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Safety at reservoirs

Reservoir safety

Reservoirs in the Pentlands are either owned and run by Scottish Water, City of Edinburgh Council or are privately owned. If you are tempted to swim in reservoirs we urge you to remain cautious as they can be very dangerous locations to swim. The following dangers exist to those entering the water:

  • Deep and therefore very cold water – cold water can send your body into shock in seconds
  • Hidden structures or pipework underwater can cause injury or trap you
  • Strong currents can challenge even the strongest of swimmers
  • Steep, slippery banks can make it difficult to get back out of the water (especially when you are cold)
  • Remote locations with poor phone coverage or difficult access for emergency services

If you do choose to swim in a reservoir here is some advice to keep safe:

  • Research the reservoir to make sure access rights apply, and there are no byelaws prohibiting swimming. 
  • Access safely from a shallow area – do not enter by, or swim near, the reservoir structures, including the dam wall, towers or spillways. Tower sluices have undertows which can pull you under
  • Never swim alone, and always supervise children in the water
  • Do not swim under the influence of alcohol
  • Never dive or jump in – there is bigger risk of cold water shock or injury from hidden objects underwater

Access to the reservoir structures such as towers and metal walkways is prohibited – do not ignore the locked gates or signage.

There are other risks to be aware of at reservoirs and responsible access actions we should be taking:


  • Anglers - Keep yourself and your dog clear of anglers fishing from the bank and in boats, beware of danger from back casting and hooks
  • Blue-green algae blooms - avoid contact and keep your dog out of the water when blue-green algal blooms are present
  • Deep mud – when the water level drops areas of deep mud can become exposed. These areas should be avoided and keep dogs clear of them to avoid risk of getting stuck


  • Do not venture onto ice - it is highly unlikely to be able to hold your weight at all points in the reservoir
  • Do not allow your dog onto the ice - they can also fall through

Please don’t put yourself or others at risk, stay safe and respect others. If you witness someone in trouble in the water, contact the emergency services immediately on 999. There are throw-lines at all reservoirs, and Natural Heritage Officers also carry them.

Other activities on reservoirs

Access rights exist for boating, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on reservoirs. However, some reservoirs such as Glencorse, Loganlea, Harlaw and Clubbiedean are heavily used as fisheries between March and November. It is unlikely you would be able to use your craft on these busy waters without disturbing the anglers - therefore not exercising your access rights responsibly. Other reservoirs are fished less intensively and can offer more space for shared access, however you should always respect other users and avoid them if possible. Be aware that access rights do not apply to public vehicular access to reservoirs in the Regional Park: you face a portage of some distance.

Reservoir ownership (angling rights are separately owned)

City of Edinburgh Council: Harlaw, Threipmuir, Bonaly, Harperrig

Scottish Water: Torduff, Clubbiedean, Glencorse, Loganlea

Privately owned: North Esk

Find out about angling on reservoirs in the Regional Park


For more information:

Scottish Water advice on accessing their reservoirs

Scottish Fire and Rescue advice on water safety

Advice on what to do if you are suddenly submerged in cold water (RNLI)

Scottish Outdoor Access Code: swimming advice