Dunkers & Dippers

 

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.comWords by Maureen McCoy, Photography by Paul McCambridge

Cold water swimmers each have their differing reasons for hitting the water on a regular basis, some wish to prepare for challenges such as the Ice Swimming distances or an event where the ability to deal with the cold for a long period is paramount. Others are aiming to reap the benefits purported to be induced; it is said it can boost the immune system, help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Whatever our reasons, it certainly gives one a zing and zest for life and the camaraderie found in swimming groups is infectious.

We are now well into April and the recent good weather heralds the coming of spring. Lengthening daylight and the promise of warm summer to come has set many swimmers thoughts to returning outdoors. However, plenty of hardy souls have been enjoying the invigorating sensations of dipping and dunking all through the cold, short days of winter.

As lifetime advocates of year-round swimming ourselves, we took the opportunity to meet up with several of these newly formed groups…

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Ballyhornan Bay Swimmers

Approximately half-way between Strangford town and Ardglass, along the Killard Road, lies Ballyhornan Bay and its close neighbour, Benderg.

A soggy morning in mid-February was the time we chose to visit the swim group that formed here over the winter. Running a little late, I arrived to see one other straggler just ahead of me making her way to the waters’ edge. I hastily stripped down to my cossie, crammed my cap on my head and fished goggles from the depth of my bag, fearing the others would leave the water just as I arrived.

No need to worry as I waded in calling out the one name in the group I knew; “Roisin?” one wetsuit clad lady said “She’s over there…” pointing to a tow-float anchored not far out where a little party of swimmers were doing repeated laps between this and a second rescue buoy.

When I joined them they were on lap 6. In the lee of Guns Island we did several more laps, swimming a mix of Breaststroke and Front Crawl, with a bit of chatting in between.

Finally, we were drawn to try out some body surfing in the small rollers breaking in the shallows, with a lot of squealing and trying not to lose our goggles in the foam we managed to return intact.

As we left the water the rain got heavier, it wasn’t the weather for hanging around, so everyone quickly retreated towards home with calls of; “See you next week!” and “…really enjoyed that!” leaving the beach with a happy buzz.

Thanks for the warm welcome ladies and I hope to see you again soon!

FB Link – Ballyhornan Sea Swimming Group

Ballyhornan – Lecale way inlet 

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©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Lough Neagh Monster Dunkers

On the shores of Lough Neagh, behind the Discovery Centre a short slipway offers entry to a sheltered section of the lough and it’s here at the weekends that Lough Neagh Monster Dunkers meet.

Rows of cars parked close to the water, spilt out swimmers in various stages of undress. Some with woolly hats, others already in their swim caps, all the same pale blue with a very amiable-looking Monster depicted on the side. The Dunkers have arrived.

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

A quick pre-dip brief by founder member Chris Judge included a warm welcome to us guests, it’s been quite a while since I swam with Chris at Newcastle harbour on a grey day. Nice to catch up again and it was great to see so many faces in the group.

After briefing, the Dunkers flooded down the slipway, some singing and some squealing as they waded in. A sea of bright coloured tow floats jostled with the blue Monster hats and the singing continued.

 Catching up with Francie McAlinden (Winner Global Swim Series 2018) who amongst other things is planning a charity swim for his grandson, 14th September – Swim for Oran – raising funds for the Heart Beat Trust RVH, I’m all signed up!

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Several members of Lisburn Triathlon club were tempted to explore winter dunking and swimming and then were very quickly drawn irreversibly to “the cold side…” These guys have ditched the wetsuits and set themselves some challenging swims over the next 2 years.

The wearing of bright coloured togs is optional but has become the trade mark of one “Paddy Pineapple” – Paddy Montgomery – Lisburn Triathlon Club, Ice Km and keen promoter of “Budgie Smugglers” togs… perhaps it makes one at least think a little warmer when dressed in tropical prints…

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Darren Cusick – Lisburn Triathlon Club, Ironman and Ice Km, has really taken to cold water swimming. Comfortable in the chilly water, it begs the question has he found an, as yet unresearched advantage? Subcutaneous ink-sulation???

Andrew Vaughan – Lisburn Triathlon Club, quietly takes it all in his lengthy stride…

Cathy Devlin, a founding member of the Monster Dunkers, greeted me with a big hug, having now ditched the wetsuit – a change from that long ago night swim at Janet’s Rock.

It was nice to catch up with old friends and see so many new faces getting into the water. Thanks for the swim caps Chris!

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

FB Link – Lough Neagh Monster Dunkers

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©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Jordanstown Lough Swimmers

Meeting up at the car park on the Lough Shore at Jordanstown, just beside the small café, it wasn’t long before we spied a small group of swimmers; warm coats and kit bags slung over their shoulders… we were in the right place.

