I have left behind the turquoise waters of Scilly and travelled to just about the furthest point of the mainland you can get before setting sail once again, Inverness. A family birthday has bought a bunch of soft southerners up across the Scottish border to meet in a beautiful little town called Aberlour.
The town holds many seasonal delights for us to enjoy, rich, brown, silky conkers; a vast spectrum of autumnal hues all glittering and dancing in a crisp blue sky and a frosty air to nip the nose. Shops full of Scottish Salmon, whiskey and haggis, a pub where the air inside is snuggly warm and full of jovial frivolity and quietly meandering it’s way past all of this is the vast River Spey.
The Spey originates from the Scottish Highlands, flowing 107 miles through wooded valleys and heather moors to its mouth at Spey Bay on the Moray Firth.
Of course it’s far too good an opportunity to miss, a wild swim in an awesome river. A few inquiries locally for some safety advice on where to enter the River reveals new words such as spate and undercurrents, no tidal flow here. After a little recce up the River bank I find a spot where the fishermen stand that I can safely get into and out of the water. So a plan for an early morning dip is hatched.
The river flows quickly towards the centre and far bank but relatively slowly on this side. I can get in, swim down and leave following the flow.
The dark, peaty amber liquid in the water echoes the amber liquid that famously fills glasses but I have a feeling it’s not going to warm the innards as the whiskey does.
My bare feet sink into leave mulch and cold mud as I scramble down the bank and onto the slippery rocks that lay on the riverbed. The water is icy cold and my skin flares with goosebumps as I creep lower into the river. For the first time in years the coldness of the water causes my breath to catch in my chest, if only for a short while, and a few whoops and shrieks escape into the frosty morning.
The river here is shallow and my knees bump along over the smooth rocks as I flounder my way downstream. Very quickly my hands a feet lose feeling but breathing becomes steadier and I can focus on the beauty around me. The colourful river bank, the width and stretch of the river, the rise of towering Ben Aigan on the horizon, my limbs illuminated amber in the water and the salmon leaping and splashing on the far side.
It is with quite a relief that after a distance of 132 metres I reach the dip in the bank that allows me to clamber out of the 3° degree water on numb stubby feet and attempt to move my limbs enough to dry off. I am as pink as the salmon that call the Spey home but despite the aching pain in my toes and fingers a buzz and thrill is beaming in my smile and twinkling in my eye.