Graduates Go to the Beach…

 

Ballyhornan Grads 13a

Words by Maureen McCoy, Photography by Paul McCambridge

Graduates Go to the Beach…

The blue waters of Lisburn pool may have seemed a little quiet last Thursday evening (14th June), the dwindling numbers were not due to a lack of enthusiasm though. No, a bunch of intrepid Graduates had in fact ventured outdoors.

Buoyed by the memory of previous such outings, a select few of us swapped the pool and instead headed to the beach at Ballyhornan.

After such a stormy Wednesday night and Thursday morning many feared the cancelation email would pop into their inbox. Do they not know their coach by now?

No wimping out!

Our little band of happy swimmers ready for their quest.

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Disclaimer: Had weather been truly bad, I assure you, I would have abandoned the swim in favour of the pub.

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Despite the inclement day, the evening brightened and the wind eased. When we met at the beach at 6pm there was even a return of the sunshine we have grown accustomed to.

Soon the motley mad intrepid crew tootled their way to the water’s edge…

 

The Sea was crisp and fresh. Squeals of delight as we entered! Yes really, it WAS delight, NO ONE said it was FREEZING.

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With a few acclimatisation practices we got underway – a short tester swim parallel to shore allowed us to settle our breathing and establish our beautifully relaxed and powerful strokes.

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As our little party elegantly cruised along the bay we saw Terns swoop down to lift Fry from the water a little further out before soaring back up into the blue(ish) skies.

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The briefest of squalls of rain allowed us to enjoy the magical experience and triggered a tuneful adaptation of a popular song: “We’re just Swimmin’ in the rain… what a Glor-ious feel-ing…”

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As the skies cleared we retired from the water to later re-group at the Cuan in Strangford for a well-earned meal. Already planning next year’s outing!

 

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Well done all with a special commendation to Adam and James, Waterpolo players who braved the elements sans wetsuit.

 

 

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Footnote: No Graduates were harmed during this adventure, all took part of their own volition. There was absolutely no intimidation, coercion or threats – coaches Mo and Paul deny any responsibility if anyone says otherwise.

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Vico – County Dublin

Mo filming 1b webWords by Maureen McCoy, photos by Paul McCambridge

 

Dublin City has a great tradition of alfresco swimming and further south from the famous Forty Foot, on the Vico Road the pretty area of Dalkey boasts a similar bathing area, The Vico nestled along the cliff edge between Dalkey and Killiney beach, is popular with naturists.

 

Early March this year I travelled back to the Vico, invited by some documentary film-making students from Trinity College. We were lucky, the previous week had been grey and windy and yet the weekend brought with it sunshine, interspersed with the odd shower, perfect spring swimming weather. When I arrived I found the crew had already spent several hours before, setting up time-lapse cameras and planning the story. It’s a little un-nerving having someone new behind the camera, I’m used to photos, not so used to being filmed but variety is the spice of life! Several walks up and down the approaching path certainly warmed me up before I was to get into the water. As the day wore on the regular patrons filtered in and away, stopping for a quick chat, sharing more favoured spots around the country and commenting on the mild weather. “Have you had your swim then?” the constant question, “Not yet, but it’s coming!” As the day faded to evening and the sun sunk ever lower it was time to brave the sea. My last swim that week had been in a lake in the Mourne mountains and had been acutely painful it was so cold, I was now rather nervous that I may squeal and shiver uncontrollably, all to be documented on camera! Joy, the water was not as sharp as that mountain lake. As I swam under the craggy rocks of Hawk Cliff a seal popped his head above the swell some way further out. He’d spent the day milling around, a little curious but otherwise unconcerned with the small stream of swimmers who had been in and out of the sea all day as the tide rose and fell away again. He seemed much less interested in me than I in him.