The water looked grey and a little murky with the wind lifting a chop and creating waves which churned up the sand below, still, most of todays dip would be head up. More swimmers gathered, and we introduced ourselves to each other before Jonny lead us along the path that winds across Loughshore Park. At the far side we passed under some trees and were brought close to the water’s edge. Here the path met a high wall which we skirted around and continued along the seaward side to a gate and slipway.

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Nestled between the wall and the gate is the perfect changing area. As we prepared for our dip the air began to crackle with excitement, a few first timers were a little nervous but support was plentiful.

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

No two swims are ever the same, weather changes, conditions are different, how we feel on that day… these factors and more will make a difference…that’s what makes it so addictive.

The waves washed seaweed around our ankles as we made our way into the lough chatting and encouraging each other.

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Bobbing about in the waves we looked toward Belfast, the giant yellow torsos of Samson and Goliath (cranes in the docks) standing out against the grey sky – the iconic view of Belfast. Still chatting happily as we climbed our way out across the mat of seaweed, everyone seeming to revel in the post swim buzz, discussing the merits of various coats, jackets and changing robes. The conversation continued as we walked back to our cars and the café.

Thank you, Jonny and JLS for inviting us to join you – great swim and see you again soon!

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

FB Link – Jordanstown Lough Swimmers

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Everyone; keep swimming, keep safe and keep enjoying…

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

 

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Wild Water – Armagh (Conroy’s Pond)

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Molly Conroy clearing the ice for her Ireland Ice Swimming Challenge training

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

SNAP! – the sound of the ice cracking as Molly stepped into her back garden swimming pond. The sunlight diffusing as it shone through the fence panels, not yet warm enough to make any indentation on the water’s frozen surface. Picking up a slab which looked like a thick piece of frosted glass, Molly tossed it behind her to shatter on the ground. Half an inch thick it lay in the growing pile as she tentatively cleared a path through towards the deeper water.

My toes, I thought were already cold from the bitter water until I placed my foot on the ice, waow! What a shock, almost sticking to the surface, the skin a bright pink vying with my nail polish, I should have brought my skates!

Conroys Pond 3a

All the time asking ourselves why did we want to do this? the whole Conroy family cheerfully urging us on. Quickly our feet were so numb we could barely feel the ground and our fingers tingled from lifting out the great lumps of ice.

The pond, surrounded by wooden decking, is 25 metres long by 2 lanes wide, 2metres at the deep end and 1.2 at the shallow where steps lead in off a gently shelving toddlers paddling area. A good deal of thought has gone into the design by Ian, using his experience of working in set design and large art installations. Along one side wooden jetties disguise the filtration pumps while creating shallow stoned bays which will be planted out in the spring. For now they serve as excellent access points to the water.

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ICE-SPY…

Sitting on the jetty at the deep end, pink feet in the water and frost glinting on the wood we gently lowered ourselves in. Another minute sitting on the edge of the bay, mentally preparing for the next shock of cold and then again I slid very gently down into the water. Breathing out slowly the pain was limited to my fingers and toes, compared to that, the rest didn’t feel too bad! The thick ice stretched across the shaded part of the pond and firstly I wanted as little splashing as possible, secondly I feared I would either cut myself or bruise my hand if I tried to break it!

“Madness!” I hear you say. Yes but a special kind of madness, the urge to pit oneself against the extreme, mind-power over body. Yes, it hurts. Yes it’s cold and no matter how often you tell yourself you know it’s going to be cold and it’s going to hurt, you still cry out as if in surprise. Only those who’ve experienced this know just how cold and how much it hurts and, which is more, you are doing it by choice, for fun. Is it a little crazy? Yes, but many people do it and have done for decades. we expound the health benefits – when I winter swim, I rarely get a cold, when I don’t I am plagued by sniffles and feeling “under-par”. After a cold dip or swim I feel buzzing, revived, energetic and enthused. This is why I do it.

Saturday 7th February 2015, Molly and 15 other local swimmers will push their boundaries in the ICE Challenge and attempt to swim 1000 metres in water under 5’C, and perhaps break the record time! Conroy’s Pond is the venue and with experienced ICE swimmers coming from Scotland, Russia, Estonia and Germany, Ireland has a strong group of dedicated swimmers who have been training for the past four months.

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Thank you to the Conroys for allowing me the honour of being the first non-Conroy to swim in your pond and I wish the best to all the Ice swimmers taking part on Saturday – I am with you in spirit on every stroke!

Conroys Pond 1a

IRELAND ICE SWIM – SATURDAY 7TH FEBRUARY 2015 @ WILD WATER, CO ARMAGH.

