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WELLBEING: Outdoor swimmer Calum Maclean leaves his worries on dry land

Calum Maclean takes a break from life's stresses in a local river.
Calum Maclean takes a break from life's stresses in a local river.

Based, like the rest of us, at home these days, self-employed broadcaster Calum Maclean is missing that sense of freedom that underpinned much of his work pre-Covid.

Calum works in both English and Scottish Gaelic and is perhaps best known for the films he has produced for the BBC’s The Social and BBC Alba series Dhan Uisge, which shared some of Scotland’s hidden swimming gems.

His easy, good-natured screen presence has helped him to build a strong social media following, which in turn has helped to keep things ticking over since last spring. “As there was no freedom to travel around day to day, a lot of filming projects were cancelled,” he says,

“I have moved into more paid social media work really as a result of lockdown.”

Calum moved to the beautiful Highland Perthshire village of Aberfeldy last year but misses travel in general and having easy access to the sea in particular.

In lieu of travelling he says that during the first lockdown he “spent lots of time on the golf course, bivvied on the golf course, foraged wild garlic, did a lot of barefoot running”.

More recently he was even able to swim on the flooded course.

“Not having freedom I used to have – it is a pretty small complaint to have, I know,” he admits. “But being self-employed can be a lonely existence. I am mostly at home doing writing and planning with occasional trips for TV production now that we are allowed to and can film outdoors.”

A general love of the outdoors means that Calum has enjoyed swimming in Scotland’s coastal waters, lochs and rivers since childhood and he has fond memories of family holidays on Ireland’s West Coast. “I didn’t used to swim at this time of year until four or five years ago,” he says.

Lockdown has seen a huge rise in people taking up and referring to open water or wild swimming, but Calum sees the pastime as a more natural extension of his general love of Scottish landscapes and exploring both land and water.

“These days I call myself an outdoor swimmer,” he says, “but it doesn’t bother me so much what people call it.”

During the summer, more relaxed travel restrictions meant that he was able to get to favourite swim spots such as Arasaig on the West Coast or the stunning blue-green Lochan Uaine tucked away in the Cairngorms but for now he is focussing on finding new spots to swim close to home.

Lochan Uaine is a favourite swim spot.

Sometimes it’s enough just to head for a dunk in a stream near the house. “It makes you feel calmer,” he says, “gives you a chance to think. There is an endorphic boost once you have had your swim.

“There is certainly an addictive element to swimming in cold water. I do feel a need for it if I go without it for a few days.”

He has even been known to resort to an ice bath, which he describes as being much easier than “swimming in Loch Tay – that’s a brutal cold. Being in an ice bath is more of a focussed exercise.”

During tough times, Calum feels that cold water offers a great escape and there have been fewer times tougher than the last 12 months for many people.

“At the minute it can be quite easy to get annoyed by simple things,” he says, explaining that his swims and dips offer the chance to “wash the mundane away.”

When he gives his talk online next week, Calum will cover a little bit of everything he enjoys from the Gaelic language to swimming and “general outdoor shenanigans”.

“I was asked to give the talk by Kirsty Strachan who is the Fife Gaelic Development Officer. So I will chat about the outdoors in Scotland and give a bit of an insight into some Gaelic things like descriptions of places, stories.”

He is a passionate native speaker, having grown up in a household where his father spoke Gaelic and even his Australian mother learnt the language.

Apart from work with BBC Alba, “a lot of my videos try to bring the language in, put it in front of people, show that there is nothing to be intimidated by,” he says.

His love of the Gaelic language influences much of his work with regular features such as the fun Facal Friday Facebook posts currently exploring the language in the context of swimming in some pretty icy waters.

His slightly irreverent humour is to the fore as always and he has the luxury of being in charge of the subtitles, which hasn’t always been the case in the past when, “I make some very funny jokes but they don’t translate it very well!”

Once life drifts back towards normality and restrictions are eased, Calum is looking forward to exploring new swim spots all over Scotland.

Despite having swum across the Forth he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to explore Fife’s beaches and lochs.

Calum has swum across the Firth of Forth but is looking forward to exploring more Fife swim locations.

With that in mind, he is hoping that some of the audience members will be able to recommend some great locations for cold water therapy in Fife.

I’ve never swam in Fife is at 7.30pm on Wednesday March 10. Tickets are free and available via Eventbrite.