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Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Hidden beaches - Isle of Mull

Hidden beaches - Isle of Mull

Summer signals my annual return to the wilds of Scotland, one of my favourite places to visit. This year was different in that i was spending the whole time on the beautiful Isle of Mull. I have been there before, but only short one or two days before heading further up the coastline, i was really looking forward to exploring this stunning island.

As normal the holiday started with the Basking Shark swim trip, two days of swimming with the plankton eating sharks, some so large they literally take your breath away. This year the Orca's where around and appeared to be travelling up and down the side of the country and to and from Ireland, the sharks were lying low as was all other aquatic life on that trip. I felt for the others on the boat but we can never rely on mother nature to provide for us, after last years trip of being surrounded by 60 sharks i suppose we were due a quiet trip this year.

Returning to Mull it was fab to see the weather taking a turn for the better, others also staying on the Island and myself met up for a drink or two...well it would be rude not to...and then relax....bliss. There is nothing like the fresh Scottish air to redden the cheeks and make you sleep well.

Grabbing a map of the island it was time to explore and sure enough a small group of us came across heaven in the form of white sands and crystal clear blue seas. The first visit was more of a ...oh whats down there', a dip in the sea showed us its glory but the heavens opened as we exited the water and a trundle back to the car in our swim kit ensued,  the second we came armed with swim kit, food, refreshments etc....we didn't risk  bringing suntan lotion.....that surly would tempt the  mother of all storms too head our way!

Having parked up we had a short walk to a track....follow the track to the bottom a gentle Scottish lilt told us....its owner seeing we were appropriately kitted up, leaned in closer and told us quietly....if you want peace and quiet...don't stay at the first bay, found the hills a few times and each bay gets better, the final bay is the one you want!!!

Heaving swim bags onto our shoulders we trundled down the track and within 5 minutes the first bay appeared, like kids at a firework display we coo'd in appreciation. Walking up the small hills our only company the occasion bleat of the sheep in the distance. Cresting the brow of the hill we found the second bay, breathtaking and exciting more cooing from us....yes i know we are adults but its water.....we love water!!!

The warmth of the sun adding the day, i really couldn't wait to see the final bay, so far we had encountered no other human being...bliss!!! Another 5  minute walk and there it was in all its crowning glory in front of us, the one mile in total distance Erraid Island which featured in the novel Kidnapped by Robert Lewis Stephenson and has been used in numerous film productions for its apparent likeness to exotic locations .....where water temperatures i am sure are a lot warmer than we get in our Scottish waters. Words can not describe how breathtaking this location is and it appeared that we were the only ones there!!!!

Walking down the sand dune it turned out we were not the only ones there, a lone female situated on a rock appeared to want her solitude and privacy and vacated the area returning to her tent overlooking the bay, a more idyllic spot one could not have chosen, i did slightly envy her.

 We arrived about 10 am and found our spot to place our kit, getting changed we headed into the water, it really is a clear as it looks and its gentle slope hold no hidden currents. We were able to walk/swim to the nearest smaller islands, clamber all over them then dive into the crystal depths and head to the next island. Running out of smaller islands we sat on the last one looking out Erraid we swim to it or not, we had been warned about the currents at this part but also been told that at low tide we can wade/swim out (we later found out this last part was untrue). We swam back to where we had stored our lunch, two seagulls joined us hoping for titbits to be thrown. Sitting in the sun, enjoying our food the tranquillity, it really was bliss.

We stayed watching the tide slowly recede, the expanse of white sands growing more with each passing hour, the white sand exposing themselves to be even more beautiful than seen through goggles whilst swimming. No rubbish, sharp stones nor jellyfish, literally a swimmers heaven.

This time walking towards the largest island we discovered coves previously hidden by the water, off exploring we came across little inlets not seen before when swimming.

