The Broadcast / Theodora van Duin: Source to Sea

Theodora van Duin: Source to Sea

A Dutch-Canadian photographer and swimmer living in Scotland, Theodora van Duin fell in love with outdoor swimming in the cold waters of the highlands. Following the River Etive from its source to where it meets the sea, she puts our latest swimwear through its paces.


3 min read

Words & photography by Theodora van Duin

For those brave enough, Scotland is a swimmers paradise. We’re lucky to have the legal right to responsibly access most land and inland water for recreational purposes. Glen Etive is the perfect playground to exercise these rights. Nestled in the Highlands, this glen is an enchanting valley with stunning peaks surrounding every which way. The River Etive carves through 18km of waterfalls, rapids and plunge pools before it joins Loch Etive, a 30km long brackish sea loch that spills into the sea north of Oban.

We planned to follow the single track road that hugs the river and wild camp at the head of the loch. The following morning we would make our way to some beaches at the other end of the loch near Oban, and in the evening we had a ferry booked to take us across to the Isle of Mull, to explore some westerly white sand beaches. I packed my Finisterre Yulux and Sula swimsuits so I would be ready for any temperature, with my Drift tote bag to carry it all.

Back at the River Etive, I climbed barefoot up a set of rocks that towered over a section of the river I hadn’t been to prior. Below me a gorge spilled out into two sheltered pools. The water was moving slowly with no immediate obstacles that I could be pinned against or dragged under by the current, and there were an abundance of entry and exit points which are crucial when swimming in rivers, as you can be carried downstream from where you entered. I gasped with excitement, it was perfect.

As I slid in I braced for the stinging sensation that had become all too familiar over winter. To my surprise it wasn’t remotely as cold as I’d anticipated. I merrily swam upstream exploring a bit of the gorge before floating back down again to where I started.

Continuing our journey down the rhododendron and bluebell lined road, we watched the river banks transition from rocky outcrops to grassy pebbled sand, until we reached the head of the loch.

‘Loch’ is the Scottish Gaelic word for a lake or sea inlet. From the surface they can look deceivingly calm but there are often wind currents, undertows and tides that can drag you out beyond your depths. Lochs are also known to have steep drop offs, sometimes very close to shore, and even in the height of summer it is still easy to get cold water shock or hypothermia, which can affect even the strongest swimmers.

That evening was the lowest and stillest I had ever seen the loch, the tide exposing a small island I had never seen before. We threw our tent up before I waded in for a quick dip, the nearby mountains bathed in the blue dwindling light. The temperature was similar to the air, the shallows likely having warmed up in the sun that day. I watched tiny fish swim by my feet before I dried off next to our fire, ate dinner and had a hot drink before tucking into bed.

In the morning while packing down our tent, I groggily scanned for any otters or seals, and the sky for eagles. Instead I found a few toads, a common lizard and a paddle boarder gliding across the glassy water. We were being eaten alive by midges so we didn’t stay long, opting to skip another swim and continue straight on to the coast.

The sea was crystal clear both on the mainland near Oban and on Mull. We camped above a beautiful sheltered beach across from Iona for two nights. Before entering the sea I checked tide times, and spent a long time observing the water searching for any riptides and obstacles. Compared to the glen, the sea was utterly freezing. Despite this, I was pleased to have brought my goggles and fins and explored nearby.

I loved the visibility the white sand beaches offered and how the sunshine illuminated the turquoise waters. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about our first swim. It made me nostalgic about my childhood along the Canadian Rockies, where I spent many summers cooling off in the local rivers.

My favourite bit of kit from the trip ended up being the Drift tote. It held everything I needed to swim and had plenty of room left over for extra layers and snacks. It was comfortable to carry over my shoulder which kept my hands free. Sand and debris wipe off easily too.

Both swimsuits were great for different functions. I primarily wore my Sula swimsuit due to my high tolerance of cold water and the ease of getting changed. The sea was only 9℃ on Mull but thanks to my Yulux suit I managed to comfortably dip in and out for an hour on our last evening, making the wetsuit wriggle well worth it.


No matter where you’re swimming it’s best to be well within your limits. Swimming conditions are always in flux, so even in a familiar place it’s important to take the time to properly evaluate each scenario like new. If you’re a beginner or just want to learn more about outdoor swimming, here’s a short reading list to get you started.

The Outdoor Swimmers Handbook by Kate Rew 
Outdoor Swimmers Code
Swimming safely in the sea 
RNLI: Open water swimming safety


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