I'm not sure that Calum actually needs a huge introduction! Anyone who spends time on social media with any interest in the Highlands has likely seen his exploits online. A keen outdoor swimmer, he's become known for his sense of humour, tolerance (or lack thereof) of midges and some impressive charity challenges during lockdown. He's also a talented photographer and videographer and has posted some very entertaining and creative videos during lockdown.
Calum is also a fluent Gaelic speaker and frequently posts in the language, which does a great deal to dissipate opinions that Gaelic is stuffy, irrelevant and only spoken by old folk in the Western Isles.
On the subject of Gaelic; I grew up on Lewis and spoke Gaelic all the way through to High School. Sadly as time went on, I lost interest in the language and I'm afraid I'm all the lesser for it. Thankfully folk like Calum and the The Daily Gael are using social media to promote the language and use it in a more casual style that can only attract more people to learning Gaelic or, in the case of folk like me, get their thòin into gear to freshen it up again.
I'm keen to use more Gaelic as part of Loch Ness Living but I don't want it to be a token gesture, it's important for me that I use it as much as possible while leaving the site as accessible as possible to those that don't speak Gaelic. This is also a site aimed at visitors so it wouldn't necessarily be helpful to have it in entirely in Gaelic.
Co-dhiu, enough waffle from me and lets hear a wee bit more from Calum!
Did you ever imagine that you’d end up being a Gaelic Speaking Outdoor swimming Influencer with a penchant for videoing yourself being tortured by midges?
Cha robh dùil agam ris feumaidh mi ràdh – ach chan eil mi a’ cuir crìochan orm fhèin gur mi ‘X’ neo ‘Y’ – tha iomadh rud anns a bheil ùidh agam, agus tha mi airson gach slighe sin a’ leantainn. Ged-tà chan eil fhios agam an e ‘ùidh’ a th’agam anns a’ mheanbh-chuileag! ‘S toil leam a bhith cruthachail, agus is toigh leam a bhith a-muigh. Ma thèid agam an dà rud sin a’ tharraing ri chèile, ‘se sin a tha mi a’ feuchainn ri dhèanamh, agus ‘se a bhith a-muigh ann an àiticheann àlainn, gu h-àraidh a’ dèanamh dùbhlan neo eacarsaich a tha a’ toirt orm a bhith faireachdainn cruthachail!
I have to say I wasn’t expecting – but I don’t like to limit or categorise myself in terms of saying that I do ‘X’ or ‘Y’ – I have many interests and I want to explore each path. Mind you, I I don’t know if midges are an ‘interest’ of mine! I like being creative, and I like being outdoors. Combining those 2 things together, that’s my aim, and it’s being outdoors in amazing places, especially taking on a challenge or exercise, that makes me feel creative!
Which place would be top of your list to escape to in the Highlands if you found yourself with a free weekend?
Àiteigin nach deach mi fhathast! Tha mi gu math eòlach air an sgìre, ach tha grunnan pìosan air nach do thadhal mi fhathast.
Cnòideart ma dh’fhaoidte – cha robh mi a’ coiseachd ann bhon a bha mi glè òg is faodar laithean a’ chuir seachad ann an sin dìreach a’ toirt sùil air an àite gun daoine fhaicinn – beanntan, easan, muir…meanbh-chuileagan: gach rud a dh’iarradh nach.
Somewhere I’ve not yet been! I know the Highlands well but there are still many bits I’ve yet to visit. Maybe Knoydart – I’ve not been walking there since I was very young and you can spend days there just looking around without seeing anyone – mountains, waterfalls, sea…midges: it’s got everything you need.
You obviously like to keep yourself busy, whether it’s through your media work, charity challenges or swimming. Is there anything that you’ve done so far that you’re particularly proud of?