With the light starting to fade we ate the last of our food (this time giving the spare to the birds), packed our kit up and very reluctantly and slowly i might add made our way back the the car. Did i envy the lone female her camping spot, i certainly did, had we a space to sleep i know we would have stayed the night and taken advantage of the full moon to do a night swim on the returning tide......something we can leave for the next adventure maybe.!!!!


New logo !!!

Been quiet for a while......well its been the summer and i have been swimming.....back now and tons to write about but first showing off my new signage.......what do you think folks!!!

Friday, 1 July 2016

FIGHTING THE FEARS - The cold (Part one)

FIGHTING  THE FEARS - The cold  (Part one)

When approaching the world of open water you hear of many fears that people have. And over my time i have helped numerous people overcome those fears. What are the fears i hear you say, well the list is not exhaustive but here are some...weeds, fish, not seeing the bottom, drowning, not making it back to the shoreline. 

Fear is individual to everyone, it can strike at any time and even with the most established swimmer. Ask any seasoned swimmer and they will all be able to reiterate a tale or two of how they got started in the open water. Some may even give you hints and tips about how to get over it.

As a coach i find that every swimmer has to acclimatise and failure to do so at any temperature can cause the body to react in a way that create fear where previously there was none. I highly recommend wetting the back of your neck (a proper dousing...not  just a sprinkle of water) and your wrists, this tells the brain (the hypothalamus bit) that you are about to put the body under pressure and it can start to protect the bits, your core, prior to full immersion in the water. 

For the male swimmer there are certain areas that they do not want to get too cold, and many an intake of breath has been taken when the water reaches the lower areas, for the ladies the gasp area is higher up but no less painful. For all swimmers that inevitable moment the water enters the zip area....another 'gasp' moment. The trick.....exhale, you need to teach your body to fight its natural instincts, exhale slowly and often, we want to get the heart beat back to normal as much as we can, it can also help prevent hyperventilation. 

Enter the water wetting the back of the neck and wrists, enter in your own time frame and try not to fret about what the other swimmers are doing, your safety is paramount and you have to learn how your body reacts. When you see swimmers are events entering the warm up zone prior to the race, take a moment to observe them, do they get in splash around or turn their arms over, do they walk slowly around faces taut with concentration or do some simply not get in. The warm up zone is designed for you to prepare your body for the task in hand (although i do not advocate putting your face in as many use it to release urine long stored up to keep them warm). 

Once you have your wrists and neck wet, you need to start your immersion into the water, lower yourself slowly into the water (feet remaining on the bottom) until its up to your chin.....and remember .....exhale slowly the whole time. Stay there until the water feels comfortable, then when you are ready slowly lift your chin up to the sky and gently lower yourself backwards into the water, for those in a wetsuit this is an ideal time to feel the buoyancy of the suit do its work, no need for sculling of the hands, for those choosing to enter non wetsuit you will need to scull the hands gently and slowly in a figure of eight position to maintain your body position in the water.  Again it all in the breathing....exhale. This is the position you can return to time and time again while you are swimming, to help you relax, get air in and to sort your head. 

When you are ready, pull your chin to your chest, raise the knees and you will return to the upright position...simples as they say. You should notice how high your shoulders are, they need to be nice and relaxed, is your breathing nice and steady, it needs to be for when you are starting your swim. 

I sometimes see swimmers diving straight in, the thought that runs through my head is why. Do they feel any advantage, does it help with acclimatisation, not in my experience and as a coach i would not advocate it for fear of inducing cold water shock, the RLNI have a useful video that can help you understand the feeling of cold water shock. 

The other thing i see is swimmers pulling at the necks of their wetsuits and deliberately allowing lots of water to enter the wetsuit.....again why, you have just spent all that time trying to get your body used to the temperature and get your heart rate down then in one swift motion forced the body to rethink its strategy and in my option would need to start the whole process again to ensure that you are as relaxed as possible prior to setting off swimming.

