Words by Maureen McCoy
Photography by Paul McCambridge
When an acquaintance told me of her “mad Aunt” who swims in the sea every day I simply had to meet this like-minded soul. A phone-call later and I met Maureen the following week.
Mo lives in Jordanstown and swims daily throughout the year, her summer months she spends on Island Magee in a beautiful cottage looking down onto Portmuck harbour. The view is stunning with the small, old-fashioned harbour built into a natural cove, cliffs protecting it on each side. Seeing this rugged shoreline with the harbour wall curving out into the sheltered cove, my heart rose.
Mo was waiting for us in the car park, a retired teacher, she oozed life and vitality.
It seems many of the people who own holiday cottages here have spent their summers since childhood at Island Magee so there is a great family atmosphere. Mo’s son and a friend had, on the previous weekend, raised over ten thousand pounds for Cancer Research, jumping from the harbour wall every hour on the hour, in fancy dress.
We stripped to our swimsuits and walked down the slipway into the cold water. Swimming a gentle breast-stroke out past the wall where two fishermen wished us good morning – I felt transported back in time to the 30’s, a more simple life were the daily constitutional would have been a pleasant swim like this.
We swam across the bay towards the White Cliffs, an un-concerned Oystercatcher and some Cormorants bobbed along, ignoring us.
The water felt silky as it glided over my skin, the shock of cold had worn off. I felt connected to the landscape, submerged in it, listening to the sensations of my body, the air and the water touching my skin, the slight movement of the sea hinting the strength in the tide that the calm surface belied.
The sun glinted on the surface as we retraced our course back into the harbour, the shallower water was a little warmer. We dressed and went back to Mo’s cottage where we sipped tea and nibbled buttered Barmbrack in front of a log fire.
I finally had to leave this idyll and made my way toward home with the promise to return, very soon.
Portmuck Harbour is well sheltered and provides a beautiful swimming area but be aware of strong tides outside the harbour and around Pig Island where it is not recommended to swim.