Swimming Sound of Gigha was teacher’s perfect tonic

Matthew Bethell, right, celebrated with friend Eddie Blake onboard the safety boat after completing the swim.
Matthew Bethell, right, celebrated with friend Eddie Blake onboard the safety boat after completing the swim.

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A London primary school teacher chose to relax and unwind after an unprecedented year in education by visiting Kintyre – and swimming the Sound of Gigha.

Matthew Bethell completed the approximately 2.4-kilometre crossing from Rhunahaorine Point on Kintyre’s mainland to Ardminish Point on God’s Island in just 54 minutes on Tuesday July 27.

The 38-year-old only began wild swimming at a reservoir near his home shortly before the first Covid-19 lockdown.

‘I’ve done similar but slightly shorter swims in reservoirs and lakes but being in open water in the sea was a complete voyage of discovery,’ Matthew said. ‘The reservoir in London is a far cry from the Sound of Gigha!’

After a year of ‘ups and downs’, Matthew said it was a ‘real relief’ to get ‘a bit of a breather’ when his school broke up for the summer holidays.

Joined by his wife, Sarah Curran, and two daughters, Orla, six, and Remy, six months, Matthew ‘hot-footed it’ to Ronachan, near Clachan, on Saturday July 24 to visit his friend Eddie Blake.

Eddie, 37, who has lived at Ronachan in the past, has family connections to the area and visits every summer.

‘It’s the first time we’ve come up and we’ve been totally bowled over by the beauty of the place,’ Matthew said. ‘It’s stunning.’

He soon set his sights on Gigha and, after a few days carefully measuring and preparing, the plan to swim the Sound was in place.

‘We were very cautious about safety,’ said Eddie, who was in charge of the safety boat, a sturdy Drascombe Lugger his family has owned for about 30 years.

‘We had a crew of two on the tender boat – Chris Adlington and Matt Grieve – and carried all the appropriate safety gear.

‘We studied the tides and weather in advance and, on the day, we took a review and the conditions were ideal for the crossing.

‘We timed it with a slack tide and took a roughly straight line, keeping well clear of the Tayinloan-Gigha ferry route.’

Conditions were calm for the crossing.
Conditions were calm for the crossing.

The calm conditions made Matthew feel much more confident but he admits he remained nervous about the temperature of the water and encountering jellyfish, which happened about halfway across.

Matthew Bethell diving into the sea at Rhunahaorine Point.
Matthew Bethell diving into the sea at Rhunahaorine Point.

‘I am so thankful and appreciative to Eddie, and my mates who were there for moral support,’ Matthew said. ‘I had to have someone to get me a pint at the other side.

‘We had an absolutely lovely meal at The Boathouse restaurant on Gigha – I’ve never felt less guilty about eating out!’

Eddie 'clambered' on to some rocks after reaching Gigha in less than an hour.
Matthew ‘clambered’ on to some rocks after reaching Gigha in less than an hour.

He added: ‘It was such a fun experience and nice to do something a bit different, to set myself a bit of a challenge.

‘I’m always telling my children – my own and the children at school – that they have to push themselves, so I had to walk the walk – or swim the swim!

‘One of the things I found during lockdown in London was a real sense of claustrophobia and I think the sea gives you a bit of optimism; I love the expanse of being open and out there, it’s a real tonic.’

Matthew Bethell, right, celebrated with friend Eddie Blake onboard the safety boat after completing the swim.