Finally getting the face in, although our faces are exposed to the elements all the time and therefore in theory the quickest part of us to react to temperature it can still be a shock to all when placing the face in the water. Resist the urge to take a deep breath in, all this will do is raise the shoulder (yep you are trying it now whilst reading this) and cause the chest to tighten, a normal inhalation will do then slowly  (trickle breathing - treat it as if you are trying to make the flame of a candle move) exhale as you enter your face, once you have exhaled fully lift your head and breath in....we never worry about what we breath in...only about what we breath out, the body will take the oxygen it needs provided you have emptied your lungs sufficiently.

And just for fun, here is how not to do it, the film was made in jest but the swimmers reaction to the first time in is real, swimmers name not given as we have ribbed it out of him enough! x

Well thats about it for the 'pre-swim' in water preparation, ....give it a go and let me know what happens...good luck folks and happy swimming x

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Channel Swimming Manual

BOOK REVIEW – The Channel Swimming Manual by Geoff Cox

The world is full of resources for us as swimmers to peruse, worry over and glean information from: an endless supply of sometimes conflicting data which can send the head spinning and have you saving link after link on your computer with the promise to yourself that one day you will print it off and read it end to end.

For those starting out on their open water swimming journey it can be daunting to say the least. For those whose journey has begun or even for those looking to take on new adventures where do we turn to for information that we can take with us wherever we go, for information that we can digest easily and share with other. Practical knowledge comes from the doing, theoretical comes from the educational path of absorbing information and then from that information taking the parts that suit our requirements for the purpose in hand.

For those contemplating the English Channel it can be a minefield of information to process for such a monumental event. For some it’s the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition, for others a spur of the moment decision after years of open water swimming. Both socially and solo it’s an achievement to behold with dreams fulfilled and nightmares conquered.

Any number of social media pages are full to the brim with groups offering support and guidance but who do you turn to once your computer is switched off, when you are sat at home in awe of the task you have set yourself.

Geoff Cox, a former Major in the Parachute regiment, used to delivering specialized training, has compiled a comprehensive journal style book to aid and support those completing the channel. His task of writing was expertly aided by his wife and lifelong swimmer and successful channel swimmer Loretta Cox, who knowledge of training and completing epic swims is legendary and second to none. Written in plain English it is easy to follow and flows from one aspect of the channel to the other seamlessly over seventeen chapters, with pages left blank for you to make your own notes (and or ideas). At the rear of the book a ‘Lists and logs’ section takes you effortlessly through the logs you will need to complete to ensure that you have prepared the best you can for your epic journey (you know the saying ‘Poor planning leads to poor performance …well there are to other versions as I am sure you know!!!)

If you want a book that takes you by the hand, from start to finish of your channel journey then this is the book for you, but do not be expecting the hand you are holding not to be firm or gloved. This practical and detailed book is forthright, combining the technical data as well as practical experience that some will not have even thought of. Its approach is no nonsense, the chapter no-one wants to contemplate ‘If you do not succeed’ is frank and realistic in its attitude, after all not everyone that wants to do the channel goes on to complete it successfully. Reality is a hard pill to take but as the book states ‘Not succeeding, is not failing’. The book is honest in its approach to the task ahead and for those that don’t make it the writing goes on to tell you what could have occurred to make the crossing unsuccessful so lessons can be learned and fresh attempts made.

People are quick to detail their successes but for those brave enough to detail the failures these details can mean the difference to touching French soil to another and to those that do I credit them with being forthright enough to know what went wrong, how it went wrong and how to prevent it from recurring again. ‘Again’ I hear you exclaim…yes why not, after all the saying ‘If at first you don’t succeed…try, try again’ wasn’t invented to put us off.

The books’ comprehensive guide to the channel swim encompasses everything the swimmer will require to embark and complete their journey, from acclimatization, training and nutrition to the day of the swim and to make sure that you get it all right the rules and regulations (correct at time of writing) have been included to make sure that the swimmer does not fail on a minor technicality. From tracking your boat (for those of us supporters enthusiastic enough to stay up all night watching and sending messages of support) to the scary bits that none of us really want to think about, the hazards and hypothermia, it’s all in there.

