Wild Swimming on the Scottish Coast

Johnstons of Elgin image of three people wild swimming in the sea off the Hopeman coast

© Stuart Harper @stuart_harper

We shot our shoreline-inspired summer collection on the Hopeman coast, less than ten miles from our Elgin mill. The beach at the 200-year-old village is a seasonal playground for surfers, paddleboarders and wild swimmers brave enough to embrace the chilly waters. During our Spring Summer ’23 shoot, London-based stylist and editor Prue White took the plunge.

Johnstons of Elgin image of a man wild swimming in the sea off the Hopeman coast
Johnstons of Elgin image of a woman wild swimming in the sea off the Hopeman coast
Johnstons of Elgin image of two men wild swimming in the sea off the Hopeman coast

© Stuart Harper @stuart_harper


‘The sensation is staggering. Every bit of you contracts: lungs tighten, leaving you breathless and gasping whilst your capillaries narrow, restricting blood flow to your body and sending your heart rate rocketing. It's akin to a panic attack - the physiological response is the same. And so is the mental one: the sense of dread, the fear of losing control, and even – when it's really cold – the overwhelming urge to cry. And yet, knowing all of this, I voluntarily endure it.

‘Tentatively stepping out into the shallows of the North Sea, I fought the instinct to recoil. I didn't want anyone to think I was soft or, even worse, a newbie. Instead, I stepped further out until I was immersed up to my shoulders in the icy, cold, blue waters off the coast of Moray.’ 

Johnstons of Elgin image of a man wild swimming in the sea off the Hopeman coast


‘Gasping for air, I knew I needed to acclimatise. Struggling to recall why I was making myself suffer like this, I inched my way deeper and deeper until only my head remained unsubmerged. A burning sensation overtook my skin, and it felt like I'd stepped into a pit of fire rather than freezing water. Why had I chosen to torture myself in this way? Was this display of masochism endured just for the bragging rights? What was the point of tolerating this pain?

‘I set out hesitantly, doing a very childlike breaststroke. After finally putting my head underwater, I experienced a brain freeze that no ice cream could ever induce. I struggled to believe that the sensation would pass, and as the panic set in, I wondered why I was putting myself through this.’ 

       © Stuart Harper @stuart_harper

Prue White, Stylist, Editor and Wild Swimmer portrait shot against a pink background


'But, as the minutes passed, I graduated to front crawl; my breathing calmed, and my heart rate settled; the physical exertion served to warm my body. And it all came flooding back. 

‘Every cell in my body was alive. My energy levels soared. A physical sense of invincibility overtook any mental hesitation, and I remembered just why this was worth it. I felt serene. I felt strong. I felt joy. 

‘Exiting the water, I looked down to see the skin on my legs and arms red, raised and pimply – not unlike a plucked chicken – but rather than any feeling of disgust, an overwhelming sense of calm achievement descended. Some may even have called it smug. With it, I knew I was truly steeled for whatever I would face in the day ahead. And most importantly, I knew that I would endure it again and again just to feel this way once more,’ – Prue White – Stylist, Editor & Wild Swimmer.   


The village of Hopeman, built in 1805, was originally a fishing port and is now a marina for pleasure boats and a home port for lobster fishermen. Local historian John McPherson explained that the rocks along the shore were named many years ago to help identify the position of boats that got into trouble, including Coffin Rock, Perstock, Pot and Pan and the Clockin' Pow, along with The Skellies and Daisy Rock.

In the early days, with no harbour, fishing boats were hauled onto the ‘Boat Hythe’ on West Beach, where crews would carry their catch ashore to be sold. Fishermen wore knitted jumpers or ‘Lunders' – hand knitted with four needles and structured for warmth rather than comfort using heavy, itchy wool. Local seafarers' superstitions, such as 'never look at the moon without money in your hand' and 'never sew on a button on a Monday,' lived on for many years but are now dying out, along with the local dialect. John hopes to preserve these treasures for the next generation in a series of books about the area.  

Johnstons of Elgin image of the Hopeman coastline showing rocks and the sea with waves
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