Main image – Loch Coire an Lochain, Braeriach
The Cairngorms National Park is a wild swimmers paradise. Famous for having some of the
cleanest rivers in Europe and many stunning lochs and lochans, I am certainly spoilt for choice
when it comes to swimming opportunities on my doorstep.
Embracing the snow and ice of a Cairngorms winter, I swim all year round, enjoying luscious long
swims in the summer and short bracing dips in the colder months. I find that I have learned to love
the cold. I crave the cold. I even seek the cold.
When the low-level lochs start to warm up, crowds inevitably flock to popular loch-side hot spots to
enjoy water sports and stunning mountain views. At this time, I feel a magnetic pull, drawing me
higher up into the mountains in search of escape, adventure and cold, quiet water to swim in.
LOCH COIRE AN LOCHAIN, BRAERIACH
Descending from the summit of Braeriach, my stomach churns with excitement as I peer down to
catch my first glimpse of Loch Coire an Lochain. A few more steps, and there it is, a dark,
glistening body of water emerging from the steep-sided coire in front of me. I stop for a minute and
drink in the spectacular view, watching the patterns of light and wind dance across the water’s
Nestled in Braeriachs’ Northern Corries, Loch Coire an Lochain is a hidden jewel among mountain
lochs. Remote, rarely visited, and surrounded by large snow patches (even in the middle of
summer), it is one of the highest named stretches of water in the British Isles at around 1000m
above sea level.
Reaching the water’s edge, I change into my swim kit (costume, hat, goggles, neoprene socks and
gloves) and stand at the water’s edge, giddy with anticipation. As soon as I step into the water, I feel
the needle-sharp chill of the snowmelt water on my skin. I focus on my breath, moving slowly and
carefully forwards into the loch until I am fully submerged.
At first, the cold feels all-consuming, but the feeling turns into a pleasant numbness across my
entire body after a couple of minutes. I take another deep breath and look around. Underwater
visibility is exceptional. The water is crystal clear, and the deeper areas appear a stunning sapphire
I spend a while exploring the magical underwater world, diving deep down into the blue and
marvelling at the perfect clarity of the water. Then, I float on my back, look up at the blue sky and
watch the clouds drift by.
I get out of the water and turn back to face the magnificent coire. The wind hits me, and my whole
body tingles with the cold. I feel totally alive.
STAYING SAFE IN MOUNTAIN ENVIRONMENTS
• To consider swimming in remote mountain lochs, you need to be a competent hill walker
with experience in mountain environments. Navigation skills and the correct equipment are
• A major factor when considering swimming in these waters is the temperature. In sheltered
glens, the shallower lochs can reach 15°C in the middle of the summer, while lochans in
north-facing coires are frozen over for much of the winter and may only peak at 5°C in
summer. Immersing yourself in cold water carries significant risk, particularly if you are not
used to regular exposure to these temperatures. Always be prepared for winter swimming
temperatures, even in the middle of summer.
• Never swim alone. Ideally, go in with another person and/or always make sure you have
someone keeping an eye on you.
• Be careful getting in and out of the water. Neoprene swim shoes/socks make it easier to get
out of the water when the entry is rocky.
• Get into the water slowly. Focus on your breathing and make sure you are not holding your
breath as you get in. Exhale!
• Know your limits. Do not be tempted to stay in the water for too long. Never swim too far
away from the shore, as you risk getting too cold and struggling to swim back to the side
due to cold incapacitation.
• In remote locations, make sure you use a tow float containing (at the very least) the
following safety kit – emergency whistle, GPS tracker/emergency contact device, survival
bag and emergency food – e.g. some jelly babies or an energy bar.
• Be prepared. Take appropriate clothing, including lots of warm layers for after your swim. If
I am walking straight out again after a swim, I usually find my regular walking kit, plus a
couple of extra layers on my top half (including an insulated jacket), does the job. Assuming
you are carrying waterproofs anyway, it can be good to put these on after a swim (even if it
isn’t likely to rain) and walk in them for a bit, as this will really help warm you up! Also,
take spare socks to put on after your swim. Your feet won’t warm up properly if you have to
put on slightly damp socks after your swim.
• Make sure all your kit is organised for when you get out – nothing worse than wanting to get
changed quickly and not being able to find something! Food and a hot drink for afterwards
will help you warm up.
• I always carry a group shelter in my bag in case I get stuck somewhere or just as a shelter if
the weather turns when I am in the middle of nowhere. They can be a makeshift changing
tent before and after your swim. Alternatively, setting up a tent before you swim can give
you somewhere nice and sheltered to retreat to after your swim. I’ve been known to get
straight out of the water and into my tent, strip off my wet stuff, get dry and then dive
straight into my warm winter sleeping bag after a swim (in the middle of summer!)
• Get dressed quickly after you the out of the water. Cover your head and core first. Your core
temperature continues to drop after you get out of the water. Once you are dressed, get
walking again as soon as possible to warm up.