“The Borders Big Four ” This long distance wild swim consists of four of the largest lochs in the Scottish Borders. Swam together they are a little under 11 miles of breath taking beauty… Swimming them all in one day is a stiff test for any hardcore wild swimmer.
Years ago, the infamous duo of Kenny Short and my uncle Micky Lyons, two very good swimmers, introduced me to wild swimming and I instantly loved it, racing up and down the Barnes loch on a Wednesday night during the summer was fun, took me outdoors and kept me fit to boot… triple win !
Soon I was looking to go longer and arrived at Alemoor one sunny Saturday afternoon. It was the perfect size for a hard evenings training. Roughly 2500m up and down made it just the perfect distance to allow you to go full out, stumbling up the bank at the end with shoulders and a chest like Tarzan, and arms like Cheetah ?
Eventually I ventured further and started to try end to end swims on all the larger Borders Reservoirs and lochs. It was all new to me back then, a huge adventure that was taking me to places I had never been and in my own back yard !! . It was a pleasure to swim up these beautiful virgin lochs and I slowly traveled across the Scottish Borders swimming the full official list of reservoirs and worthwhile lochs. I have a style, something important to me in that I try to swim a loch by entering from the stream that feeds the loch, then across the loch as centrally as possible, trying to follow the direction that nature originally intended. This probably means nothing to most other wild swimmers but to me it’s my best style and it keeps the spectral disorders at bay ? In addition to this I like to swim the big ones solo, my mind goes to a special place where time and miles just disappear. It is a peaceful state of bliss that I rarely find in my normal life and definitely not my work !!! <3 😀
In my humble opinion the best and my favorite swims of all the Borders lochs are the Fruid, Talla, Megget and St.Marys. These are “The Borders BIG Four” nestled in the land of wild swim paradise! All are exceptionally fresh and clear reservoirs surrounded by big hills and beautiful countryside. What self respecting wild swimmer wouldn’t want to swim here I ask. And luckily for me they are all easily accessible from my home.Back in 2015 I planned to swim them all in one day and run between them making it one continuous trial. I planned it out, set a date, then BOOM! my recurring shoulder Injury put paid to that attempt when it gave in again the week prior and lead to surgery number three!! capital F for Frustrating!! I am nothing if not patient and enduring so eventually I planned again to do it in September 2019. The diving was so good that year that I couldn’t find enough time to do diving and train ? This year though, even in the ill-fated mess of 2020 I had thought it might be the perfect year.
I entered the 7.5-mile Epic Events chill-swim event, The Ullswater end to end race along with my friends Bongo and Deeks. We all agreed to train together regularly to prepare as seven and a half miles is a distance worthy of respect and a little extra training certainly wouldn’t do any harm. … 2020’s old friend the Covid-19 virus appeared before we even got going and threw a spanner right in the works for a while. Thankfully only temporarily as luckily Alemoor isn’t very far away. We didn’t have to wait too long before being able to access it without travel restriction.
Training eventually started and we regularly notched up the miles, I embarked on a few long ones across the Megget and a fun rough weather swim on St Marys, this interspersed with some hard and fast sprint sessions up and down Alemoor. My uncle Mick is the pace man, he is like a wind up bath toy ! just point him in the right direction and whoosh he leaves a wake up the Loch, machine !! Things were going well in 2020, shoulder was strong .. I had started to consider the Borders big Four again, even planned an early attempt but weather blew it off. I added a few trail miles here and there with Frank as I was considering the non-stop solo again. Training continued and I was getting fitter. During one solid swim up the Megget I thought of the Big Four again, fuck it !! let’s do it soon. I considered my options and after speaking to Stuart Deeks one afternoon about it we decided to do it together, self-supported and in ethical style although we would wear wetsuits and use my van and Stuarts four-wheel drive to shuttle rather than run between, it was cool by me ?
5am Sunday morning saw me leave Denholm, van loaded and heading to meet Stuart up on the A7 just after Hawick. First stop was the Fruid. We arrived to find a beautiful morning , we changed, shuttled the van and started at the inlet stream before swimming a central line for the dam. The water was fresh and the miles seemed to disappear quickly as we rapidly approached the dam. I was slightly nervous about the dam section on the Fruid, my last visit saw me encounter very strange currents which I am not afraid to admit had me very worried, especially as I was swimming solo. Thankfully we didn’t get sucked down any big holes so job was a good un!!
Off to the Talla! This is a beautiful valley and the swim up the loch is especially scenic and enjoyable, this morning though it was blowing a gale and with the huge waves that were forming it was an exciting swim, it felt like a stormy North Sea. This helped pass the time though pushing us along nicely too and soon we were at the end jumping in the van heading for the Megget with almost 5 mile of swimming under our belts already ?
The Megget is without doubt my favorite loch of the four. The mighty Megget I like to call it because when the wind gets up the waves formed here are far bigger than any of the other four. It is the loch where I have had so many amazing times while camping there in my van. I have solo swam it end to end more than any loch and fallen off a SUP into its waves many many times. It was the first of the two longer swims, nearly 3 miles long and after almost 5 miles of swimming already in the bank it was a thought to look to the end which seemed so far away but onward we had to go. Summoning our fortitude and with heads down and arms churning the distance shrank every time I sighted ahead. My mind was full of good Megget memories and soon I was walking up towards the van at the end, only one loch left.
Finally Stuart and I rocked up to St Marys, the finall loch of the four. No doubting its a beautiful loch but not my favourite swim, it’s got headlands that never seem to end and I am always very glad to see the finish. Psychologically it was a nasty one for me to finish on but we were finally here, number four of the Big Four. Heads down and we got to the business of finishing the challenge , one that had seemed such a huge task at the start but now had only 3 miles left to go , lets have it!! fuck yeah !!!! My arms were still strong and I had developed a head full of crazy thoughts, elated then unhappy and extremely bored of swimming, I jumped between these but always knowing that at the end I had finally completed something I had wanted to do for years. We reached the beach that marked the end of our long day, satisfied, tired and hungry but we sat there a while laughing and congratulating each other. Happy days the Borders Big Four was ours and at just under 11 miles of swimming across breathtaking countryside and sparkling lochs we deserved our dinner. Happy days and thank you very much indeed Scottish Borders. <3 your a star !
A great challenge and one that maybe next year I will return to solo and run between each loch … maybe next year ….. maybe! 😀
Top drawer day locked away in the memory bank my friend, to dine on in later life