The nutrition chapter is an eye opener, for those that think that swimming is all about eating cake, think again, the average calorie intake per swimmer for a 16 hour crossing is around 12800 calories….now that’s a lot of cake! You don’t need to be a nutritionist to comprehend the facts given in this section as its written in a language that can be digested (no pun intended!) by all and is a great guide and is in-depth enough to make you not only think about your intake but also the effect it can and will have on your body. Nobody wants to fail a swim due to getting their diet wrong on the day or even in the training months leading up to the swim.

Is the book just for channel swimmers – no, for any swimmer contemplating the channel it is a useful guide for those you have chosen to crew for you as well. The book states that more often or not we would like to have those trusted family and friends with us but once on the boat the pilot will ensure that you all know your roles and that you do not deviate from them. After all you are all there to enhance the success of the swim and to make it as seamless a transition as possible for the swimmer. How to behave on the boat so that one and all can get the best out of the trip is in there, space is limited at the best of times and the kit list is essential to minimizing clutter whilst maximizing the boats capacity. Get it right and you will find the trip across the waters easy, get it wrong and you will be left with a distressed, cold, wet swimmer in dire need of your attention while you scrabble around for the bits and pieces that should have been easily at hand to aid their rehabilitation to full control of their body and surrounding as well as their recovery back to full health.

The book is a work in progress…what do you mean I hear you say, well like any book that is filled with information and advice it is flexible in its approach and its author is receptive to new or updated information being given so that over time the guide remains as up-to-date as it can so feel free to contact them to give updates, personal experiences that you feel have not been included so that the book can progress just in the same way that swimming does.

Now you are intrigued enough to want to know more, where can you get the book from?  - 

Postage free in uk £29.99 payable to PayPal through then we need a delivery address once paid or Tel 07412005430 you can even facebook Loretta direct via facebook messenger !!!!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016



Over in Iceland on a trip with Basking Shark Scotland ( we were getting kitted up ready to head out on another amazing swim adventure when the news came through that there were humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)  in the fjord not that far from us. 

Our guide for the day, Erlandur Bogason, took our expectations to the limit as his volunteered his rib and services for an impromptu trip out to see these amazing creatures.

Never have you seen a group of adults get their bodies into Dry suits so fast, or gimp suits as i call them. I just wanted to be out on the water (and preferably in the water with them). All of us dressed we headed to the rib and with  permission granted to aboard we secured our positions and under the steady hand of Erlandur we headed to where the whales had been sighted, eye peeled in preparation.

Roger Taylor was the first to spot the distinctive plume of breath that shot skyward, the boat quickly adjusted and we headed in the their direction. The water a deep green completely hid these giants of the sea when they submerged themselves, a pattern of three returns to the surface then a deep dive with no knowledge of where they would surface, thankfully our guide was well practised in  seeking them out. 

These creatures truly are phenomenal in their size, for me, not normally an person given to tears, i found myself in complete bits emotionally, the tears flowing down my face blurring my view of the sights in front of me. I was astounded by the pure beauty of them and seeing them their natural environment.

The next few hours literally flew past, there were four humpback whales that we took our time going between to view them, they were not worried by our presence as they carried out their activities. For us the boat was full of adults cooing as if they were children at a firework display. The camera's were clicking away so fast, the number of pictures we were taking was amazing. The coolness of the air temperature forgotten as the suns warmth penetrated our dry suits. The smiles were huge and never ending.

For me the trip was topped off by actually hearing the whales 'inhaled' as they prepared for their long dive. It was magical to hear (and virtually feel) the vibration as the air entered the lungs of such a magnificent creature as they arched their backs a much deeper arch than the previous two and then gracefully diving deep into the oceans green depths.

