By Eilidh Whiteford
This summer open water swimmer Colin S Macleod aims to swim solo both the Little Minch (between Harris and Skye), and the Big Minch.
A keen swimmer from his childhood, Colin only switched from pool swimming the open seas in 2011, as he prepared to tackle the Little Minch for the first time as part of a team of local fundraisers.
The 15-mile open water swim challenge had to be called off before the team reached the finish shore on Skye; but Colin had been bitten by the open water bug – and is now ‘itching’ to complete the job this year.
“I’m itching to get on with the Little Minch Solo Swim as I was a member of the team that attempted it in 2011, but had to be abandoned as we neared Skye due to an incoming Force 6 wind,” he said.
“My mother is a member of the local Cancer Research UK committee and is always on at me to go back to finish the job as we were fundraising for Cancer Research in 2011, and I will be doing the same again this year.”
Open-water sea swimming for the past seven years, Colin has gained plenty of experience – and helped raise tens of thousands of pounds for a variety of charities.
In 2012 he was a member of The Big Minch Swim Team – an eight-strong team which swam 62 miles in 36 hours from Ullapool on the west coast of Scotland to Stornoway on Lewis, following the CalMac ferry route, to raise £24,500 for the RNLI.
The following year saw Colin as swimmer in the Western Isles Inter-Island Challenge team, swimming both the Sound of Barra and notorious sea stretch the Sound of Harris to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis charity The Leanne Fund.
2014 and Colin was team captain of The St Kilda Swim Team which made their first – but failed – attempt to swim from Harris to St Kilda; before he went on to complete a solo eight-and-a-half mile swim from Hushinish in Harris to Mealista in Uig, Lewis, in aid of the Hebridean Men’s Cancer Support Group.
Roll on 2015 and Colin and the St Kilda Swim Team successfully made the 55-mile crossing, accompanied by support boat ‘MV Cuma’ from Lewis company Island Cruising, to swim from Village Bay in St Kilda to Hushinish in Harris.
The successful attempt, which took the team of seven swimmers 35 hours, raised over £21,000 for four charities – The Leanne Fund, The Fishermen’s Mission, Aberlour Child Trust, and Yorkhill Children’s Hospital.
Colin returned to solo swimming in 2016 on A Swim to the Shiants, raising over £1,300 for the Hebridean Men’s Cancer Support Group; before last year saw him, with fellow swimmers Ed Smith and Stuart Baird, complete The Flannan Isles Mystery Swim and donated over £4,000 to Stornoway RNLI.
2017 also saw Colin swim his furthest solo fundraiser to date as he joined mainland based wild swimmer Norman Todd to swim from Achiltibuie to Ullapool – a distance of 14 miles – and help raise £4,000 for marine project ‘Living Seas’.
“I always feel a bit tense before a big swim as a lot of things go through your mind – can I do this? What if I get cramp?” said Colin, “but we had a great support team who looked after both of us very well during the 14 miles swim to Ullapool.”
The swim led to Colin and Norman nominated in the Top 10 Wild Swimmer of the Year 2017 by the Wild Swimming Brothers; Calum, Jack and Robbie Hudson.
“I was lucky enough to swim with the Hudson Brothers last August,” he continued. “It was a memorial swim for their grandmother but they made everyone feel really welcome and went out of their way to make sure I could attend the eight-mile swim of Loch Broom.
“As the sea was flat calm and the sun was out, everyone enjoyed the day with a BBQ being laid on at the end.”
But for an open water swimmer living in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, not every swim is in sunshine lit flat calm waters, as Colin knows only too well: “I would say the hardest swim I’ve done was from Hushinish to Mealista back in 2014,” he said.
“The sea was pretty choppy for the whole eight and a half miles making it a fair old slog for me all the way. Every swim does have their own challenges but with careful planning you can have most angles covered.
“Sea swimming is now something that I always wish I’d started when I was younger, as we live on a beautiful island with so many cracking swim spots.
“The main thing is to swim safe and never alone; but I love going to the many different locations that our islands have to offer for a dip, all year round, even if it’s just for 10 minutes in my trucks!”
You can find out more about Colin’s upcoming fundraising Minch challenges, and donate, online at www.theminchswims.co.uk
Backing from Rosie
Colin S Macleod approached Rosie Wiscombe of By Rosie in Cromwell Street, Stornoway, as a sponsor for the swims.
She says: “I have given him one of my Harris Tweed hoodies in the new 'lobster pot' tweed, and a hat for him to wear pre and post swims and to promote the shop, too.
“As part of the fundraising for the swims, I will be donating a percentage of 'lobster pot' sales to the two charities which are chosen” – the local Cancer Research UK committee and the Western Isles Community Care Forum.
Photograph: John Dyer