Calum MacLean’s voice is animated as he talks about his favourite outdoor activity. “There is such a sense of freedom, happiness and joy,” says the 33-year-old.
He adds: “As soon as I am in the water, submerged, I am suddenly more relaxed. Then, when I get out, I’m much more awake. Afterwards, I’m also full of creativity.”
MacLean’s passion is outdoor swimming, and he seeks out beautiful locations for a dip – including lochs, rivers, waterfall pools and the sea. Living with his partner Hannah Kettles in Aberfeldy, Perthshire, the broadcaster, photographer and film-maker has plenty of attractive locations right on his doorstep for swimming.
He also journeys widely in his home country to discover “special places to swim”.
MacLean, who was born in Tasmania but grew up on the Isle of Skye and in Inverness, is also keen to share his enthusiasm for outdoor swimming.
A Gaelic speaker, he has presented three BBC Alba series of Dhan Uisge (Into The Water) during which he reveals a zeal for swimming in remote lochs and rivers.
In 2010, while travelling in his birth country, MacLean cycled a wide bridge over the River Derwent in the capital city of Hobart. He says: “For some reason, I looked down at the river and wondered if it might be possible to swim from one shore to the other. It looked a long way and I wasn’t sure if it was allowed – or even safe – but it represented a challenge.”
One early morning soon after and while it was still dark MacLean completed the swim. He says: “I know now it wasn’t the safest thing to do because I was on my own and I didn’t really know what the water held, but it felt so good. I was doing something that others weren’t and that felt great.
“As I ran back over the bridge in my wetsuit there were commuters driving to work and they must have wondered what on earth I’d been doing. I thought then, ‘I want to do more of this – I want to find other places to swim.’”
Returning to Scotland, MacLean began exploring places to swim near his Inverness base. “I discovered there were so many beautiful places to swim, whether for a longer outing or a quick dip. I was hooked and it was the start of my addiction to outdoor swimming,” he recalls.
In those days, his top haunts were lochs Duntelchaig and Morlich, as well as Nairn beach. “Duntelchaig was handy while living in the city. It’s a long loch – you can’t see one end from the other – so it’s a good place to go if you want to do a longer swim.
“But it also feels safe because there are several bays for access. I really enjoyed this loch when I was starting out and building my confidence.”
MacLean claims that he also enjoys swimming outdoors in winter. “It’s a different experience and I am obviously not in the water for as long,” he says. “The water can be very cold. There is such a buzz with tingling skin and a sense of achievement.
“In summer I always forget how challenging it is to swim in the cold of winter but then I have learned to embrace what it offers – to get on with it – and then know that afterwards I will feel such an amazing boost. When I’m swimming, I always think: ‘Wow, I feel so alive.’”
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