Bute Swim Weekend

Friday 16th June 2023

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men. Gang aft agley

Robert Burns

The traffic, the thunder storms and a missed ferry. What more could happen on a Friday night on the way to Bute? Abandoning my family at the Wemyss Bay slip, I board the ferry with my swim kit and called my Mum. “Help, I need a lift from Rothesay!!!”

This is not a problem to my ever present support system, I arrive in Rothesay after a peaceful CalMac ferry ride to find my Dad waiting at the ferry terminal with a hot lasagne in a bowl, sent with him by Mum. Bliss!

Dad drops me at Bute Golf Club carpark, where I can watch for the Wild Swim Scotland Members arriving at Stravanan Bay. Ashley and Conrad arrive in their Berlingo, I had spoken to them on the ferry and checked that they knew where they were heading. Barbara and Nigel throw me a bit, as they are already there, disguised in a sleek Tesla instead of Barbara’s wee BMW. The girls are missing though, I walk down the side of the 1st fairway and clamber over the gate to get to the beach. Waving to Barbara, as my head pops above the sand dunes, I take in the wonderful panoramic view of Arran and Goatfell as I wander along the beach. The girls aka Alex, Cathy, Jay and Steph have taken my advice and having checked in to their accommodation for the weekend have headed back in to Rothesay for Fish and Chips from Zavaroni’s.

The sun is making it’s descent towards the Western horizon as we all eventually gather for the first swim of the weekend. What a swim it is, the colours changing as the clouds cross the sun, as the sun drops lower towards the hills on the Kintyre Peninsula.

It was all of these and more……. We had swimmers from each of these categories and we also had some jellyfish!!!!! Not what we wanted to hear to be honest, but we knew that there were some around as we had spotted one washed up on the beach. Now, I have seen lots of the little Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), and occasionally a Bluefire (Cyanea lamarcki) lots of Lion’s Manes (Cyanea capillata) and the occasional Compass Jellyfish (Chrysaora hysocella) – however, I had never seen these ones.

Barrel Jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo)

They were large, with beautiful pearlised colourings, a delicate frill around the edge of the “head” and had long thick trailing “tentacles” – Other wordly in their slow pulsing movements, we were able to observe them at close quarters. Although they are reported as non-stingers we were taking no chances. Over the course of the weekend Maree and Gareth were sent on ahead as “jellyfish scouts” and with the Barrel being easily seen were able to direct the rest of the group away from the one or two we saw, in the water, on each of our swims.

Berlingo Bivvy

Conrad and Ashley had set up by the Berlingo ready to Bivvy the night and were distraught as four enormous campervans came in convoy down the dust road from the farm entrance – like something out of a scene from Mad Max!!!!

After the most atmospheric swim we set up our “Jellypan Fire” and sat down to watch the sun setting. Elaine and Gareth arrived just ahead of Vendy and Hannes and in time to have a dip in the twilight. Can you even spot Gareth in this dramatic picture?

Saturday 17th June

The thunder clouds were still hanging around the Clyde and the Easterly wind was still blowing, although not as strongly as it had been at Portobello. However, some careful planning – taking into account the wind and weather forecast meant that we were aiming for two early swims.

Our first swim was at the beautiful stretch of sandy beach at Ettrick Bay. This was, and still is a “Mecca” on Bute for Day Trippers or Weekly Holidaymakers. Back in the day it was accessed from Rothesay by a tram service, originally powered by a horse drawn service and then electrified in 1902.

Bute Electric Tram

Now this popular beach has a thriving cafe, camping pods and parking. Bacon rolls, coffees and ice-creams!!!

Our second swim of the morning was at Scalpsie Bay, this beach can be accessed from two small parking areas. The higher one, has a wonderful view point but a steeper descent through the bracken and gorse. As it was still early in the day we decided to use the more popular lower car park and walk down to the beach via the field access. It was not very busy with just another couple of groups, swimming and playing around on surf-boards.

We were fully aware that we may have company on this swim, with a resident seal colony being located on the Northern edge of the bay. Sure enough, as we changed for our swim we could hear the young girls on the boards telling their parents that there were some seals in the water.

There was plenty time for everyone to reorganise themselves over the lunchtime break. To watch as the rain showers went through or to have a little snooze back at their accommodation.

Peace in the OAP accommodation!!!!

We were pleased that we could tackle a longer swim in the safety of Kilchattan Bay. In the well known stretch between the new pier and the old pier. The “new” pier was built in 1880 with a wooden pier extending out from the two buildings, this accommodated the popular Clyde paddle steamer age – extending as late as 1955. The old pier being stone was renovated and is now the main landing point.

Accompanied by a “safety” flamingo!!!!!

Gathering in the evening to attempt a BBQ on the shoreside and enjoy the changing light as the sun descended below the Western landscape. We chased away the midges with lashings of “Skin So Soft” and some BBQ smoke. Finally giving up and taking a walk to the pier to enjoy the last of the light.

Communal BBQ
Last of the light and calm waters.

Sunday 18th June

Sunday morning’s swim expedition was to Dunagoil Bay, again with the most wonderful views across to Arran,

Bright and cheerful with the Arran backdrop

Dunagoil “Hill of the Foreigners” has two Iron Age fortifications which dramatically overlook this bay. Today it was sheltered from the Easterly winds and provided us with a calm swim, where we once again encountered the Barrel Jellyfish.

Such a lovely weekend, with great company. It was a pleasure to introduce these new swim locations to everyone and I am really looking forward to the next swim weekend in Speyside next month.