Firth of Forth

Firth of Forth marathon swim.

I sometimes used to swim off the beach at North Berwick in preparation for channel swims and would look over across the Forth to the coast the other side in Fife thinking that it would be a great swim. I finally got inspired in the summer of 2011 to find someone with a boat and to give it a shot. Setting this swim up actually proved quite tough as no matter which dive school, sailing school or local fisherman that I talked to I always drew a blank as regards finding someone to accompany me. In the end Port Edgar marina came up trumps and offered to provide a small rib (a dinghy with a rigid base and large outboard motor) with a crew of two for the day. The weather in the ten days or so before the swim was atrocious and it would have been too rough to swim but by the planned day of the swim it was calm and sunny. The first leg of the swim takes you out past Craigleith island and you are surrounded by all sorts of sea birds including puffins and the famous local gannets from the Bass Rock that dive down into the water close by you. Then you can head more or less straight for the beach at Earlsferry allowing for some minor tidal effects.

I had heard that Ned Barnie, something of a local character who used to swim in the Forth off Portobello beach every day of the year, had done a much shorter swim further up the estuary from Granton to Burntisland back in 1924, but apart from this I assumed the swim had not been attempted before. This subsequently proved to be untrue as Andrea Gellan, the first and only person to cross the notorious Pentland Firth, did the swim in the 1990s.

The distance of the swim is approximately 10 miles and despite the fact that this swim has not been done much before I think it is still a great one to do, especially if you are thinking of doing the English Channel as there are many similarities in the kinds of sea conditions and shipping that you are likely to encounter.

You will need to inform the relevant coastguards and harbour masters of your intentions a few days in advance as there are a few tankers and ferries that make their way up towards Grangemouth and Leith.

20 Responses to Firth of Forth

  1. Stuart Dedman says:

    Dear Sir,

    It is my understanding that there was a regular Firth of Forth race, and that the race record is held by Mr Dallas Aitken of the Portobello Swimming Club.

    The trophy was held at the Portobello Baths and has since disappeared.

    Can you advise if the cup still exists and where it is located.


    Stuart Dedman

    • Karteek says:

      Hi Stuart

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’ve never come across that race before and am unsure what it would have been. Given the amount of organisation necessary just for one person to swim across and the vagaries of weather and tide on top I think it’s unlikely it was a race all the way across. I can’t think where the trophy might be but if think of anything or anyone that might know something I’ll keep you posted.


  2. Rita Cherrie says:

    My 2 nephews swam the forth just recently Their names are Stephen and Mark Hamilton of Gorebridge Midlothian. No cup was involved , they did it for the challenge, their facebooks have all the details.

  3. Sue says:

    Hi Stuart and Karteek
    There is indeed a cross-Forth race – or at least was, I don’t know if it still runs. Here’s a story from the 2010 event, which says the route was between South and North Queensferry, about 1.4 miles:

  4. Colleen Blair says:

    Hi, just a note about the pentland firth I was the first person to swim to swim it and there have been about four more including Andrea who have completed the swim

    • Karteek says:

      Thanks for the update Colleen. You and Andrea are the only ones I know about who have done the swim and I can’t find anything on-line about anyone else having done it. Let me know if you have any other information and we can create a list for the records.


  5. Rosie says:

    How did this compare to your other swims in terms of the difficulties?
    As someone who does O/W swimming for triathlon but have never done longer than 4k in one go, would it be possible? And do you have to go a specific route? I have friends in Anstruther and Dunbar and so would love to go from one to the other!
    Any tips you can give me would be gratefully received

    • Karteek says:

      Hi Rosie

      Sorry for the delay in replying. Well I started from North Berwick and aimed for Earlsferry and Elie which is the shortest way across at that point if you look at the map. Dunbar to Anstruther is significantly further (almost double I think) but would still be a great swim. If you’ve done 4k already then you are well on the way and it is just a question of a little more training. The distance is more of a mental thing but it seems the only way to crack that is through training. Probably one of the key things is if you plan to do it in a wet suit or not. Channel swimming rules are all about not using a wet suit and the man/woman against the elements factor adds in a whole other dimension. It’s obviously harder without a wet suit but it’s still a great achievement to do these swims wearing one. I’ve always done all my swims without one so it’s hard to comment on what is required for a wet suit swim. Let me know a bit more what kind of swimming you have done and how you would plan to do it and I’d be more than happy to make some suggestions. There’s a fair bit of logistical planning as well since you would be cutting across shipping lanes but I can also let you know about that side of things too if you decide to do it. There is a little effect from the tide there but it is not too much and should not make too much difference. Looking forward to hearing back from you.


  6. Anne says:

    Hi, do you know if it is ok to swim at Bo’ness.

    • Karteek says:

      Hi Anne

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’m not sure about that as to be honest have never swum much anywhere nearer Edinburgh than North Berwick which is pretty much open sea by the time you get out there. I know triathlon clubs train at Portobello and there is a swim across the Forth at Queensferry but it might be better to check the water quality first.