 

Mo filming 2a web

 

Once dressed and just before I left the Vico I looked out to see a pod of porpoises gliding through the water, their dorsal fins slicing the small waves as they passed back and forth across the bay. Below me the final evenings swimmer, a lady around my own age, side-stroked along the shoreline, swimming with ease and un-encumbered by swimwear. I admired her bravery as she finished her swim, climbed out, dried and dressed, unabashed, then made her way back up the long flight of steps in the evening light.

 

A narrow gap in the wall along the Vico road walking up the hill away from Dalkey marks the entrance to the path which first goes across a high-sided footbridge over the railway and then down towards the shore. Surfboards line the railings and the small white-washed shelter built into the rocks stands out against the grey stone. Handwritten on a board the words ‘swimwear optional’ and the white painted shelter above the ladders welcomes you in. Steep steps with handrails lead you to the water and to one side a small sea-water pool mirrors the sky, a sharp contrast to the choppy sea.

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland 2016, ISBN 978-1-84889-280-4

50 - Dublin - Vico - 02 web

Getting there; by car from Killiney take the Victoria then the Vico Road past Victoria Park. At White Rocks Bathing Area there is a lay-by with car parking spaces. Frome here walk as there is no further parking along the road. Heading towards Dalkey as the road sweeps left and drops down look out for the narrow gap on the sea-ward side, take this path across the footbridge and down to the Vico Bathing Area.

 

Google Maps;

https://goo.gl/maps/rV6bUBTTKs82

 

Ballydowane – County Waterford

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©Paul McCambridge – The jagged rocks and promontories of Ballydowane on the Copper Coast, Waterford.

Words by Maureen McCoy, photography by Paul McCambridge

At Ballydowane, between Bunmahon and Stradbally, the entrance to the beach is not inspiring, a narrow lane leads to a basic parking circle which then peters out into a short ramp onto the beach. Two great stacks either side of this ramp hide the true expanse of the bay. It is only when you step out from their shadow that the view opens up and you are transported into a rugged landscape with red and purple cliffs behind and great pointed sea stacks jutting out of the water like some mythical sea creature, you can lose yourself in this other-worldly place.

Irelands Copper Coast, named after the nineteeth-century copper mines that have helped to form sea arches and caves, has 25km of scalloped beaches and bays where jagged rocks and promontories shelter each bay from the next…

Advised for strong swimmers as there can be currents.

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland 2016, ISBN 978-1-84889-280-4

Wildswim QR Code 1

 

 

 

Getting there; from Dungarvan, west of Waterford city, take the R675 towards Tramore. Follow this road and take the right hand turn for Stradbally, as you come into Stradbally turn towards Ballyvoonely then after a few kms take the right for Ballydowane.

Google Maps;

https://goo.gl/maps/KMuNURASAjk

 

 

 

Dunagree Point, Inishowen Peninsula, Co Donegal

©Paul McCambridge - MAC Visual Media - 2014 Wild swimming in Donegal

Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

Follow the road out of Moville towards Inishowen head and you can stop at almost any hole in the hedge, park your car or bike on the roadside and take a peek through that gap and you will likely find a cove or tiny beach all to yourself, if someone is there and you want solitude, there are plenty more to explore. I have selected some of the best I have found.

©Paul McCambridge - MAC Visual Media - 2014 Wild swimming in Donegal

Dunagree Lighthouse, sitting proud in its private gardens and flanked by two white sand beaches, the first, petite and sheltered with its soft white sand quickly shelving to deep water. The second is larger, has a car-park and life guards hut yet holds a quaint old-fashioned Irish-ness about it. The light house watches from the dunes and at the other end of the beach, the rough and craggy rocks carry an old concrete bridge spanning across and beckoning one to explore. This bridge once led to a diving board, long since gone but never the less it still draws one to step across.

