Thursday, 14 February 2008

Morning swim off the west beach of Berneray

I wrote in 2006 about nude swimming off the beaches of the Outer Hebrides and Berneray. The practical, as opposed to the theoretical, part of this isn't something I do often, primarily due to the temperature of the sea. Though, since originally writing about it, I've discovered (not in a spying way!) that several other Uist residents take an unclothed dip off their local beach. And on (or just off) the Island of Lewis, which is even closer to the Arctic Circle, the Scando-German method of outdoor swimming is not unknown.

The legality is still unclear. I previously asked several members of the Comhairle about it; when they'd stopped sniggering, they didn't know what the situation is on local beaches, or whether a naked swimmer off an Outer Hebrides beach could or would be prosecuted for breach of the peace.

So, partially as I haven't done it in a while, and partially as I needed a picture for my entry in a local photographic competition (theme: "Hebridean Naked"), I went for a swim off the west beach of Berneray this morning.

It was cold.

After 4 minutes I realised I'd stopped enjoying it altogether. Total time immersed: 4 minutes 20 seconds. Having said that, it felt healthy, though huge strands of seaweed sliding past you in the water is a bit disturbing. Once the feeling had returned to various extremities, I was quite tingly all the way back home.


And it is also good to swim in the totally unpolluted waters of the Outer Hebrides - unlike off many of the popular beaches in the UK, which are the equivalent of swimming in (someone elses) septic tanks.

I'm expecting my Finnish colleagues, who spend much of their time beating themselves naked, in hot saunas, with twigs [1], to mock my pathetic efforts as I didn't stay in the water very long, swim to the nearest island, or exhibit other sisu traits. And I can see why the Finns drink more coffee than any other country, as the one thing I really wanted straight after my dip was a flask of piping hot java.

Will nude swimming take off in Berneray and other islands of the Outer Hebrides? The sea temperature is the biggest barrier, and probably means that, to the disappointment of any voyeurs, they won't see waves of naked women running in and out of the sea. Though the typical image of Brits, partially correct, is of a race afraid of communal nudity [2] while the rest of Europe tear off their clothes at the first opportunity, there are an increasing number of people who aren't bothered about this kind of thing.

It also helps that beaches here are generally isolated - the only incident likely on Berneray is that Ben, Millie or Leo get an unexpected surprise on their daily walk - deserted [3] and clean. And, as elsewhere in the UK and with the Outer Hebrides needing to promote itself more, there may be tourism and marketing opportunities, to Scandinavians, Germans and naturists [4].


[1] Your Finnish word for today is "Vihtominen" - the enjoyable pursuit of beating yourself, while naked, with twigs of birch.

[2] As the prime example of the traditional British attitude to nudity, I sent a copy of this film to a few of my Finnish colleagues. They remain utterly baffled.

[3] On Berneray, naked swimming is best off in the sheltered coves on the south side of the island. Or, the middle of the west beach as the north end is where locals often walk and the south end where campers sometimes are. The east beach - unless you are an exhibitionist - is not suitable as the hostel is often busy.

[4] Try the International Naturist Federation (warning: graphic picture of volleyball match on home page).


  1. I wish I hadn't looked at the naked volleyball match picture. Especially as we are having chipolatas for dinner tonight.

  2. Barra: local beaches for local (clothed) people? at Silversprite25 August 2008 at 00:14

    [...] like it’s a good job I didn’t try this on Barra instead of Berneray. Actually I did, off the west beach of Barra close to the big hotel [...]