Mull Adventure with Basking Shark Scotland – Wild Swimming Scotland

Outdoor swimming is so much more than being huddled on the side of a bank with friends and having a giggle of the absurdity of the activity you’re taking part in. It becomes a thirst for adventure, and one that can never be fully satisfied.

That’s partly the reason Lynda started Take to the Water, to explore more of the endless amount of water holes there are in Scotland. Not only jetting off for an adventure, but getting to share it with swimmers who want exactly the same.

In May, Take to the Water teamed up with Basking Shark Scotland to bring swimmers a 3-day adventure around The Inner Hebrides. This one hoping to be based around Mull and Staffa, but when it comes to boat trips it’s never a given. Even last year they didn’t get the right weather to be able to explore certain spots with swimmers, but this year some glorious weather made an appearance.

It’s safe to say that when Lynda invited me along to assist as a secondary swim guide and lifeguard, I barely took a breath before replying “ABSOLUTELY!”

Day One

We start this trip, by rendezvousing with Lynda in the fantastical backdrop of ‘Big Tesco’ in Oban. It may not be on many people’s must sees of the area, but a great place for essential rest stops and snack gathering before our journey to the Friday hot spot. This swim is an add on for any swimmers in the area or swimmers wanting to make the most of their weekend in Oban. If it was anything like our first day a couple of weeks ago it’s well worth taking the extra time to get a little more swim exploration in.

Lynda lead us across the Atlantic sea, marvelling at fairy foxgloves before arriving at the ferry stop for Easdale at Seil. It’s a quaint little hut that you have to ring a doorbell to gain access, as no cars are allowed on the island. Not only guaranteeing a wonderful wildlife soundscape, but also, you’re highly likely to get a spot to yourselves for a dip. We trundled around the island until we arrived at the quarries, the first being the shallower of the two adjacent pools. It never fails to amaze me how aqua coloured quarry water can be, especially when the sun is out! Lots of ducking and diving before tip toing over the slate back to the mainland. Walking over the loose slate sounded as if we were walking through wind chimes being slowly tickled by the breeze, it really added to the nature of the whole experience.

We said farewell to a group of swimmers, with two remaining with us keen to keep exploring and seeing as the weather was spoiling us Lynda suggested a sunset picnic overlooking the water.

Lynda has been travelling to this area for several years, and has befriended many a wonderful person along the way. This story being relevant due to needing rights from a local farmer to gain access to this particular spot, so there we were on a cow safari, who quite frankly were a bit mischievous and not too car aware, but we got there in the end.

Once we’d started our cherry madeira cake, one of our swimmers spotted a disturbance in some seaweed, and low and behold a little otter appeared and swam in front of the sun scorched water below us, silhouetted perfectly in the sheer ripples. Ducking and diving they finally caught a crab and decided to have dinner with us. Once they’d finished and disappeared over a neighbouring rock we dunked ourselves, still beaming from the wildlife experience. Feeling noticeably chillier after basking in the sun, so the language was a little more colourful on entry but an incredible dip all the same.

Day Two

TO THE BOAT! We met harbour side, at our what three words location. Oban can be a maze of boats and harbours to tourists so Lynda finds this is the easiest way to get us all gathered in the right spot.

Once initial introductions were made we trundled down to the boat to meet our team for the day, Ben, Evan and pilot Shane. Straight from the off, I’m in full wildlife nerd mode, binoculars slung round the neck and wanting to get stuck in to what we may see on our venture out today. So many swimmers worry about what may be beneath them as they swim, but I really worry about what I might miss! Although as we branched out into the open water, mist descended and we could barely see 20 metres off the boat, so it did come down to either daydreaming what could be behind the natural shield or that the wildlife will just have to come closer.

A few gannets and seabirds swooped in close but bursts of sunshine allowed us to peak at the cliffs of Mull. It had an incredibly eery feel with its veil of mystery, then before we knew it we’d arrived at our first dip, our first adventure of the day.

Lynda gave us a quick safety briefing explaining what to expect from this particular spot, and suggested gear to be taking. Although wearing a brightly coloured hat and tow float are mandatory on all swims, so that swimmers can be spotted more easily against the blue ripples.

This one was a waterfall you can only reach by boat. It included a drop in from the sea, a short swim to the shore before the rocky scramble to the concealed waterfall pool, or as our Basking Shark guide Ben pointed out “any pool can be an infinity pool if you get the right angle”. Touché! Although word of warning folks don’t put your earplugs in your swim shoes for safe keeping even if you think they’re secure. I decided to scale the first few rocks to sit under the cascading waters of the falls and somehow in that lost one of my earplugs…. Becca 0 Waterfall 1.

