Wild Swimming Scotland Dan the Merman

Photography by Andy McCandlish

Argyll, especially the mid-Argyll area, is the perfect adventure playground for safe, varied, and awe-inspiring wild swimming/snorkelling.


Argyll’s local swim coach and wild swimming guide Dan Coyle (aka Dan the Merman) has long been drawn to this coastline thanks to his ancient family connections to the area, and so basing himself here as a professional wild swimming coach and guide was a natural step.

We sat down with him to get his tips, advice and thoughts about wild swimming in the West Scottish Highlands, his favourite wild swimming spots near Oban and the benefits of heading out with a local guide.

What’s the most common question new wild swimmers ask you?

The most common question is around kit. There appears to be an assumption that it’s expensive to get started. My answer is that you don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy wetsuits and dry robes. The beauty in wild swimming and snorkelling is that it’s the most accessible yet adventurous of activities. The swimmers and snorkellers I guide/coach are both with and without wetsuits. Through
my professional holistic coaching strategies, we aim to maximise the experience regardless.

Do you have any favourite wild swim spots around Oban and Argyll, and if so, why?

I personally love the Knapdale and the north Argyll area. The unique corrugated densely forested coastline offers sheltered sea lochs rich in biodiversity, part of the globally significant Argyll Hope Spot. I am often found in the pristine waters around Loch Sween, Loch Criagnish and Loch Melfort. I recently worked on the Above & Below trail for Wild About Argyll which details great spots in this area for wild swimming and snorkelling, one of the best being right by Loch Melfort Hotel.

Swim coach west highlands

Photography by Markus Stitz

Should we always be heading out for outdoor swims in wet suits?

Wetsuits are great as long as they are well fitted and swimming specific. Surf and diving suits are not suited to the range of movement required for efficient open water swimming technique, so best avoided. For a wetsuit to be effective it needs to feel like a second skin. An ill-fitting wetsuit can really take away from the experience and in some cases be dangerous.

I recommend Adventure Oban if you’re after a wetsuit to borrow – a fantastic community initiative for providing kit. However, wetsuits are absolutely not essential. I am a year-round “skins” (no wetsuit) swimmer. An increasing number of visiting adventure-seeking swimmers wish to go in without a wetsuit and that’s totally fine. I coach strategies which work on cold conditioning and maximising time in the wild water, whether the swimmer is with or without a wetsuit. Accessing our ancient ability to self-regulate temperature is a skill with wide ranging holistic health benefits.

What are your key tips for keeping safe in the water?

Always plan ahead, risk assess and swim your own swim. By this I mean checking weather forecasts, tides (specific to location), risk assess the water environment in real time, and swim according to your ability and experience. I cover how to risk assess effectively during my sessions. Swim with someone or if swimming alone, let someone know where you are and communicate

underwater scotland

Photography by Dan The Merman

How long can we stay in the water for?

This is probably the second most asked question after kit! There is absolutely no definitive answer. This is entirely dependent on the individual, the conditions and the kit you have available. A wetsuit usually extends the length of time you can safely stay in cold water. The water/air temperature and wind chill factor should always be considered both before and during a wild swim.

Ultimately it all comes down to physiology which is different for everyone not to mention factors such as tiredness and emotional state. During my coaching sessions I share tips on how to tune into your temperature regulation and recognise when it’s time to get out. As I said before, swim your own swim.

Are there any age limits? Do kids respond the same/differently to adults?

I have coached a variety of children and adults in the wild waters of Argyll this summer. The children have been with or without wetsuits. Children have less insulation so will tend to feel the cold faster but through effective strategies before and during the swim, we can safely maximise the experience. The youngest I’ve ever coached in open water was 6 years old.

wild swimming scotland

Photography by Markus Stitz

What are the benefits of heading out for a guided wild swim with yourself?

The benefits of heading out for a guided or coached wild swim/snorkel with me is that firstly I am qualified to manage safety and execute rescue in a variety of open water environments. I have dedicated my time to getting to know the beautiful coastline of Argyll so I am aware of where is best to go to enjoy a memorable experience.

Being a fully qualified and professional open water coach I can also share my holistic techniques, strategies and tips which will empower the wild swimmer or snorkeller both for the experience and in the long term. The guided experience is bespoke and
tailored to the individual and group. Finally, I cycle to my sessions, including to the Melfort Hotel so investing in an experience with me is an investment in sustainability and the planet.

Is it better to go out in a group, or take a lesson by myself?

I can facilitate both one to one and small group sessions. Some people prefer a one to one as it’s totally focused on the individual. However, some swimmers also enjoy the dynamic of learning or being guided as part of a small group i.e a family or group of friends. My small group sessions are discounted per person from 2 participants upwards, depending on how many participants there are –
automatically calculated at checkout. I restrict numbers on groups to ensure safety and quality coaching/guiding.

Learn more about Dan’s different swim sessions and prices on his website: Swim – Dan the Merman – Argyll