  7. Linda Forrester says:

    Dear ,

    With reference to Stuart Dedman’s memory that Dallas Aitken of Portobello Amateur Swimming Club won the Granton to Burntisland Race. I wonder if he is thinking of the club’s annual mile sea swim which was from the Baths to Joppa and back?

    Dallas was my first boyfriend in 1959 and as far as I recollect he swam solo.

    With regard to the missing cup, as secretary of PASC I will endeavour to find out what happened to it.

    Linda Forrester

    • Dear Karteek,

      With reference to Stuart Dedman’s memory that Dallas Aitken of Portobello Amateur Swimming Club won the Granton to Burntisland race, I wonder if he is thinking of the annual mile sea swim which used to take place from the Baths to Joppa and back.

      Dallas was my boyfriend in 1959 and as far as I recall he swam solo.

      As secretary of PASC I will endeavour to find out what happened to the missing cup.

      Linda Forrester

      • Karteek says:

        Hi Linda

        My apologies for the delay in getting back to you but I completely lost touch with the site for a long time. How interesting that you knew him all the way back in 1959! It does sound like he is remembering the annual mile swim but am sure the missing cup would reveal all! I really appreciate your getting in touch and sorry for my technological incompetence. I lost the codes and didn’t even see that there were messages coming in form the site as was linked to an old email account.

        Please let me know what you found out if you have a moment.


  8. Charlie says:

    I was just wondering what are the best tide times to do the swim? and it seems to be the most popular route to go from North Berwick to Elie however have you heard of many people doing Elie to North Berwick?

    • Karteek says:

      Hi Charlie

      My apologies for the delay in getting back to you but I completely lost touch with the site for a long time. I’ve no idea if a reply is even still relevant. Please feel free to email back though and will be checking now regularly.

      I don’t think it matters too much which direction you go in. The tide is not too strong like it is in the English Channel and for that reason I don’t think it matters too much what state of the tide you start on. Also it should be fine regardless of springs/neaps. The key thing will be to get a calm day and of course things can change quite quickly so you might have everything planned and your boat and then have to call it off for a day or two or maybe come back another time. That’s what makes these things so much harder than most events.

      No problem to ask anything else. I’ll be in a position to get back to you much quicker this time. Good luck


  9. Jim Finlay says:

    Hi, I am currently swimming my first season, started end August without a wetsuit and am pleased to say I am still doing 2-3 swims per week at Portobello. Once the temperatures start rising I will be increasing my distance and am also looking at some Forth/East Coast swims dependant on logistics. Cockenzie to Portobello with a kayaker seems like a reasonably easy-ish one to plan but a decent distance one across the Forth would be good to get under my belt in 2016. Any ideas of boat people to approach ? Cheers

    • Karteek says:

      My apologies for the delay in getting back to you but I completely lost touch with the site for a long time. I’ve no idea if a reply is even still relevant. Please feel free to email back though and will be checking now regularly.

      A couple of people asked me about this. I think I gave some more details in the article I wrote about it. Anyway I went through Port Edgar who supplied a rib and a crew of two people who knew exactly what they were going – they were super helpful and got me across to the other side no problem (North Berwick over to Elie). I’m sure there are other ways of doing it but after a few exhaustive days searching at the time that was who I came up with.

      Do get back if you need and will get back to you much quicker this time!


  10. Neil Mclean says:

    Hi Karteek,
    Myself and a group of friends were wondering about swimming across the forth and were looking for a bit advice about the boat you hired. Did you swim from North Berwick to Elie and got a boat from Port Edgar did it work out ok and if you don’t mind me asking do you have a contact or is it better to just give them a call. Again I was just wondering what kind of money do they charge for that service(I know it was a few years ago but just a ball park figure ). How long did the swim take you ?
    Thanks Neil

    • Karteek says:

      Hi Neil

      My apologies for the delay in getting back to you but I completely lost touch with the site for a long time. I’ve no idea if a reply is even still relevant. Please feel free to email back though and will be checking now regularly.

      Yes I did it from North Berwick over to Elie or near there and it wasn’t a problem to get a rib from Port Edgar. They were really helpful and met me at North Berwick on the morning of the swim. I did have the contact there but lost it when got a new phone recently. I should be able to retrieve it though soon so can let you know. Otherwise just give them a call. I can’t quite remember the fee but think it was around £200. The swim took me around 5 hours but I think the exact time and details are in the article that I wrote on it. You also need to contact the local coastguards so that they know you will be out in the channel as there are tankers coming up and down. Of course you can only go on a calm and settled day.

      Hope that is of some help. Just get back to me if anything else and will be quicker to reply!


  11. Dallas Aitken says:

    Sorry Linda. I have to add that the swim he did in 1960 was from Burntisland to Granton and nobody knew except an elite few as that is how Dallas wanted it but Norrie Reed his coach at that time had notified the papers of it just as he neared Granton and that is how it got out. The previous year Gerda Olsen did it from Granton to Burntisland and Jimmie Robertson and Dallas were her life savers and had to pull her out of the water because of stomach cramps. We have all the old newspaper photos as his mum had kept them but this is all and no idea which papers it was in. Hope this helps Merry Christmas x

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