One other tent was pitched on the beach, tucked in nicely out of the wind and hidden from view when you first walked onto the beach, a perfect spot. Towels hung on every guy-line and soon I met the occupants; four young girls who had persuaded Mum to let them camp out; “for just one night?” and where still here five days later. Mum, keeping a watchful eye from their own house only a few metres away across the road, supplied daily meals, life guard cover and fresh towels, yet gave the girls the freedom to have a ‘local adventure’. I joined her during life guarding duties and we watched the girls playing and diving under the surf, getting knocked over and picking themselves up, long salt-ridden hair whipping across their faces in the wind and spray. When finally the cold worked its way through their wetsuits and their lips began to take on a slight bluish tinge, the girls agreed it was time to leave the water. Running up the beach they shouted goodbyes and “Will you swim with us tomorrow?”

©Paul McCambridge - MAC Visual Media - 2014 Wild swimming in Donegal

Later, as the sun was going down, a procession arrived, dressed in fleece “ones’ies” (perfect attire after a days’ swimming), to say goodnight.

I ended the day cooking over my camp stove on the beach as the sun lowered to a beautiful sunset, the sea calm and the soft swish of the waves on shore lulling me to sleep.

Howth – Dublin

Howth ed 22b

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

On this, the first weekend of summer, a festival vibe sweeps along the coastal path from Howth as a host of teenagers in swimsuits and shorts flock alongside tourists. Clutching their return tickets for the Dart they pass the cliff top shop, towels slung over shoulders and lost in chatter.

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No longer allowed to jump from the pier and now fined if they do, they instead have re-claimed an old diving haunt a little way along the craggy coastline. Leaving the tourists to watch as they drop down off the main path onto a beaten track clearly used year round by fishermen, they make their way to a vertiginous staircase. I thought of Escher and his drawings of the impossible stairs or Harry Potter with the moving staircases of Hogwarts. With no railings and seemingly suspended held only by their own weight, the steps span the cavernous drop to the rocks below and lead onto a rocky outcrop where the concrete plinths of old diving boards still remain.

The water is deep and clear, I can’t see the bottom but I can see that it is very deep and there are no dangerous rocks beneath the surface, a perfect dive pit.

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Plunging in and swimming the few metres to the diving platforms, teens scramble up the cliff in swimsuits, with socks the only protection for bare feet on the barnacle encrusted rocks. Tourists shout encouragement from their vantage point on the cliff path above as a wet-suited young man ventures to the highest plinth. He steps to the edge, clenches his fists then backs away. Gripping his long hair in frustration as he repeatedly goes through this performance. The spectators are getting restless, cries of “Go on! Do it! It’s not that high!” Cameras are poised for the action as anticipation builds. The board below him looks only about 3m from this height.

It’s only when I get down the path, level with the board that I can see I was mistaken. The lower board I would estimate 5 – 6 metres above the surface that would make the higher plinth close to 10 metres. I’ve jumped from 10 in Dublin’s NAC, once, and there’s a lot of time on the way down to realise that you just might have made a mistake.

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Across the deep green natural diving pit, four young men line up along the facing cliff. Standing level with the high plinth, one after the other they leap. The sharp smack as their canvas shoes hit the water reverberates around the cliffs, applause from the coastal path high above as their whoops of delight carry up to the crowd. They swim across to a small rock and rest in the sun. One standing as the others sit they look from a by-gone age. I am hit with a thought of this very same scene happening in the twenties or thirties, a ‘great Gatsby-like’ vision of young men in their prime enjoying the beginning of a seemingly endless summer. Finally they decide to join the throngs of younger divers on the main rock.

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We leave the rock littered with girls and boys, their happy chatter and laughter echoing as we cross that impossible staircase again.

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Helen’s Bay – Co Down

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

Helens Bay is a very popular beach on the coastal path that runs from Holywood through to Bangor.  My swims here have been many and varied, including swimming right through the winter before my Channel swim in 2009. I have never had a bad swim here, even in the cold of February, when I felt the muscles in my back tighten, protesting against the chilly 3C of the water, but instead of resisting I relaxed my mind and concentrated on the winter sun shining down making the sea sparkle on the ripples I created as I swam. Getting accustomed to the cold I thought of the swims my Mum and I would take in all weathers when I was a child. How pleased she and my Grandpa would have been that I follow in their footsteps, loving the sea as they did. Other beach users, wrapped in puffa jackets against the cold, gazed astonished as I swam the length of the bay.

