McKinlay Kidd Founder & Director, Heather McKinlay, responds to the call of the sea in the West of Scotland.
I plot my way from one patch of sand to another, like an intricate game of hop-scotch among the millennia-old rocks, brushing past the tendrils of flapping seaweed, shimmering in the pure sun-dappled water. Ducking involuntarily at the shrill call of an oyster catcher, I wade on, drawing the briney air into my lungs, timing the spring onto tip-toe as each wave gently breaks white and frothy around my gradually submerging limbs.
Concentrating on the environment provides welcome distraction from the frisson of the Atlantic Ocean, here in the slightly more benign form of the Kilbrannan Sound. Kintyre offers a smidgen of peninsula shelter as I continue away from the shore. The sensations of wild swimming are nevertheless visceral.
As a tot I learnt to swim in this very sea on family holidays in the West of Scotland. In recent years I’ve re-discovered my love for a dip in the ocean. Last summer I was bang on trend and no wonder. As the pandemic came out of the blue to change our world and our plans in a matter of days, many have found freedom by throwing themselves into the blue instead – or at least slowly and gingerly stepping into the cold blue of wild water.
I’ll admit that I’m more of a wader than full-blown swimmer. Sometimes I never lift both feet from the ocean floor, never tip from vertical to horizontal. Striding against the resisting tide nevertheless feels like good exercise. The gently shelving sand makes it possible to wade a long way out – perhaps skirting past the jagged basalt and sandstone that separates one sandy cove from another or striking out towards looming Ailsa Craig rock on the horizon.
I also stick to the high season from May to September, unlike a few “loony dookers” to use the Scottish vernacular who plunge into the waves in midwinter. I do have a wetsuit but last summer I left it hanging in the wardrobe in the spare room, preferring instead a simple one-piece swimsuit. 2020 was the year to feel the cold ocean embrace my whole body – so much more satisfying than the tickle of liquid slithering like an ice-cube down my back, invading via the one weak spot of Velcro at the top of the wetsuit zip.
On a warm and sunny day – and we had quite a lot of those last summer – my favourite trick is to wade out waist deep, return to shore, then head once more into the blue. By the second attempt, the water feels so much warmer – almost tepid though I doubt it is ever above 15C.
Senses enlivened, mind blanked, resilience restored, the comforts of the shore beckon. A quick dry with a rough old beach towel, a trot across the strand to our favourite corner, pull on a cosy fleece, and slump down onto the rug. I stretch out to feel my bare legs pleasantly embraced by the rays of the sun as I rub away the clinging grains of sand.
I’ve tried on many an occasion to entice Robert with me into the blue. But in this part of the world a brief paddle at the water’s edge is the limit of his seaside folly. This means my landlubber husband has got the picnic or barbeque prepared, perfect reward for my brief excursion into the elemental.
As we pack up, leave no trace behind and head away along the rough path, I glance back. The power of the sea beckons. Until the next time.