The trip on the water ended with us slowly following the smallest of the four whales as he meandered along in the water, for their size their speed is cleverly hidden in their gracefulness. Erlandur remaining behind him as he rolled his body over the waves right in front of the boat, me again (and yes i do not mind confessing for most of the ride) in tears of pure unadulterated happiness. I could barely hold the camera to get the pictures that i so desperately wanted to get, but the eyes, brain and hands were not in communication at that moment, never have i wanted to be in the water so much to experience swimming with them. 

Again came that wonderful rumble of inhalation and then the arching of a spine so flexible in a large aquatic giant that it does not seem possible and had i not seen it through my many tear with my own eyes i would not have believed it.

 You can see the last part of the tail as it disappears into the depths, hardly a splash  such is the extent of its graceful entry. I didn't want to leave the waters and could have happily stayed there all day to watch them. I will always be thankful to Erlandur for his generosity and taking us out. If you are lucky to go on one of Basking Sharks trip and get to meet the amazing Erlandur please remember me to him!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Iceland Day 2 , October 2015 History in the making!

Iceland Day 2 , October 2015 History in the making!

A year ago Roger Taylor and I in Iceland talked of his swim career to date and a dream was created. Roger had already been training for a year to do his Ice mile swim….yes you heard correct, an ICE MILE SWIM, which is one mile in just a swimming costume, goggles and one hat and under the rules of the International Ice Swimming Association ( to be completed in water temperatures of 5 degrees or less.

The thought alone is enough to send shivers down most people spines but not Roger, he was relishing the prospect. But the dream had been born….could Roger do it in Iceland, he would be the first to do so if he could…history in the making!! It would also be a great start to the UK swimmers season.

Silfra the previous day had been a healthy reminder for me of the dangers of what was going to be attempted. Roger by now had been training for 2 years, taking to a strict swim routine and ice baths. Mentally he was strong, physically he looked good.

Our dive crew from Dive IS were fully behind us, providing full medi-kits and oxygen bottles. They were more than aware of the dangers of ice swimming. The journey to the Kleifarvatn lake did nothing to dispel the tension, the snow covering the roads and hills made reality sink in further. The approach to the lake showed ice on its edges an indication the beginnings of winter. In coming months as ice spread and more snow falls, the tracks for roads would disappear making it harder to find the water’s edge.

The vans with its myriad of people tentatively made its way closer to the water, we were trying to get as close to the edge as we could, Silfra with its biting wind the previous day has shown us how unforgiving Icelandic weather was and the last thing we needed was for Roger after his swim to have to do a trek to find warmth.

The volcanic sands black as can be, shifted under the weight of the vans. Divers and swimmers alighting into what little warmth the sun permitted. Whilst divers kitted up, Roger, Shane and I mapped out the swim route and distance. Now made harder by the lake rising 1.5 metres over the summer months – hiding the large boulders we had changed on last years but now posing a danger to the frozen swimmer. Swim route chosen it was time for the all-important temperature check. The lake is active with hotspots from its depths pushing scalding water from the bowels of the earth. Steering clear of the furthest bay where known hotspots are prevalent and where we would normally swim we tentatively placed our thermometers in the water. Testing them the previous day showered their accuracy within 0.01 of a degree. Yipeee were under 5 degrees…..we were good to go!!!!

All hands on deck as they say, Med kit and oxygen placed within easy reach. One van allocated for Rogers recovery, the engine left on to maintain a constant heat. Those involved were allocated their jobs as required. We needed observers, witnesses but there is so much more involved, time checkers, distance checkers, stroke counters, recovery team…the list goes on…and all the while Roger had to remain calm, warm and focused

On Rogers signal it was all systems go, camera’s clicking, video recording. A shallow intake of breath and in he walked towards Shane, his marker, for the starting point. A few words of encouragement and shoulders were lowered into the water and off he swam. The silence deafening with the seriousness of the task ahead.  Starting with breaststroke to test for goggle leakage and to let the body adapt to the assault of the extreme cold that was being placed on it, then into front crawl. Roger had had some instruction on improving his stroke and it showed in his technique.

