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Fire and ice: Seaside sauna for wild swimmers in Stonehaven is proving huge success

Hot and cold therapy in Stonehaven.

Gayle sweats it out in the  wood-fired sauna at Stonehaven Harbour. Picture by Kath Flannery.
Gayle sweats it out in the wood-fired sauna at Stonehaven Harbour. Picture by Kath Flannery.

Gayle enjoys a wood-fired sauna in a converted horsebox – before plunging into the sea for a swim at Stonehaven Harbour.

It’s a chilly 1C when I make my way to Stonehaven, and snow is still lying on the ground.

The idea of throwing myself into the sea doesn’t exactly appeal; I shiver wildly at the very thought.

Regular readers will know I’m a fan of swimming (in just a costume) in lochs, rivers and indeed the ocean, but I’m less keen in winter.

Luckily, I’m heading straight for a major source of heat first – a wood-fired sauna launched by Dave Jacobs of Stonehaven Paddleboarding last summer.

Dave stock the fire with wood.

It’s beautifully clad on the outside with driftwood collected from the beach, and is housed inside an old horsebox Dave converted.

Once he’s given me the lowdown on how it all works – it’s very simple – I strip down to my swimsuit and get in.

Sweating it out

The heat is sensational, rising to around 85C as I sit there and start to sweat.

Dave pops in to add more wood and shows me how to drizzle water – infused with eucalyptus oil to help open lungs and pores – onto the sauna rocks. This produces a wonderful steam.

Gayle peeks out of the sauna while Dave gets ready to stock it with wood.

I’m keen to fully immerse myself in the experience – plus I’ve got a lot of grey roots I want to hide – so I pop on my green sauna hat, gifted to me in Finland last year.

Dave seems impressed. “You’re the first person to turn up with one!” he enthuses. “They make a huge difference.

“You dunk it in fresh water and put it on. The idea is that while your head that gets hot first, your body’s not up to core temperature, so if you keep the sauna hat on it should make you stay in longer.

“It means you can just fire into the sea and it’ll feel like the Med!”

Warming up nicely.

Meditative experience

There are cracking views of the sea, harbour, and little boats bobbing about on the water, and it’s a brilliantly meditative experience.

When I’ve been in for a good 15 minutes – there’s an egg timer on the wall so you can keep track of time – I feel brave enough to take on the North Sea.

It’s only a few metres away, and despite the chill in the air, it does look rather enticing.

I gingerly make my way across snow-clad pebbles and wade right on in.

To my surprise, and as Dave predicted, it’s not that much of a shock, no doubt a result of my core temperature being nicely warmed up!

Gayle bravely heads into the sea.

I swim around for a good 10 minutes, thanks to my neoprene gloves, which are an absolute godsend.

“You’re mad!” declares a muffled-up, beanie-hatted man standing on the pier, and, well, maybe I am.

Hot and cold immersion is the business!

I won’t lie – I can’t wait to get back into the sauna. And what a joy and sensation it is to be instantly warm after a wild swim.

Many times before I’ve suffered from chattering teeth and numbness in my extremities for ages after, but not today!

Back inside the sauna, the temperature rises to around 90C and it feels oh so nice.

I’m so hot that I’m tempted to pop in for another swim but decide I can’t be bothered. Cosy and warm suits me fine.

Ultra toasty.

Cold showers are available on-site if you fancy, but the water has frozen today, and I’m happy to give it a miss.

If you’re after amazing hot and cold therapy, you absolutely need to give this a bash.

Popular venture

It’s such a fantastic innovation, and Dave tells me he’s been inundated with bookings.

“People are really getting into it,” he says. “My usual customers are ones that wild swim already, but they’ve discovered it’s a hell of a lot easier if you’ve got a bit of a heat right after the swim.”

The sauna is proving hugely popular.

There are also those who use it to pep them up before a night out, and others who like a bit of a singsong round the fire pit post-sauna.

Dave, who’s also a ski coach, uses it after exercising, and really feels the benefits; it gives him a huge boost.

He’s hosted folk from all over the world, with some preferring to parade around in the nude…


So what inspired his sauna venture? He tells me he noticed they were becoming big news in the south coast, especially around Brighton, and that many of them were in converted horseboxes.

He suspected one in Stonehaven would be popular and started casting the net around to see how easy it would be to build.

He contacted local stables, bought an old horsebox, got the wood and stove imported from Estonia, and then scoured YouTube videos for instructions and asked people who’d already built a few for advice.

His DIY skills were truly put to the test but once it was built, he got AG Fenton from Stonehaven to install the stove.

So far, the sauna has attracted swimmers, paddleboarders, kayakers and runners, but anyone can get in touch to book a slot.

Gayle enjoys a chilly swim in the knowledge that she’ll be able to jump right into the hot sauna.

The sauna can reach temperatures of 85C or higher and the dry heat is known to help with pain relief and recovery, as well as promoting relaxation. The experience can flush out toxins from the body and improve circulation.

And there are huge benefits of combining a sauna session with a cold plunge.

  • The sauna is available to book at £50 an hour for up to six people and is available most days. Dave is also running a series of full moon sauna sessions with the next – Flower Moon – on May 5.
  • The sauna is mobile, and Dave is happy to take it to other locations whether for corporate events, birthdays or special occasions. For more information and to book see either the Instagram or Facebook pages of Stonehaven Paddleboarding or go to: