On our circular walk through the forest on the way to Loch Ard, we miss a turning and the 6km we planned on doing turns into more like 10. But on the bright side, we get a stunning view down over the far end of Loch Ard, through heather and pine trees, down to a shining blue inlet that glitters in the afternoon sun. The track down to re-join the main path is narrow and overgrown and carpeted in caramel fir needles. When we get to the waters edge it shines through, light glimmering off the surface. It creates a huge area of brightness pushing through the interwoven branches of the forest, the leafy green foliage outlined in stark contrast against the twinkle of sky reflected in the water. It’s sitting quietly, waiting to be admired.
Now we are on the main path there are more people, and more people on the water too – groups of brightly coloured kayakers drift at the edges, calling to each other, or shoot forward over the water in bursts of power, moving in starts like water skiers or skating dragon flies. The path dips up and rolls down over tussocks and past toadstools like the ones in fairy tales – red with raised white spots.
We find a place by the water where the edge dips down with a bit of a scramble. My sister has decided to join me, inspired by watching everyone at the Great Scottish Swim, and I help her get into my wetsuit – always the hardest part. A boat roars past and they call ‘hello’ as we teeter uncertain on the edge. Together, we count ourselves in and kick off, and I scream more than she does – which for her first time is impressive.
It’s special to swim with her, and the water is gentle by the banks, quiet and thoughtful as it reflects the placid sky above. We paddle one way, then the other, enjoying the shady patches and the undulating sunshine on our skin. The water is cool but not freezing and it’s clean and I can see right down to my feet.
There’s a sculpture in the water that looks like a tower of sticks – part of the Loch Ard sculpture trail – and we take care not to get too close. The forest towers above us, trees of many species growing together, the purple of the heather doubled back in the glimmering water.
It’s cold after, but we still have a way to walk to warm us up. The immersion in the cold water has made everything sharper, colours brighter, and I feel more deservedly tired.
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