Open water swimming in Glasgow city centre


Open water swimming in the heart of Glasgow? What a brilliant idea!

There are amazing things happening in Scotland’s great outdoors – and one of the latest exciting developments is right in the heart of Glasgow.

The new £3.25 million Pinkston Watersports centre is on the Forth & Clyde Canal and a hop and a skip from many thousands of office workers.

On offer so far at this facility, which is built on the site of the old Pinkston power station, is white water kayaking and open water swimming. Later this year, the centre will also boast a cable wakeboarding facility.

The kayaking takes place on Scotland’s first competition-standard, purpose-built artificial white water course. In a neighbouring flat-water pool, novice kayakers can learn the skills for a range of paddlesports before testing their technique and stamina on the white water course.

The pool is also being used as a base for new open water swimming sessions run by Vigour Events.

Open water swimming at Pinkston

Vigour Events, owned by Robert Hamilton, run several coached and general open water sessions at Pinkston each week. These sessions have proved very popular.

Swimming takes place in a concrete-lined open-air pool that measures about 350 metres around its perimeter. The depth is less than two metres at its deepest. There are ladders for getting in and out and a pontoon on one side.

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The water is filtered from the canal and kept at a high level of cleanliness.

Robert, a qualified open water swimming coach, has been amazed by the numbers at his three weekly sessions at Pinkston.

He says: “Last year, open water swimming really started to catch on and Vigour had around 150 members. This year membership has tripled. It’s been incredible.

“To keep up with the growing demand for the sport we launched the sessions at Pinkston, as well as our existing swimming at Bardowie Loch, near Milngavie.

“Pinkston has proved, very quickly, to be a popular location and at some sessions we have seen upwards of 40 and 50 swimmers in the water at once.”

Robert reports that both swimmers and triathletes are regulars at Pinkston. He says: “Pure open water swimmers are more likely to be women, while triathlon swimmers are more likely to be men. This is not a rule; it’s just what I have observed.

“And we are seeing many more beginners, both adults and kids, coming to Pinkston. I think people like to know that they will be looked after and helped in the sport rather than just diving into the unknown in a large loch.

“People who are new to open water swimming like the feel of Pinkston because it is a step up from the indoor pool but not as daunting as a loch swim.”

While the water temperature fluctuates daily, Vigour hope to keep sessions going into the winter months.

Robert says:  “We want the Pinkston sessions to go on for as long as we can, temperature dependent. At Bardowie we swam through last winter but Pinkston, being so shallow and made of concrete, is likely to freeze when air temperatures drop significantly. We’ll have to see.

“We will be back open again in the spring and will run more coached sessions, as well as the general swimming sessions.”

What is it like to swim at Pinkston?

20140513_084815I confess I am not a keen open water swimmer. I have trained for open water triathlons and learned how to cope with my anxieties and the cold in open-air water but I still feel anxious in loch waters.

I usually head to Loch Ard, near Aberfoyle, while friends also swim in Loch Lomond. That’s the great thing about Scotland, you can swim in so many wild places for free.

But most people will be keen to gain some experience and confidence before diving into the lochs. Many people are also looking for open water swimming lessons.

Swimming in a pool and being coached is useful but being instructed in the skills of open water swimming has greater benefits.

With open water swimming, there are no pool ends to push off from, the water is colder, swimming in a wetsuit feels more buoyant and this can mean adjustments to your swim stroke.

Vigour Events offers coached and supervised open water sessions at Pinkston. And I wish that Pinkston had been available when I started my triathlon training.

The water basin feels so safe and approachable – and a brilliant stepping-stone from swimming pool to loch or lake.

It’s not a huge pool and I could touch the bottom at various points to stand up. The water looked clean and, better still, is fish free.

The water temperature varies but is easily warmed by the sun. On the day that I swam it was 16.2 degrees. I’ve swam in warmer open water in a lake in England but mostly the Scottish lochs are colder.

Robert reckoned the water was “warm” and others that I spoke to agreed. I suffer in cold conditions because of Raynaud’s Disease but it was definitely bearable. Wetsuits and hats really help.

Like a swimming pool, there are ladders placed in the water for easy access and exit. Swimmers swim anti-clockwise around the inside perimeter of the pool and even with upwards of 40 or 50 swimmers there is space for all.

The atmosphere on a Wednesday lunchtime session, from noon until 2pm, was friendly and civilised. And it felt wonderful to be swimming in open water in the heart of Glasgow with the sun shining intermittently.

photo (44)I felt none of the usual fears about open water (fish, weeds, algae, creepy things) and enjoyed being able to see the edges of the pool for navigation. It was still important to “sight” on the swimming buoys at each end so as to swim in a straight line – and this was great practice for loch swimming when there are less identifiable sighting objects.

Two new-to-Pinkston swimmers were Lindsay McNeill and Eileen Williams, both of Ayr, who met this year through swimming.

Mum-of-two Lindsay, 33, says: “I took part in the recent Great Scottish Swim in Loch Lomond and swam the two-mile event. I’d never swam in open water before and I realised I need to do more training.

“Pinkston is the perfect place for me to become more familiar with open water swimming and it’s somewhere I can come without worrying about the dangers of loch swimming.

“I am also grateful to Robert for helping me to stay calm and relaxed in open water. He has helped me to overcome some of my fears.”

For Eileen, 60, Pinkston felt both nostalgic and exciting. She says: “I used to visit my gran in a tenement near Pinkston. It’s amazing to see how this industrial area has been regenerated.

“Having a modern open water facility in the heart of the city is brilliant. It’s easy to reach and it’s a great and safe place to swim. I have always enjoyed swimming and now I am learning to love open water swimming. I want to get better and to improve my fitness.”

Nick Green, who is a member of Glasgow Triathlon Club and an experienced open water swimmer, praised the accessibility of Pinkston. He says: “If you live in Glasgow it takes around 45 minutes to drive to a loch, such as Loch Lomond, which is fine if you have the time but having Pinkston on your doorstep is great.

“It’s not the same experience as a loch but it’s a lot closer to it than to an indoor pool. It still felt quite adventurous but safer and I found I got the same post-swim buzz from the cold.

“I hope they have more sessions than the existing three a week next year.”

To join a Vigour Events open water session you pay a first swim fee of £10, which includes membership to the National Open Water Coaching Assocaiation (NOWCA). This gives you a NOWCA electronic chip that is used at all sessions to track your swims. After this, each session costs £5. Wetsuits can be hired for £2.50.

Pinkston background

The Pinkston centre was made possible thanks to funding from the Scottish Government’s shovel-ready programme, Glasgow City Council, Sportscotland, Scottish Canals, the Millennium Link Trust, the People’s Postcode Lottery, the Gannochy Trust, the Robertson Trust and Garfield Weston.

Since completion this summer, donations have also been made by Foundation Scotland, NG Homes, the Rosemount Trust and the Big Lottery Fund.

The centre is located on the site of a former power station in a disadvantaged area of Glasgow.

It’s hoped that Pinkston will revolutionise watersports in Scotland, providing a home for the nation’s paddlers of today and tomorrow and play a key role in the latest stage of the regeneration of one of its most deprived areas.

Glasgow Watersports, a charitable body comprised of a group of volunteer watersports enthusiasts, has played a key role in driving the development of Pinkston and will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the centre.

See Pinkston Watersports

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2 comments on “Open water swimming in Glasgow city centre
  1. cate hewson says:

    Hi, do you know of any open water groups in Ayrshire? I am keen to take up this sport but not to compete, however dont want to be a lone swimmer for obvious reasons!
    cheers Cate


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