Swim in Loch Venachar (c2,300m)

Today, as part of my training for the Loch Lomond Go Swim event at the end of August, I did a good open water swim in Loch Venachar. Go to the end of the post for a summary review of the loch / experience.

Here’s more detail about my day – I was a little concerned about the weather forecast – heavy rain and horrible weather, but I knew that if I got there and the conditions weren’t right, I wouldn’t go in. Safety and common sense comes first.

It ended up it was nice and calm, and it only rained a tiny bit after the swim when I was changing, so it was all good. The loch surface wasn’t too choppy either and my swim went well.

It’s my 4th swim in a loch, and each time I do it, I’m reminded how much I really enjoy it. That fresh water swimming is my favourite type, then swimming in a pool, then swimming in the sea; in that order.

I went with a friend and her dog, to get her out of Glasgow, and catch up with her, and also to make sure I wasn’t going alone either. We left Glasgow at 715am, and managed to get a good catch up in the car going up towards Callander and then west to Loch Venachar. The journey there took about an hour and 5 or so.

I found the parking easily, and we finished off our chat, before I got ready and in the water for around 8:50am.

Here’s me before I went in. I had my gadgets, gear and safety gear with me:

– orca wetsuit
– neoprene socks
– aqua sphere mask

– Safety whistle (attached to my costume / accessible down my neck)
– Bright orange tow float / bouy
– Pink swim cap
– Fuji film XP140 waterproof camera (kept down my neck / above my chest)
– Garmin Swim 2 watch

I got in gently and settled / acclimatised into the water to start. It was a little cold, but my wetsuit kept me warm. The bottom of the loch where I got in was a mixture of sand, and mud with some rocks. Easy to get in. After 3-5 minutes I started to swim front crawl east towards a small island, sticking parallel to the shore.

There were some people camping and possibly hungover / sleeping / waking up, but it was nice and quiet. But then it was 8am on a Sunday morning.

It was my first time using my Garmin Swim 2 watch, and I’m so glad I got it, so I can teach my distance, time and other metrics like heart rate etc.

After I’d warmed up a bit, my watch said I’d done 40m, then I got swimming and before I knew it, I was near the small island and my watch beeped loudly to let me know I’d done 500 … yards it turned out to be (so 457m).

I thought it was 500m, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was doing each 500x in under 10 minutes. Which could mean I might be able to swim 3,000m in under an hour. It was only when I stopped and checked my Garmin connect after did I realised it was in yards – all fine anyway, I’ll just change my Garmin settings to metric and it’ll sort it (although runs and cycles will now be in km).

Anyway, back to the swim. After my first 500yrds, I turned and swam west for a bit. Another 500yrds ticked off and I was feeling strong in the rhythm. Breathing every three strokes, nice and realised and strong. I did that 500yrds in 9:48, then kept swimming. Popping my head up every now and again to sight and make sure I was going straight.

I got to about 1,500yrds and I was at about half an hour of swimming and still feeling strong and warm / not cold. I turned around and realised the wind was then in my face a bit and the current was a little against me. It didn’t bake swimming much harder, but probably answered why it felt a little easier swimming East.

Another 500yrds beeped / ticked off and before I knew it I was at 41 minutes or so. I swam another 200yrds west. Then swam 300yrds back to shore where my friend was. She was about to take a dip herself (without a wetsuit!)… but she’d forgotten her swim shoes and was regretting trying to get in without them.

I took my neoprene socks off and gave her them. Then I floated a bit and swam with her for a bit. There was a bit of method in giving her the socks too. I won’t be able to use them in the event due to event rules, so I wanted to try swimming without then for a bit. It wasn’t all that cold and fine.

On my swim in my own, I’d swam what I thought was 2,500m, but turned out to be 2,500yrds, or just under 2,300m, and felt really good.

After I’ve been swimming twice a week since June, and building my distance and swimming fitness up, today I felt really strong and relaxed in the water. That was 53 minutes of swimming more or less non stop. When I stopped, close to the shore, I was pleasantly surprised by 3 biggish striped fish! Cool!

Anyway, after that – swimming about 2,300m in a loch, I feel really confident that I’ll be able to swim 3,000m in the event at the end of August. I’m really looking forward to it. Like I estimated, it’ll likely take me around 70 minutes to complete. A nice challenge which will be just right, given where I’m at with my training.

We spent around a further 25 minutes in the water… probably a bit too long for me, in total, I wasn’t moving around too much so started to feel the cold. That was another 400m gently swum, and 78 minutes in the water all together.

Afterwards, I got out and got changed at the car. Under my nice comparatively cheap orca changing towel (£29, rather than £150 for a dry robe!). As I was changing, it started to spit, but we’d managed to miss any heavy rain which was good. I got my wetsuit and safety bouy from start fitness too – the wetsuit is the women’s one at £149… in medium for me.

We stopped in Callander on the way back home – and popped into a cafe. I had a porridge, fried egg roll and flat white and we sat outside (as there were no seats inside). It was good, as I managed to do a good deed when I noticed a woman walking away, about 20m away.

She dropped a £10 note and didn’t notice. So I chase after her and handed her it. That felt good. But not as good as eating the porridge and egg roll and getting a good chat with a good friend.

I started to feel a bit cold before I ate, even though I was layered up. But after the food and coffee I felt fine. My average heart rate has been 140, max 167. So I did work hard, a good workout and swim.

My next focus in my swimming in the pool will be to concentrate on endurance, swimming for a mile / 1600m / 64 lengths without stopping as a time trial. Away from the shorter splits I’ve been doing (over 2,000-3,000m).

I’m swimming three times next week:

Wed – 3,000m pool, including a 1 mile time trial
Thu – 2,500m pool
Sun – Loch Lomond open water swim 50-60 mins

I’m arranging to meet an ex colleague who does triathlons and open water swims, so that should be good. I’m pleased my training is all going to plan. (Lol at the photo below).

Here’s my summary of the visit / swim:

Loch Venachar, near Callander, the Trossachs

Parking: a few parking areas, one next to the cafe and another a bit further along the A821. I went up there early (8am) on a Sunday morning on 8th August and there were overnight campers / camper vans, but there were still 3-4 spaces available.

Access to shore: direct into the shore and easy access. Very close to the parking and road.

Type of water: Freshwater Loch.

Surroundings: In Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Lovely scenery and people around / overnight campers, but not too many as it was early on a Sunday when the weather wasn’t as good as it has been.

Size: 3.5 miles wide.

Shore: Sandy / muddy and stony beach.

Water: usual fresh water loch, deep and dark at points, shallow and muddy bottom at others. When I stopped swimming I was surprised to see three really big (9 inches or so) fish swimming under me!

Refreshments: There’s a cafe on the north shore which gets good reviews, but it wasn’t open when we went. We stopped in Callander on the way back and had a pick of coffee shops, cafes and ice cream shops. A small fee / pay and display to park there.

Toilets: none when I went but there may be some in the cafe when it’s open. I peed in a sheltered spot with a she wee (twice!).

Water traffic: none to really speak of, but there were two other swimmers from the people who had been camping. And I think I saw someone with a SUP board enter as we left around 1030am.

Overall: A nice loch with good scenery and access points and close to parking. Plenty parking to find a space early, but then it was forecast not to be too nice weather wise. I would recommend, and will be back.

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