One long length of the shores and Roger turns, witnesses placed along the shores were eagle eyed for any signs of a struggle or distress. None came as he headed back along his chosen route. The waters depth no more than 3 metres hiding rocks beneath its clear depths. In places the water only rising to chest height enabling Shane to get a birds eye view of our swimmer and offer words of encouragement.

With the sun making an appearance over the walls of the volcano, you could be forgiven for forgetting the mission we were on. Sunlight bouncing off of the snow laden hills and shooting shards of light through the thick ice that was at times underfoot, it was truly an epic setting for an Ice mile. The silence only interrupted by the gentle rhythmic slap, slap slap of Rogers arms entering the water as he ate up the distance. Occasionally only broken by Barry O’Connor calling out how long Roger had been in the water.

Fifty eight minutes later the magic was put on hold. Distance covered and Roger returns to his original entry point. Shane guiding him in, Rogers skin red from the cold, eyes wide with concentration. Calling him to stand up, he did! Swim over with Shane supporting him for the short walk to the warmth of the van.

Only Shane and I were in the van for the recovery part, with all others on standby if needed.  A shivering but grinning Roger was literally man-handled into the vans warmth and with dignity temporarily put on hold we roughly stripped him of his swim kit and towel dried him, me taking the top, Shane below the waist. We needed him warming up as soon as possible, no moment wasted. Alison ready with warm drinks and on essential recovery duties.

Soon Roger was dressing his first set of clothing. It was down to me and Roger to sort the recovery with Shane there ensure all was well. Amazingly Roger was coherent throughout and like most ice milers astounded at his achievement
Roger for those that know and have met him is one of life’s genuine people, not a bad bone in his body and with a delicious sense of humour which didn’t fail him throughout his recovery as his body shook so violently that he (as all those before him) had to be hand fed warm drinks but still the jokes kept coming, his laughter infectious in the van. Within an hour Roger was ready to get out of the van and start walking around, the violent shivers has subsided to a dull roar at this point, the support team, divers and Dive IS ready to give their congratulations which Roger took with good grace.

Walking up and down the swim route, the marvel of what he had just achieved slowly sinking in, Rogers’s colour returning nicely as his grin grew. Photo time, we had to get as many pictures of this moment as we could after all history (subject to ratification) had been made and no other would be the first to do the swim in the lake and be the person ever to do an ice mile in Iceland. What an amazing achievement, it was emotional to be a part of it and to witness it. At times a struggle to keep the emotions under control.

Once all the divers and those that had chosen to go off and swim were back and changed it was time for the second dip of the day, this time in the Blue Lagoon ….warm waters, the perfect end to a perfect day, and a massive aid to ensuring that Roger was fully recovered. His exhaustion showing at this point but this did not prevent his humour from showing. Naturally everyone that we spoke to we introduced Roger to them and stated with pride is accomplishment, their astonishment clear and the congratulations echoing around the lagoon.

Later that evening a meal with champagne (thank you Roger), it was so special. Each Ice mile shows its own merits and each swimmer pulls deeper on their reserves that they hold both mentally and physically that at time I sometimes wonder if they knew that they were capable of holding, but they get through it, trust their support team (who I will state that we consider it our privilege to be a part of their success) with their recovery and dignity. Add to that, that Roger is a man that I consider to be a true friend it was an amazing day and I personally will never be able to thank him enough for permitting me to be a part of everything.

Ratification came when we returned home to the UK, and now we can finally say it…..HE DID IT!!!!! Most people state that that they will only do one Ice mile but not Roger…he is already planning his next swims…wanting to an Ice mile at all degrees.. the ultimate being at zero….with his permission I will hold my emotions in check long enough to see him safely though each one.

My full hearted congratulations to you Roger Taylor (aka 3 ball!)….Icemiler!!!!!! x