Portobello can be described in many ways – from Edinburgh’s seaside to the sea swimming capital of Scotland – and on any given day you’ll see little heads bobbing around in the water. I should know, as I spent a summer flat-sitting and watching the world go by as I worked from an envy-inducing bay window right on the prom.
At some point or other, I have swum from Portobello Beach at sunrise, in my lunchbreak, after work and in the evening, on my own and with groups. I’ve also splashed around in the waves with my niece and nephew. Memories of sea swimming at Portobello for me are abundant.
Most visitors to Scotland’s capital overlook the coastal areas of Edinburgh, instead gravitating towards neighbourhoods like Leith and Stockbridge. Portobello is just half an hour on the number 26 bus from Princes Street, making it a convenient seaside location not far from the city. On hot days, it gets busy with Edinburgh folk, but it is beautiful in all weathers.
The Wild Ones may be the most famous and well-established group of sea swimmers at Portobello, but they are by no means the only ones these days. There are so many dippers that you can always find someone to go in with. Each group has its own time, meeting place and stretch of sea it favours and in my experience they’re incredibly welcoming.
In my last week of flat-sitting on the prom, I indulgently took the Friday off work to swim at sunrise. I got in touch with a local group via Instagram and arranged to meet them in front of the swimming pool just before dawn. It was a beautiful sunrise and I chatted away to the other women as we swam and featured in all their pictures. It wasn’t until I got back to the flat and looked at my phone that I saw a message from the group I had arranged to swim with – “Are you joining us this morning, Emma?”
Unbeknownst to me, I had blindly joined a different group of swimmers who met at the same place slightly earlier. They had welcomed me warmly with no questions asked without me so much as introducing myself! Looking back, I now realise I’d seen the original group enter the water about ten minutes after us. Everyone had a good swim and a good laugh at my expense too.
It was Portobello too where I swam through winter in preparation for my February ice swim at Finland’s stunningly beautiful Lake Kuusijärvi. In bikini and bobble hat I braved the frost on the sand for sunrise swims in February with likeminded souls who couldn’t resist the lure of the Firth of Forth in winter. Knowing I’d be swapping Scotland for Finland, I did invest in neoprene boots and gloves to protect my extremities and make a concession to the world of wetsuits.
With the traditional Loony Dook at Queensferry having been monetised in recent years, the alternative event at Portobello has gained in popularity. This past New Year’s Day I joined around 2,000 people as they ran into the sea and ran back out again just as quickly, casting off their hangovers with the annual cold-water plunge. Further out, us regular sea swimmers watched on as the fancy-dressed dookers squealed in delight. Being involved in events like this with so many people adds an extra level to the all-consuming joy of sea swimming.