The beautiful, yet chilly, waters of Loch Lomond were the location for a world record breaker earlier this month.
A team of six women from Helensburgh swam the length of Loch Lomond â€“ and became the first relay (male or female) to swim the full 24 miles without aid of a wetsuit. The Maids of the Loch relay team achieved the British Long Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA) record in 14 hours and 21 minutes on August 10.
The seed of the idea came last year when one of the ladies, Mary Connolly, decided that she would celebrate her 60th birthday in 2013 with the epic swim. While most 60-year-olds might throw a party or go out for dinner, Mary wanted to do something big and outdoorsy.
She suggested the Loch Lomond challenge and five friends agreed to join her as part of a relay team. While other swimming teams have completed the same route, they have done so in wetsuits. To become the record breakers the ladies would need to shed their wetsuits and brave waters that rarely reach 16C in just their swimming costumes.
And so The Maids of the Loch â€“ Mary, Morag Scott and Linda Wilson, both 46; Lesley Serpell, 44; Maria Dye, 47, and the youngest 40-year-old Emma Cummings â€“ began their training. With the help of Lomond Masters Swimming and Triathlon Club, the six embarked on a swimming programme at local indoor pools and in Loch Lomond.
Photo: Phil Dye/Media Scotland
Maria said: â€œI was one of the least experienced swimmers and I have only recently learned to swim the crawl. To start with my training was a lot about technique but after that it became hours and hours of swimming lengths.â€
Training six days each week, the ladies put in hundreds of laps at the pool and spent several hours in the loch. A cold start to the open water swimming season meant that their first loch swims couldnâ€™t take place until May.Â Maria said: â€œIn the end we just had to get on with the cold. The water was very late to show any signs of warmth but with the planned swim event in August we needed to get into the open water.â€
The ladies swam in wet suits to start with as most people in Scotland do when faced with cold loch waters. Eventually they braved the waters in swimming costumes only.
Maria said: â€œI thought the loch water in a swimming costume would be truly awful but it turned out that I quite like it. Yes, it can be cold, but the freedom of swimming without a wetsuit is amazing.â€
The Maids of the Loch also turned the relay swim into a charity fundraiser. So far they have raised an amazing Â£6,000 for CHAS.
The Maids of the Loch swim – Photo: Phil Dye/Media Scotland
As the big day dawned, nerves began to set in. Marie said: â€œI think we all felt confident that we could do the swim but there was the pressure of trying to set the world record. None of us wanted to let the team down.â€
According to the BLDSA rules, the team had to take it in turns to swim an hour each of the length of Loch Lomond from Ardlui south to Balloch. They were not allowed help at any point during their individual swimming leg.
Maria said: â€œWe obviously had support in the way of boats and kayaks but if we even touched one of the boats during our own swim we would not qualify for the record. The rules are strict.â€
Each of the ladies swam at least two hour sections and the first two women to swim ended up doing three one-hour legs. The third woman did the final 21 minutes.
Maria said: “Once we were in and doing our swim legs we just got on with it. I really enjoyed it and although it was very cold it felt great to be part of such a fantastic challenge.Â Some of the ladies did suffer cramp and the biggest difficulty was staying on course. We had to sight using the kayak up ahead because there is really very little to see in the middle of the loch other than dark water.â€
Starting in darkness in the early hours of the Saturday, the ladies completed the record swim at 6.41pm the same day.Â â€œFinally reaching the southern shores at Balloch was incredible,â€ said Maria after the challenge. â€œWe were greeted by a huge crowd of friends and family and although we knew we had set the record we still couldnâ€™t quite take in what we had done. Even days later it feels surreal.â€
At Balloch, the Sealife Loch Lomond centre kindly offered up space for free for the post-swim party. Weâ€™ll bet the Champagne tasted particularly good after spending the day in the waters of Loch Lomond.