Back to the boat for hot chocolates and then onto swim number two…. That’s the thing that’s so wonderful about swimming in the warmer months, even longish swims can turn into double dips. We headed to the Carsaig Arches, not too dissimilar from the arches found at Durdle Door in the south or the elephant along the coastline near Montrose. Our idea was to swim into the beach to take in the majestic nature of the naturally form stacks, but the swell did not allow so option b turned out to be a lot more fun.

At this point I think it’s pretty poignant to point out that even though Take to the Water are chartering this boat for the weekend, Lynda highly recommends bringing wetsuit boots or swim shoes to protect your feet because there’s a surprising amount of scrambling along the way, all completely optional too of course. So, we donned our shoes and swam into shore, both myself and Lynda flanking our swimmers to ensure a safe entry to the beach.

We walk through a cave like tunnel, just like any other coastal landmark from afar, but there’s something incredibly special about these rocks. They were formed by the same lava flow that created Fingal’s Cave and the Giant’s Causeway with rock formations that physically show the extinction event of the dinosaurs. (As you can tell I became a bit of a rock nerd too, spending one of the nights furiously researching geological importance and maps of Mull…. If you’re interested in that sort of thing I hugely recommend a read! VERY interesting!) Made you feel incredibly tiny and very lucky all at once. What an incredible place to visit, somewhere, if you were on Mull, that would take you around 5 hours to walk to. One of the swimmers also pointed out that whilst venturing through this rocky tunnel we were silhouetted whilst gently navigating the pebbly surface below our feet, making us look like the walking dead and the video proves it. Lots of chuckles followed.

Back to the boat for more hot chocolate and some more of Kirsty’s delicious cherry madeira cake. Honestly, swimmers are great most of the time, but when they also bring homemade cake  makes it just sublime. On the venture back to the boat the Basking Shark guys think they may have found a fossil…. we’re still awaiting the update on that front.

Then it was back to the harbour whilst hot footing it to the fish ‘n’ chips shop. Lynda and I are on a mission to find ‘the best’ in Oban over the summer so looking forward to seeing how that turns out.

Day 3

 An earlier start for our second day out on the boat. Lynda and our pilot; Shane, have a great working relationship to understand what we’d like to do in terms of swim, and what can be  achieved over the course of a day. Then a few days before try to pencil in what might be possible if weather changes and have various plans in place, as even on the day  they may need to adapt. Saying all this though the plan for our Sunday boat trip was going to be an earlier one as conditions looked promising to make it to Fingal’s cave, a famous sea cave on the Isle of Staffa, but this did mean we were setting out to circumnavigate Mull.

Staffa is a hot spot for watching sea birds as well as wanting to wander into the cave via the path, but that was not the intention for today. Lynda was giving swimmers the unique opportunity to swim into Fingal’s Cave. Heading out early was all in hope that we’d beat the other tour operators in the area.

 There was an ulterior motive though, even though Shane will say he needed to get fuel, we had to make a stop at the village of Tobermory. If you don’t know, this is where the popular children’s TV series Balamory was filmed, but that was not the reason to visit. The bakery was where we were heading, and my, we were not disappointed. Even though mostly a convenience stop, in the 20 minutes we had we were able to nip in to get essentials at the bakery and swing by the aquarium to have a look at some local plankton underneath a microscope! Definitely worth a visit if you have more time, as they’re Europe’s first catch and release aquarium, but do check out their website for operational times before you go. On time of writing they look like they’re looking into new premise to re-open in 2025, but the gift shop is of course still open to the public so  do pop in!

Pastries in hand we went back for breakfast on the boat before zooming over to Staffa. Unfortunately, due to the urgency of getting to the cave we were unable to stop for a white-tailed eagle that was perched snuggly on a coastal rock. Majestic in stature with an essence of smugness that they knew we couldn’t stop to admire them further.

Shags darting in front of the boat, and so many of them clustered together they started looking like shadows amongst the almost reflective surface of the sea. Then we started to sea puffins, one and then two, a cluster of them, then as soon as we started getting close it was time to don our swim gear and get ready for entry. This one needed to be an efficient swim so we got enough time in the cave to experience it, but also give other guided groups their time in the cave too.

