International athlete Keri-Anne Payne urges swimmers to â€˜come and tryâ€™ her sport.
Proof that openwater swimmingâ€™s popularity is soaring came at the Helix in Falkirk this week.
Scottish Swimming had arranged for one of the sportâ€™s star talents, Keri-Anne Payne, to come to the Lagoon within the park in order to help publicise a series of Come and Try sessions this Sunday.
But by the time Keri-Anne, who won silver in the 10k at the Beijing Olympic Games, arrived the sessions were all fully booked. Now Scottish Swimming plans to organise some more sessions. The organisation is delighted at the response, and hopes the Edinburgh-based swimmerâ€™s visit will help raise the profile of the sport even further.
Sitting in the new Plaza cafÃ©, overlooking the shallow, round Lagoon, she said: â€œThe great thing about openwater swimming is the freedom it gives you. You can just wade into that water and go wherever you like. Youâ€™re not constrained to lanes like you are in a pool.â€
The drizzle petered out, the sun began to shine and Keri-Anne, a two-time world 10k champion, peeled off her outer layers to pose beside the dazzling yellow wild irises that fringe the water.
She was then joined in the water â€“ a bracing 16 degrees â€“ by a dozen triathletes from clubs in Lanark, Stirling and Hamilton who were keen to pick up tips on openwater techniques such as sighting, or staying on course.
They included John Dyer, who at the end of this month will join eight other swimmers â€“ five men and three women â€“ in a sponsored swim from Horgabost, on Harris, to St Kilda, a 60-mile trip that has never been done before.
They will be raising money for The Leanne Fund, which helps young people with cystic fibrosis, The Fishermen’s Mission and Yorkhill Children’s Charity. They are prepared to contend with waves, icy temperatures and jellyfish â€“ none of which were a problem at the Helix.
John, a retired fireman, said: â€œItâ€™s great to be here. Itâ€™s a lovely place and Keri-Anne is very friendly and down to earth. You would never think sheâ€™s been so successful at her sport.â€
At the launch event for the Come and Try sessions, Scottish Swimmingâ€™s marketing development manager, was amazed at how popular the sessions had proved.
He said: â€œThereâ€™s so much interest in openwater swimming just now.â€
Although this weekendâ€™s sessions are booked up, Scottish Swimming is planning more such events, and you can register your interest on the organisationâ€™s website below.
The Helix, which has been developed on reclaimed land between Falkirk and Grangemouth, is home to artist Andy Scottâ€™s giant horse heads sculpture, the Kelpies, and is proving a popular venue for runners, walkers, cyclists, horse riders and kayakers, as well as a nature reserve.