Fhad’s a bha sinn glaiste san taigh, channain gur e coiseachd 24 uairean mun cuairt air an taigh a bhiodh ann. ‘Be dùbhlan a chuir mi romham fhèin le fios gum b’urrain dhomh dhèanamh, ach gun leithid a’ dhèanamh roimhe. Tha mi cleachte ri eacarsaich anns a bheil fulangas, mar rèisean fad còrr air 8, 10, 12 uairean a thìde ach bha seo ùr, agus ‘sann a thu ag ionnsachadh rudeigin mu do dheidhinn fhèin gach turas. A’ thuilleadh air sin, b’e cothrom a bh’ann taic a’ chumail ri cathrannas – Highland Hospice airson an fìor deagh obair a nì iadsan, mar sin cha b’e rud fèineil a-mhàin a bh’ann.
During lockdown I think it would be walking for 24 hours around the house. It was a challenge I set myself, knowing I was capable of it, but having never done it before. I’m used to long endurance events such as races of 8, 10, 12 hours but this was new, and you always learn something about yourself. As well as that, it was a chance to help a charity – Highland Hospice, in their great work, so that it wasn’t just a selfish pursuit.
Is there any time of year in the Highlands that you enjoy the most?
Is toil leam gu mòr gu bheil cùisean ag atharrachadh leis na ràithean, agus leis, teas an uisge cuideachd. Is toil leam gu bheil fàileidhean is dathan ùra a’ nochdadh, fuaimean ùra is rudan ri fhaicinn. Is fìor thoil leam am foghar – leis na monaidhean is duilleagan a’ tionndadh ruadh, fuachd anns an adhar agus gu tric làithean ciùin, gun ghaoth. Bheir sin fìor thogail dhomh.
I like that conditions really change with the seasons – and the water temperature too. I like that new smells and colours appear, new sounds and things to see. I love autumn – as the moors and leaves turn a burnt orange, the coldness in the air and often calm days without wind. That really lifts my spirits.
A lot of creatives have reported it being a real struggle to stay focused over the last few months. How much of a challenge has it been for you to create content and keep engaged with your audience during lockdown?
Choimhead mi air mar dhùbhlan dha mo chruthachalachd: cha tèid agam dèanamh mar as àbhaist, ach dè thèid agam dèanamh? Chaidh a mhòr-chuid de m’obair samhraidh a chuir dheth, mar sin bha an cothrom agam fòcas a’ chuir air pròiseactan beaga aig an taigh. Lùghdaich mi fhèin gus snàmh san amar is sùil a’ thoirt air a ghàrradh (le taic bho green screen), ruith mi marathon mun cuairt air an taigh, is an uairsin choisich mi 24 uairean mun cuairt an taigh. Ionnsaich mi an abairt “productivity porn” is cha robh mi airson dèanamh a-mach gur robh cruthalachd a’ tighinn thugam gun strì. Eadar cruthalachd thàinig amanan slaodach cuideachd – chaill mi laithean air Twitter is YouTube.
A thaobh cuairtean-dànachd, thadhal mi air àite-snàmh neo dhà ionadail a bh’air mo liosta ach nach deach mi dha roimhe. Chòrd snàmh sios Abhainn Nis rium gu mòr!
I looked at lockdown as a challenge to my creativity: Ok, I can’t do what I normally would, so what can I do? I had most of my summer work plans cancelled so the free time allowed to focus on smaller projects from home. I shrunk myself down to swim down my bathtub, then explore the garden (with the help of a green screen), ran a marathon around the house, then walked 24 hours around the house. I learned a new phrase “productivity porn” so didn’t want to come across as though I was having a great creative rush so kept it real at the same time. In between the torrents of creativity came real lulls – days lost to the Twitter and YouTube wormholes.
When it came to outdoor adventures, I actually ended up exploring some local swims I’d had on my list but never go around to before lockdown. A swim down the River Ness into Inverness was a highlight!
What have you missed the most during lockdown?
Saorsa. Saorsa coiseachd nam beann, saorsa falbh airson làithean, saorsa campachadh anns na beantann, saorsa mo shròn fhèin a’ leantainn.
Freedom. Freedom to walk the hills, freedom to disappear for days, freedom to camp in the hills, freedom to follow my own nose.
The likes of yourself and the Daily Gael have done an enormous amount to bring Gaelic to a wider audience. Was it a conscious decision to incorporate it into what you do or was it more of a natural organic approach?