Before gliding into the water from the boat, Lynda made sure to give swimmers some top tips for when you’re in the cave. It’s a mystical place but you get drawn into it and can get lost amongst its wonder especially whilst you’re swimming. She expertly reminded us

“do not forget to look up”, the columns and patterns are completely spellbinding and is such an “other-worldly” type of swim. It’s also a place drenched in folklore, as this very lava flow that created the cave, also created the giant’s causeway. If you believe the legend about these locations, they are either end of an ancient bridge built by an Irish giant.

The cave has a unique acoustic quality so people are encouraged to sing whilst in amongst the hexagonal shaped columns. The only thing that came to mind was jingle bells, and there was no way I was singing that in May! Luckily one of the other swimmers was on hand and we burst into Bohemian Rhapsody, probably to the shock of anyone nearby, even Shane said he could hear us back at the boat. The “Galileo” section was particularly fun to sing in there!

 I was just out of my costume, when I was alerted we could go into the adjacent cave next to Fingal’s and there was no way I was missing that. (Lynda secretly wanted to scope out the possibility of another adventure…and the tide was perfect for it. So, watch this space). We quickly slipped (or scraped in my case, as wet body and dry swimsuit never align well) on another cossie to jump back in. The waves gently caressed the seaweed underneath the surface, teaming with life and even spotting a wrasse wrapped up in a seaweed sleeping bag. Watching the Basking Shark Scotland guides; Ben and Evan dive down to the depths, resembling selkies amongst the kelp forest beneath. A type of impromptu swim that you didn’t really want to leave. Fingal’s cave getting so much attention, you felt that this spot was new and untouched in some way. A swim we really had to drag ourselves back to the boat for.

Then it was time to circumnavigate Mull, heading to our next location, the mist was clearing so visibility was better, we headed to see if we could find any otters or wildlife in various places along the way to our next swim location. Both Ben and Evan, taking roll of surveying the landscape and horizon whilst we were moving, really making sure we weren’t missing out on anything along the way.

Our next swim was white sandy beaches of the Ross of Mull, huddled near Iona. Rock formations that resembled the homemade fudge from one of the swimmers. The water was lovely, but the fudge made it SPECTACULAR! After a swim we all basked and ate lunch whilst sitting in our towels aboard the boat. The type of swim that made you feel like you were somewhere more exotic than Scotland, but pointing out if we were anywhere else, there would be hordes of people. That’s the beauty of Scotland, not everyone gets to explore it’s wonders and I like to think you have to earn days like this. Go for many a rainy, dreich adventure to really appreciate the sun-soaked paradise that it conceals.

On our way back to Oban, Evan spotted a cluster of seabirds in the distance, which are always a good indicator that something is going on beneath the surface. He wasn’t wrong, we were there moments before a harbour porpoise’s fin was spotted amongst the guls. Harbour Porpoise’s are easily mistaken for small dolphins, but you can tell them apart from their dorsal fins (the fin on their back) that are more triangular shaped in comparison to the curved one of a dolphin. They’re also a lot smaller and usually spotted on their own, whereas dolphins usually travel in groups.

On the subject of dolphins, we’d only been there a few moments before there was a call over the radio that there was a small pod nearby, and would you believe it on our way back to harbour, on our final day, there we had our dolphin sightings. A handful of them coming to play alongside the boat, following us to the side and then peeling off against the wake of the waves we were creating behind. There’s something about seeing marine mammals in the wild that just makes you take stock, that of all the sea we have to enjoy, the expanse of it all, that animals choose to interact with us. Especially being onboard a vessel like this one, with a company like Basking Shark Scotland who care about the creatures below the surface as well as the wealth of knowledge they have to share to our swimmers too.

There was nothing left to do, but take a seat and bask in the sunshine on our way back to Oban harbour, feeling completely fulfilled from a weekend of swim adventure with Take to the Water and soaking in that real sense of contentment. These trips aren’t labelled as retreats or mental health focused but over the course of the weekend you see swimmers slowly peel back the responsibilities of life and  embrace the adventure. The support within in the water and the welcoming space on deck  creates and embraces confident, and an opportunity to talk nonsense, which interspersed with hilarity, and combined with   the post swim hot chocolates all leads to an aura of carefree wellness. That feeling of contentment veils the body and soul. The weekend  felt like an accomplished adventure for some, peeling off wetsuit exco-skeletons, whilst others conquering a wariness of deep open water.

Not long till the next one, but next time Take to the water will be exploring more of Eigg and Rum….

If you’re interested in coming along on an adventure with us Lynda can find out more information here:

https://taketothewater.co.uk/events/weekend-on-the-water-to-the-small-isles-and-around-mull-and-oban/

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