Swimming in the Hebrides
The Outer Hebrides consists of 7 main islands exposed to the Atlantic Ocean on the West Coast and The Minch Sea on the East Coast. There is an abundance of stunning white sandy beaches with clear turquoise water to swim from but the sea temperatures can often cause alarm to the inexperienced despite it's invitingly beautiful colours. Swimming in the Hebrides is Cold Water Swimming, which requires a degree of desire to enter but our enticing scenery usually sets this up for most people! Once acclimatised safely you are guaranteed an immersive experience you will never forget and also one which you will long to return to. Wetsuits are available for your comfort of course but it is possible to swim without a wetsuit to experience the freedom that swimming in the pristine water provides.
The Hebrides can sometimes experience the same sea temperatures as that of Cornwall (south-west UK) due to the Gulf Stream. The coldest months of the sea temperatures are February and March where temperatures go as low as 5 degrees Celsius and are usually no higher than 7-8 degrees at their highest. Below 5 degrees is called Ice Swimming which Immerse Hebrides does not offer at the moment. You can expect the sea temperature to start rising again in April from 8 degrees Celsius all the way up to 15 degrees in the warmer months of July, August and early September and from this point they start lowering again where swim durations start to reduce. We have had some reports of higher temperatures in shallow sheltered bays!
There are many lochs in the Outer Hebrides but some are not so easy to access and some are not so good to swim in the warmer months due to algae blooms. They are mostly peaty so visibility is not great but they do offer a warmer swim than the sea with summer temperatures reaching as high as 18-19 degrees Celsius depending on their size. If you prefer a less salty swim you can't get fresher and more cleansing than a Hebridean freshwater peaty swim. The lochs are also very cold in the winter months and are usually below 5 degrees in winter. One of our favourite lochs to swim in is Loch Suianebhal in Uig, which is the deepest loch in the Outer Hebrides but also not as peaty as others. There are smaller secluded ones dotted around if you like to walk across moorland to access them. Some loch swims cannot offer boat or board safety due to remoteness.
If you prefer a swim encompassing the wildlife of the Hebrides, you can expect mostly common seals, otters, crabs, sea kelp, seaweed, gulls and coastal birds such as curlews, oyster catchers, great northern divers, shags and kittiwakes around the coast. You might also be lucky enough to spot Minke whales or dolphins on some swims but they are generally further out. Jellyfish do appear in warmer months but we are used to avoiding these and will put your comfort and safety first at all times. In the lochs you are more likely to see Golden Eagles, buzzards and ducks and occasionally you will see brown or rainbow trout.
One hazardous wee beastie to look out for are ticks which can cause Lyme's disease. Please ensure you are covered up if walking across heather and moorland. And of course we have the infamous midges which are less serious, unless you have an allergy but a lot more annoying. The midge usually wakes up around late May and can last until September but having coastal breezes usually keeps them at bay for most of the time.
Swimmer Ability Key
Please familiarise yourself with this key to decide which type of open water swimmer you are
Beginner/New Open Water Swimmer
Confident swimming in a swimming pool for over 10 minutes continuously. Can tread water for a few minutes but has never tried open water swimming before or has very little experience of it.
Has recently started open water swimming and swims regularly in local open water swimming venue(s). Still requires guidance and coaching but can swim distances of 1 km+.
Experienced Open Water Swimmer
Regularly swims in open water venues and can swim up to 2 miles confidently in either freshwater or sea. Likely has experience of triathlon and other open water events.
Experience of swimming long-distances of 10+ kilometres often and acclimatised to all year round temperatures either in skins or wetsuit. Most likely a cross-channel swimmer.