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Why I Swim - Mairi MacKenzie

My name is Mairi – I grew up by the sea, in the Isle of Skye. We were fortunate to live by one of Skye’s few sandy beaches where we spent our childhood in and out of the sea and if someone asked me back then why I swam, I guess I would have said “because I can”!

When you grow up on an island particularly on the west coast of Scotland the sea controls nearly everything, even for those who’s livelihood is not dependent on it. If the weather is bad, the ferries are cancelled (I grew up pre Skye Bridge), this alone affects grocery supplies, deliveries, employment, holiday plans.

So I guess from a young age you learn to respect the sea, it’s not something we can take for granted or control – it quite literally shapes our environment, feeds us and on occasion takes lives yet despite this I’ve always been inexplicably drawn to it.

When I left home I didn’t think about the sea too much, I’ve often lived near it, sometimes so close I could hear it but until last year I had not been able to see it from my home. I stopped going in the sea, unless I was abroad and I rarely swam because I hate the chlorine and restrictions of pools. I let life get in the way, socialising, work, then family took up my time by which time we were living in the Isle of Lewis.

Life as I knew it changed Christmas week 2019 when my husband died, he died of glioblastoma which he’d taken in his stride following a diagnosis two years previous but sadly the illness was an unstoppable train and there was nothing we could do. We’d been together over 20 years and nothing prepared you for how dramatically your life changes when widowed with a young child.

I don’t mind admitting I’m a bit of a control freak, it’s a coping mechanism I think and through my husband’s illness I took charge of the household, keeping a roof over our head, understanding his illness, treatment options, facilitating my husband’s desire to keep working until the end. He had his driving licence taken away so I become his out of hours and weekend chauffeur at work, I took on the administrative side of his job so we could retain our tied house. I was made redundant from my work so found another full time post that allowed me to work from home. I became solely responsible for making sure our son’s life was as normal as possible, to ensure the changes didn’t have a negative effect on him. For the last three months of my husband’s life my world was a constant battle to control everything so that both my husband and son could carry on as normal and then it all started to unravel after he died.

My husband believed he’d left us financially secure, sadly due to the neurological impact of the disease resulting in an error relating to his will this was not entirely the case. On top of this I mistakenly believed I had secured our accommodation for two years but when we were asked to move four weeks after my husband’s death this destabilised my faith in the arrangement. Then the pandemic struck two months later. 2020 was extremely stressful both emotionally and financially and inwardly I really struggled to hold it together – although publicly I don’t think my mask slipped much.

Whilst I was home schooling, dealing with financial chaos and house hunting I was so lucky my full time employer was very supportive. I work for a distillery and they did everything they could to save the workforce and after seven months on furlough I successfully interviewed for a new internal position.

At this point we purchased a shared equity property in the Isle of Harris, much closer to work and right by the sea. In January 2021 we moved to our dream house and I immediately felt like I’d come home. To watch the sea from our lounge, to hear the sound of the sea 24/7, even the salt in the air on a wild day I love it all.

In early 2021 I contacted a local swim group, this is a guided group and they were so welcoming and patient as I have rubbish technique (shocking in fact but plenty stamina). They gave me the confidence and guidance through group swims, online lessons and old school observation to regularly dip.

Woman in a swimming costume walking away from the camera into the sea.

So why do I swim/dip? I do it because it gives me an amazing sense of freedom, a sense of calm - I have no control the sea dictates when I can go in, where, for how long. I love the weightlessness feeling in the water, the thrill of the cold as your breathing adjusts and stabilises.

The sea is always in charge, for me respect for the sea is primary. I don’t go in so I can talk about ‘wild swimming’ – it’s not an exclusive club, it’s just swimming or dipping (I dip more than swim). It’s not about distances or how often you go in and for how long… that would take the fun and freedom out of it, plus it’s dangerous to think you can control the sea.

Some days it’s not safe at all and all you can do is sit on the beach and look at it, other days maybe we can just play in the waves but that’s ok, I mean playing in the waves is just the best!

I feel that the sea by its nature has taken control and given me the freedom to LET GO of all the negativity and fear, to relax and in turn this helps other aspects of my life… where I’m still the control freak to an extent 😉


If you are new to outdoor swimming and feel inspired to give it a go, please ensure you do so safely. 

Firstly, have a read of our tips for winter swimming here and familiarise yourself with what's useful to have in your wild swim kit.

We would strongly advise trying out your first swim with an experienced cold water swimmer until you are completely confident of your own abilities. 

The Outdoor Swimming Society has a great list of local swimming groups which is well worth checking out and a quick search on Facebook should provide results.

And if you have any questions, pop a post in the Swim Feral Facebook page and our fantastic community of swimmers will be sure to help. 

Happy swimming xx



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