THEY learned to swim at the age seven in a Dundee pool and it has been a passion of twin sisters Ann Hart and Heather Raeside ever since.

However, the twins didn’t just take to the swimming pool instead they found a love for open swimming and even now as they mark their 70th birthday they insist it is the best way to start the day.

While many people have taken to open or wild swimming during lockdown for Isle of Arran-based twins they have been ahead of the trend for years. They decided to take the plunge for their 60th birthday and have kept it up.

And on Friday as they woke to celebrate their birthday they kicked the day off in style with a dip off the slipway at Brodick despite rather chilly temperatures.

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They are a familiar sight most mornings throughout the year with their wetsuits and swim hats on and are not put off by the inclement weather.

Mrs Hart said: “It is just such a great feeling to swim in the open water as well as knowing there are some added health benefits as we very rarely get colds. We made the decision to do it 10 years ago and laughed at whether we would be able to keep it up until we were 70, but now we hope to keep going for another 10 years as we head to our 80s. We'll keep doing it as long as we can.

“It is something you have to let your body get used to as you do have to adjust as it can be quite a shock, but I seemed to take to it. We swim all year round, but make sure we have a few layers on in the winter months and don’t spend much more than 15 minutes in the water.”

The twins remember learning to swim with their older sister Alison, 72. They also have a younger sister Fiona MacMillan, 60, and while they are originally from Nottinghamshire were brought up in Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow. And it seems they were the only ones in the family to have an interest in it.

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While looking into their family history, Mrs Hart discovered that their love for open swimming could well be in the genes.

“I found some old press cuttings from 1910 which talked about our maternal grandmother Vera Usher,” added Mrs Hart.

“It seems she was quite well known as an open swimmer and at one point took part in a demonstration at an indoor event in 1910 in front of Princess Louise and other members of the royal family. It must be where we get it from.”

And it seems they are in good company as the idea of modern open water swimming is believed to date back to 1810 when poet Lord Byron swam across the Hellespont or Dardanelles during an extended European tour.

The twins set off together for the daily swim and hit the water at 9.30am yesterday to set them up for their day of celebration.

“We have been quite lucky as we have been able to keep going with open swimming during lockdown, albeit we haven’t been able to do it as friends. There is now quite a few of us on the island who enjoy open swimming and sometimes people come from all over to have a go.”

Mrs Hart and her sister Heather made sure they were prepared when they took up open water swimming 10 years ago and said there was plenty advice for people who were thinking of taking it up. Among the health benefits there are said to be from open swimming are improved circulation and a boost to your immune system as well as an increased metabolism.

The former PE teacher, who is 20 minutes older than her sister added: "I think it is something which has become more popular especially with lockdown and people not able to use the swimming pools. I would urge anyone thinking about it to find out more and give it ago. It is so much more than just swimming up and down as you are taking in everything around you from the surroundings to the views. I would certainly recommend it."

And with spectacular views setting out from the likes of Brodick or Lamlash it is no wonder the sisters are enthusiastic about open swimming.

Sadly coronavirus restrictions curtailed one of the sisters’ highlights as they are heavily involved in organising the annual Lamlash Splash, a 1.3 mile open-water swimming challenge from the Holy Isle to Lamlash pier.

Although Mrs Hart has been the event’s organiser for the past eight years Mrs Raeside has helped with the catering, providing hot soup for participants and volunteers, the twins themselves have participated in every Splash over this period always trying to improve on their previous years’ time.

They are hopeful the September Splash will be able to go ahead in 2021.

“We are really hoping that we will be able to come together again next year as it is a lovely event,” added Mrs Hart. “There are only around 40 people who take part, but crowds gather to see it. Hopefully it will be something that can return to the Arran calendar next year.”