep thought and where time is very different.
I’m thinking of everything from existential life defining questions to working out manageable mathematical formulae, filling the void of time and expertly combatting the boredom of repetitiveness, yet I very rarely have a recollection of it. Large chunks of time are gone unless I actively take mental snapshots and Loch Rannoch as beautiful as it is, was also very straight. No sighting of headlands to remember or dog leg vistas changing in front of me just one big centre line and I sank deeply into my head. I think in 8 miles I stopped one time and only because I thought I should eat something. Bored yet ? ? Ok on with the story 😀
The time and miles went in quickly and soon I had the Eilean Nam Faoileag in sight. This is a small Island with a stone built tower. It is in the middle a little short of 9 miles into the swim. An old refuge and latter prison built in the 19th century by a local Baron. I decided to pay a visit and see it up close for myself. I sighted for the small tower on the horizon and put the head down. For a while despite the effort I was putting in I just didn’t seem to be getting any closer, I started to get the impression that I was swimming on a treadmill 😀 This is what happens without being in the headspace, the reality of long distance swimming becomes clear, its slow going and you notch away at the distance in tiny increments of time and distance, once you start becoming aware of this its like your a slug racing a cheetah .. your going nowhere fast …
It felt a long time coming but as everyhing long distance you have got to keep grinding and eventually I was climbing out the loch and standing on the shore, the tower looming high above me. Its a room with a view for sure but I wouldn’t fancy being imprisoned there much in the winter. While I was topside I grabbed some heat from the sun, it was toasty and in my black rubber suit I wasn’t long heating back up. I could have stayed in the sun forever but the end was now in sight with just over a mile left to the western shore.
A bounty bar later and I was back in the water putting the hammer down. I was tiring but still strong, my pacing had been good and I was now buzzing to reach the finish. I hit the shore a happy man. I had a brief ten minutes soaking it all in before I headed for the road . A single van later and Alec from Motherwell and his mate had picked me up after stopping for no reason but to ask me what I had been doing. They kindly took me straight to my own van with a dose of Glasgow banter thrown in for good measure . I was happy to be greeted by Frank who waiting patiently in the van having had his daily dose of ZZZzzzzzzzsss 😀
Job done and notch another one up against 2020.
not quite 10 miles … but I am over these things 😀