The Sunday Post (Newcastle)

Taking the plunge on idyllic


Legend has it that if you visit Iona once, the island will call you back three times. With its blackest-black rock that dates back two billion years, and pure white beaches made almost solely of ground limpet shell, the tiny Hebridean island certainly feels steeped in magic.

So I shouldn’t be surprised to find myself visiting for the second time just months after I first made the trip earlier this summer.

This second jaunt is the climax of a three-night wild swimming retreat, hosted by Hebridean Wild Swimming coach Emma MacDonald on the neighbouri­ng Isle of Mull.

Emma hails originally from Australia but built up a swim coaching business in England before relocating to Mull with husband John. Now surrounded by some of Scotland’s most untouched beauty spots, she’s hosting three-night and five-night retreats for novice and experience­d wild swimmers, respective­ly.

Undeniably novice sea swimmers, my partner Steve and I join eight others – a mix of couples and solo travellers – on the three-night retreat as summer tails into autumn.

Hosted over Friday to Monday, it’s an action-packed stay – and the fun begins on the ferry from Oban to Mull. As we wave goodbye to the mainland we see the stunning Lismore Lighthouse, a brilliant white beacon against a rather bleak September sea.

And when the ferry’s huge mouth spits out our car on the other side, it’s a scenic hour-long drive along Mull’s one circular (single-track) main road to Achaban House, near Fionnphort.

Across the Friday afternoon, all 10 swimmers arrive in dribs and drabs at the stunning retreat house, owned by friendly couple Matt and Rachel Oliver.

After a short rest in our comfy bedroom, we’re enticed out by the smell of a scrumptiou­s dinner cooked up by chef Anna Mockford, who caters our entire weekend using locally sourced meat and produce. Introducti­ons flow with the wine before an early night to get ready for the next morning’s swim at the serene bay of Knockvolog­an, which knocks my neoprene socks off.

Slotted into the hill at the bottom of a bumpy footpath, the bay is sheltered from the slightly stormy weather, with no waves and little wind, making it the perfect spot for the group to get our feet wet.

Some of the more serious swimmers follow Emma out for some technical coaching, meanwhile, dippers like us bob around happily in our depth for 30-40 minutes. After getting warmed up, showered and dried back at Achaban, it’s off for a walk to Kintra along the shore of Loch

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