An dà chuid. ‘Se mo chiad chànan a th’ann is mar sin, tha e nàdarra dhomh a’ chleachdadh, aig an aon àm tha fhiosam gu bheil a’ mhòr chuid a tha gam leantainn gun Ghàidhlig. Chanainn gum bu choir dhomh barrachd a’ dhèanamh anns a’ Ghàidhlig ach aig an aon àm, bi rudan ann am Beurla cuideachd a’ fosgladh dorsan dhomh. ‘S toil leam Gàidhlig fhaicinn air a cleachdadh ann an doigh nàdarra – gu bheil rudan àibheastach ann an Gàidhlig, ach chan fheum iad daonnan a’ bhith ‘mu dheidinn’ na Gàidhlig – is nach eil gach rud ro ‘fiùghail’ – feumaidh sinn craic, sin a tha an Daily Gael fìor math air.
Both. Gaelic is my first language so it’s just natural for me to use it, whilst at the same time I know that most people who follow me don’t have Gaelic. I think I should be making more content in Gaelic but at the same time, content in English also opens many doors for me. I like to see Gaelic used in a natural way – that normal things are in Gaelic, they don’t always have to be ‘about’ Gaelic – and that it’s not always ‘worthy’ things – we need to have some craic, and that’s what the Daily Gael is great at.
What would be your tips if any of our readers wanted to get started with outdoor swimming?
Le ad sàbhailteachd orm – gabh air do shocair. Tòisich àiteigin a tha furasta faighinn a-steach & a-mach as an uisge, is thoir cuideigin leat. ‘S iad a chiad 90 diog a tha as cruaidhe – an dèidh sin bith thu air bhoil! Na cuir cus cuideam ort fhèin, bith an t-uisge daonnan ann. An dèidh làimh, faigh tioram is cuir ort tòrr mòr aodaich & fairich na ‘endolphins’! Ann an ùine, tuig gu bheil thu nas comasaiche na bha thu an dùil. Tha mi eòlach air daoine a chaidh bho bhith snàmh glè bheag ann an lochan fius, gu trèanadh airson Caolas na Frainge a’ snàmh taobh a-staigh bliadhna neo dhà!
With a safety hat on – take it gradually. Start somewhere that’s easy to get in and out, and always have someone with you. The first 90 seconds are the hardest bit – then it feels sensational! Don’t push your limits unnecessarily, the water will always be there. After, get dry and layers on quickly & enjoy the rush of ‘endolphins’! In time, realise you are capable of much more than you imagined. I know people who went from barely dipping in lochs to then training for an English Channel relay within a couple of years!
You've been spening a fair bit of time swimming in the loch recently, is there anything in particular that draws you to it?
Bhithinn riamh caran dubhach mu Loch Nis, a' smaointin air mar dìreach pios uisge mòr dòrainneach, le rathad air gach taobh, tha e cho fosgailte, caran lom, granada...bha mi ceàrr.
Fhad's a tha sinn air a' bhith glaiste a-staigh, tha mi air luach ùr a' chuir ann. An taobh samhach mu dheas, far am faighear dhan loch gu furasta, na cidhean falaichte far am faodar ruith is leum, na camasan ciùn - a-rèir na gaoithe, an t-astar fada is eachdraidh dhomhainn, na craobhan, an solas.
I've always been a bit down on Loch Ness thinking it was just a big boring body of water, with a road on each side it's just so open, it's quite bleak, pretty bland... I was wrong. During lockdown I've found a new appreciation for it. The quiet south side, with easy access to the loch, the hidden piers that you can send a flying jump off, the sheltered bays - depending on the wind, the long distance and the deep history, the trees, the light.
If you want to see more from Calum you'll find plenty of content over on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And if you want to learn about Gaelic check out The Daily Gael for something a little more relaxed. LearnGaelic.net and Duolingo are fantastic resources if you want to get stuck in and learn more in a slightly more formal setting.
Thanks to Calum for taking the time to speak to me and for providing his comments in both English and Gaelic. All photos and media in this article are courtesy and copyright of Calum Maclean. Mòran Taing!