Helen’s Bay has always been a popular place for swimming and I’ve been told many times of a lady who swam there every day until she was well into her 80th year.  I can only hope that I remain fit and well enough to do the same.

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Now with face-book messaging it’s so easy to find like-minded souls to join for a dip. A swim was posted and, despite concerns raised of jellyfish, 11 of us met at the car-park at 10.30am. Some wet-suited some not, we walked down the grass to the beach, the tide high and the sand higher. The waves rolled into shore and shivers of anticipation ran down my spine as I searched for my goggles and hat. As the first few headed into the fray we were greeted by 2 Oceans Seven swimmers; Kimberly Chambers who completed Oceans 7 with her North Channel swim on Tuesday, and Darren Millar who completed last year. They had heard about our gathering from “a guy in a bar last night” and decided to come and meet us. What a pleasure to meet such accomplished swimmers, emphasising the community spirit and support in open water swimming. They wished us a good swim and admired the view before returning to Bangor.

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Kimberly Chambers, Rachel Smith, Maureen McCoy, Darren Millar

The choppy water was pleasant and no jellies to be seen, so after a couple of laps we gathered on the beach and urged the wet-suited to try a quick dip – sans suit. Well done to the brave boys who took on the challenge.

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Helens Bay          Co Down

Popular with families and dog walkers, the bay is well signposted after driving through Holywood and Cultra, good parking with toilet facilities.

Swim parallel to shore, spotting the last tall tree at the far end and the conveniently placed apartment at the near end make it easy to keep a straight course. Approximately 400 metres from the slipway at the apartment to the concrete steps at the far end.  With its’ gently shelving sand it is a super training ground for swimmers and triathletes as well as for family swimming.

(There is a patch of sea grass one will hit in the middle at low tide which can be disconcerting to swim through and seems to always get trapped in goggle straps. When the water is high though, it’s clear across the bay.) 

Jack Sail-By-The-Wind or Velella Velella

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Jack Sail-by-the-Wind or Velella Velella

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

A strange creature has been washing up on the beaches of Donegal, at first sight I, and many others on the beach, thought they were mussels. Why would mussels, usually holding so firmly on to rock or rope, have detached themselves from their beds? On closer inspection these dark blue shells were perhaps only half the mussel, broken apart by stormy seas? As each wave flushed more to be stranded in the sun, it looked as though the top layer of shell was peeling off. Like fine clear silicone with a spider web pattern, but this wasn’t mother of pearl with its rainbow colours and pearlescent sheen. This was transparent and it was not a layer peeling off but a tiny sail atop a tiny raft. Twisting slightly as it stretched over the length of the shell in a long thin S shape with fine spokes fanning out connecting a series of concentric growth rings, a delicate pattern so like the spiders web.

I picked one up and as I set it on my hand I was surprised to feel its soft underbelly on my skin. I immediately thought of oh-so-innocent looking jellyfish with their vicious tentacles and decided that perhaps it was not a good idea to handle them – I wasn’t stung though.

 

No-one seemed to know what they were, so snaps were taken and google was activated, I introduce you to –Jack Sail-by–the-Wind (or Velella velella)

 

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The science bit;

About 6cm long they are widespread in the oceans where they float on the surface with their tiny sails driven by the wind. There are two kinds with the sails running in the opposite diagonal across the raft, so some will always sail to the left of the wind, some always to the right.

The little raft is a float, filled with many air sacks, on its underside are attached a colony of cnidarians – (specialized ocean surface animals which include the Portuguese man o’ war) but although they do possess nematocysts – (the stinging bits of jellyfish) they are relatively harmless to humans – (some people can be irritated by contact so best not to rub your eyes or face after handling them). They are related not only to jellyfish but to anemones and coral.

Also known as Sea raft, purple sail, little sail.

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