Wave of support for relaunched Kessock Ferry Swim


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A Scottish Highlands sea swimming event, which was last held more than 50 years ago, looks set to be a sell-out success. Just 36 hours after entries opened for the Kessock Ferry Swim 2022, almost two-thirds of places had been filled. The open water challenge on June 25, 2022, is now almost at capacity, although there are still some places if you are interested.

Swimmers will cross from South Kessock to North Kessock – and back – in a strait between the Beauly and Moray firths, near Inverness. You can spot the route from the Kessock Bridge which spans the water.

It’s 1200 metres there and back – and the waters are cold, exposed and tidal. In fact, part of the challenge of organising the swim has been to set a date when the currents and tide are most favourable. The Kessock Ferry Swim will take place on a day and time of high water with minimal tidal flow and therefore offering the optimum window for participants to complete the crossing both ways.

Kessock Ferry Swim in 1954. Credit: Highland Photographic Archive | Am Baile

Historic Kessock Ferry Swim returns

Johannes Petersen, the founder of Inverness-based outdoor education charity Àban, conceived the idea to relaunch the Kessock Ferry Swim this summer. From 1947 to 1968, the event had taken place annually. I have also heard from people who have completed the swim crossing at others times, although not part of an organised challenge.

Johannes said: “We are all about showing people how to enjoy local micro-adventures for the benefit of their health. The Beauly Firth is on our doorstep and if you know the crossing from South Kessock to North Kessock, it’s an obvious challenge for swimmers.”

Johannes is delighted by entry numbers already. He believes the history and unique location of the Kessock Ferry Swim have boosted interest. He said: “Open water swimming has become much more popular in recent years and there are plenty of events for people to enter across the UK. I think people are always looking for something different and our swim challenge ticks many boxes.

“There is a real story of history of open water swimming in the Highlands and several swimmers from decades ago have been keen to talk enthusiastically about times past.

“Also, many swimmers want to visit new and beautiful places and it’s not every day that people will have the opportunity to do a swim in such an iconic location and with safety back up.”

The Kessock Ferry in the last years of operation. Credit: Stephen Craven
The Kessock Bridge opened in the 1980s. Credit: Paul Anderson

What is the Kessock Ferry Swim?

Before the Kessock Bridge was opened in 1982, the Kessock ferry travelled the strait taking foot and vehicle passengers between South Kessock and North Kessock.

Johannes said: “It was the ferry crossing route that first gave rise to the idea of a swim for local people. In 1947, the first Kessock Ferry Swim was hosted by the former London Midland Scottish (LMS) Amateur Swimming Club.  The event carried on until 1968 and usually 20 to 30 swimmers, some as young  as eight, took on the challenge. 

“Back then, sea swimming and competitions were quite common in the Highlands but they started to die out with the introduction of indoor pools. It is great to see the enthusiasm for open water swimming returning and our charity is proud to be hosting the Kessock Ferry Swim 2022.”

Times have changed in other ways, too, and regulations require experienced safety support crew for the event. Participants must be at least 12 to enter the Kessock Ferry Swim 2022 and only those aged at least 18 have the option not to wear a wetsuit. Every swimmer must use a high visibility tow float.

Johannes said: “We are delighted by how popular this event is already. If anyone would like to enter they should do so soon. We are also hopeful that this swim will now become an annual event again.”

Merkinch Local Nature Reserve. Credit: Valenta

Community support for Kessock Ferry Swim

The Kessock Ferry Swim is being run by a community enterprise and many other local organisations have been very happy to support the event.

Johannes said: “Without the level of local support from groups and charities the event would not be possible.

“We are very grateful to everyone who has given us their backing and especially to the Friends of Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, which is our chosen charity partner for 2022.”

Friends of Merkinch Local Nature Reserve will receive 25% of profits from the swim, while 75% will go towards supporting the work of Àban.

Merkinch, which means “Island of the Horse”, is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Inverness. It is situated in the city’s north-west with the Caledonian Canal to the west and River Ness to the east.

Merkinch Local Nature Reserve is in an area that has been identified as the eighth most deprived in Scotland. Friends of Merkinch Local Nature Reserve believes that everyone deserves access to a green space, where they and nature can thrive. The charity works with local people to showcase the benefits of spending time outside in nature. Volunteers also maintain the reserve by removing litter, planting trees, maintaining paths and guiding visitors.

There are also three main sponsors of the event: Visit Inverness & Loch Ness, Gael Force Group and North Kessock Dental Practice. Merkinch-based charity, The Clay Studio, is also making special event mementos.

Johannes said: “The swim will have a great community atmosphere and that is very important to us as an Inverness charity.”

Other support has been offered by Inverness Harbour Trust, Scottish Canals (Caledonian Canal Team), North Kessock Community Pier, Inverness Marina, Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, Dolphin Spirit, Whale & Dolphin Conservation and UK Coastguard (Aberdeen) and RNLI North Kessock. 

Kessock Ferry Swim 1954. Credit: Highland Photographic Archive | Am Baile

How to enter the Kessock Ferry Swim: Standard or sponsored

Standard entry is £60. The event centre is just metres from the swim start and finish. After your swim, you will return to the warm indoor changing area and enjoy a hot drink and light meal (included in the price).

Sponsored is £30. The entry is half price although all the same details as the standard entry apply. However, in return for a half price entry , swimmers must commit to fundraising a minimum of £100. Sponsored swimmers receive a Kessock Ferry Swim 2022 memento.

If you live in the catchment area of Merkinch Primary School, enter MERKINCH75 at checkout for a 75% discount on either entry type.

For more information see:  Kessock Ferry swim 2022.