Scottish Swimmer

Wardie Bay: Discovering Edinburgh’s forgotten wild swimming venue

Wild swimming at Wardie Bay, Edinburgh
Wardie Bay, Edinburgh

After a couple of years of living in Edinburgh, I’ve finally got my head in gear and swum at my local venue, Wardie Bay. For most folks, it will have been easy to see why it’s taken so long. Picturesque it ain’t, and with Portobello relatively close by it was a venue too easy to pass up.

But for the past few weeks I (and Carrie on occasion) have forgone the traditional Sunday service at Porty and slipped in to the sea at the tiny strip of sand beside Granton Harbour, in Edinburgh’s north. This isn’t due to any newfound commitment, determination or bravery, but thanks to a group of wild swimming pioneers who have made a regular swim here a thing, and in whose footsteps I’m following … just in time for the winter season.

Wardie Bay is postage stamp-sized beach, maybe 50 to 100 metres or so of sand and pebbles, with a long breakwater extending out about 800m to protect the adjacent Granton Harbour, itself a couple of kilometres west of Ocean Terminal. A stone’s throw from the road that cuts around Granton, you access from the east through a gap in the roadside sandstone wall and down a series of worn stone steps that look more like twisted tree roots. Westside, there’s direct access from the main road through a metal barrier and the two-car car park the locals use.

You’ll maybe see the anglers standing along the breakwater, their long lines cast out towards the broken tooth skyline of the Western Harbour flats. Or strollers promenading along the stone slabs of the breakwater as it stretches out and round to embrace the wee flotilla of boats moored on the other side. Closer by, the low-lying cottages of Granton overlook the bay; the grand mansions of Trinity perch further up and further back. It’s a messy disjointed space; urban, but on the wild side; old fires pits and jaggies; saplings stretching out from broken sandstone blocks; streaks of black and brown sand; a scattering of mussel and razor shells. It’s a midden without the minging.

I feel I’m doing it a disservice, and I can already sense a growing fondness for the place. It’s wilder and closer to nature than the popular Portobello. Fewer people, both in and out the water. Dolphins have been sighted close by, and seals flop up onto a floating pontoon in the harbour. Kelp clings to the stone wall, and stretches out below the surface. Guillemots dive, tiny puffts of white spray as they hit the water. Redshanks dart about the rocky shore. There’s a local heron, too.

You get dog walkers of course, and couples, and kids. And every so often a gabble of wild swimmers turn up, hover, natter, then strip and step over sand, pebbles and the occasional bit of sea glass into the murky salt water.

First couple of times, I was fearful of what I was walking over. You expect this place to be dirtier than it is. But it’s clean enough. No doubt thanks to the local heroes who have fairly regular beach-cleans. They also monitor the teeming life of the place, above and beyond the water’s edge. This is their beach and they want to keep it nice. I’ve missed the past couple of clean-ups but it’s right and proper I take part in the next one. They’re also working towards getting the beach through a Bathing Water Quality assessment. Won’t hold my breath but I will cross my fingers.

The Wardie leg.

The only really bad case I’ve heard of something horrid in the water was the shocking story of a local triathelete who swam at Wardie regularly until he bumped into a cold and clammy dismembered adult-size leg. I can’t imagine the horror I’d feel from that, and I’ve no idea how Richard reacted but I can imagine his relief when he realised it wasn’t a real leg but that of a mannequin. After calming himself down – no mean feat – he dragged the leg over to the sea wall, then returned once ashore to take this picture!

Fair to say that Wardie won’t be featuring on many people’s swimming bucket list, but it’s now firmly my local wild swimming venue, a place where I can enjoy a sheltered sea swim, with a good crowd of wild swimmers, and be home within the hour. Shame it took me a couple of years to try it out.

Practicals: Access by foot from the A901 Lower Granton Road (NT 24101 77062). Nearby parking can be a pain but you could try roadside parking near the hospice at Boswell Road, or on the other side of the Granton Harbour at Lochinver Drive. I reckon most swimmers here are within walking distance though. Get changed on the sand by the harbour wall. Ten minutes walk east will get you to the Old Chain Pier, a fine pub with good food and drink, and stunning views across the firth.

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