Morag Hughes' Marathon Swim Story

Morag Hughes’ Marathon Swim Story

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shannon Keegan captured the essence and the backstory of the long and prolific marathon swimming career of Morag Hughes, a Scottish swimmer in her Marathon Swim Stories (listen to the 29-minute podcast here).

Throughout the lockdowns, Hughes has been coping very well in these uncertain times. “I have been so lucky to be able to keep swimming outdoors all through our lockdowns. I eventually got around to swimming the full 10-mile length of Loch Lochy from Gairlochy to Lagan. It was a beautiful day.”

She also spoke about her favorite swim, a 28.1 km crossing of Loch Shiel in 2004. The 17.5-mile swim took her 11 hours 50 minutes. “The swim was planned as a stepping stone between Windermere (10 miles) and Loch Lomond (21 miles), but getting a date proved difficult. It actually took place after I swam Loch Lomond. This made it more relaxing as I knew I could do the distance. I felt relaxed and excited from start to finish and really enjoyed it, especially when I reached the part of the loch that I was more familiar with. I also swam over the wreck of the Clanranald, the passenger steamer that used to go up and down the loch before the road was built to Acharacle.”

The then 48-year-old did most of her training in Loch Shiel. She repeatedly did mile circuits at the Glenfinnan end of the loch. “But I also did some training in Loch Linnhe. I would be swimming at least 5 miles per week. There is only a forestry track down one side of the loch and high hills on the other. It is the most peaceful swim I have ever done. We met three boats the whole length of the loch.”

She also has a mysterious experience. “About a quarter way into the swim, there is a burial island with a 5th century bell on it. As I was passing the island, I could hear the bell ringing. My boatman who does cruises on the loch was spooked by this as there was no boat tied up at the island and he has tried to find a solution ever since to no avail.”

The conditions were a mixed calm at the start. “Then the wind got up and the loch became choppy. At the halfway point and for a couple of miles after some waves were breaking over my head.”

She completed her swim at a pier. “Then my support crew told me there were people waiting for me at the monument, the monument that commemorates the raising of the standard by Bonnie Prince Charlie, so I swam 800 meters over to it. They were amazed as they thought I would get into the boat to go over. I was met by quite a few locals who had a lovely fire going and had erected a gazebo. The manager of the local hotel was there with steak and chips and a pint of Guinness for me.

It was a lovely welcome after a beautiful swim.”

Listen to Keegan’s Marathon Swim Stories podcast with Hughes here.

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Steven Munatones