Camlough Lake Ice Mile Training

Fin Ice swim 28b

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The last Sunday in November and a crowd of us gathered at Doyle’s bar in the centre of Camlough village. Nervous excitement permeated the air as we each debated our own sanity at even contemplating the journey we were embarking upon.

A queue weaved its way first into the bar to sign waiver forms and register, then back-tracked through the narrow porch and into the snug, where in turn we each rolled up our sleeves to have our blood pressure checked – despite my occasional case of “white-coat syndrome”, I was pronounced fit to swim. Not sure whether to be pleased, a high BP would have been a great excuse! Oh how good we swimmers are at finding excuses!

The briefing then started with Padraig Mallon sharing some of his hard-found wisdom with us, little tricks of the trade to help calm anxiety, finding a mantra that works for oneself – I have a super one for getting up hills when hiking or cycling; “Buns of steel – Thighs of iron!” (Yes, I can dream on but it gets me up the hill every time!)

So far my swimming mantra is more based on; “The stronger I pull the sooner I get there!”  It doesn’t work so well when one’s swimming for time rather than distance though.

Nuala Moore then gave us an entertaining but also slightly sobering talk on what to expect and how to conduct ourselves. The onus is on each and every one of us to be responsible for ourselves and our own safety. Yes, there is a team of willing volunteers but let’s keep their job as easy as possible.

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Down to the lake-side and as we gathered on the slipway a team of kayakers headed out to escort us round the 250m loop. As is my usual want, I hung around – I can faff with the best of them but once I started, I felt not too bad although my cheeks were cold and I was glad I’d remembered ear-plugs. I hate that one little drop of cold water that always seems to seep in no matter how far I pull the cap down over my ears.

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As we gathered to start I saw Donna hugging her Chill swim float, “Have you a hot-water bottle in there?” (Shh! That might be an idea for next time!) The first challenge was to complete 750m before the first whistle was blown and the 20 minute swim group left the water. Continuing to kick I tried to maintain heat, remembering as Nuala said, “If you stop kicking, your little bum muscles will tense up and you won’t be able to kick,” made me smile. By 30 minutes my smile was wearing off, I could feel my hands beginning to tense and the baby finger on my right hand was creeping out. I clenched and opened my hands to try to pull it back into line but the stubborn baby seemed bent on getting out of there – leaving the rest behind if need be!

Fin Ice swim 03b

The next turn around the marker and the call was “3 minutes left. Don’t swim too far.” Hooray! I can thole another few minutes. When the three whistle blasts sounded our time up, I dashed for the shore. I raced to my feet and as I thought a well-deserved pat on the back when Padraig quietly said “Well done. Now get back in and swim out to that rib and back.” You are MEAN Padraig Mallon!

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Dried and dressed in several layers it was a pleasure to gather around the braziers burning merrily on the lake shore as we congratulated each-other.

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Thanks to CLWF, mean Padraig, Ger and nice Nuala for setting up this program and I look forward to our next session.

Fin Ice swim 11b

King and Queen of the North Channel Honoured by ILDSA

ILDSA HONOURS SWIMMING GREATS AT AWARDS NIGHT

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

King and Queen of the English Channel, Kevin Murphy and Alison Streeter, are crowned King and Queen of the North Channel, at the ILDSA Awards Night in Newry.

Even our own award winners’ achievements over the past year pale before these two and their myriad swims. Alison, amongst many other swims, has 43 English Channels, including being the first woman to achieve a triple crossing, and 3 North Channels, also the first woman and the first to swim Scotland to Ireland. Kevin has 34 English Channel swims, including 3 doubles, and 3 North Channels. Both have other swims too numerous to mention.

Alison had me in awe of how she can be so humble now about her phenomenal achievements, but as she told us that evening, that part of her life is in the past. Alison was genuinely pleased and surprised at receiving a standing ovation and said she has a soft spot for the ILDSA and the Irish, who have always made her feel very welcome and she wanted to thank everyone for supporting her in the past.

Brian Meharg, Master of Ceremonies, told me how he has been good friends with Alison since she first came here to swim the North Channel and related how, on her last swim in 1997, Brian’s wife Carina was pregnant and already a week overdue.  Brian smiled as he told me he was torn between staying home for his “fatherly duties” or heading out on the swim.  So, he headed on the swim and, as Carina waved them off, Alison firmly told her not to have the baby until after the swim was completed, adding that she would prefer if they both waited till Alison’s own birthday, 29th August.

Against all odds the dutiful baby did indeed wait and Rachel Alison Meharg arrived a further week late to share her birthday, and her name, with Alison Streeter as requested.

ILDSA awards 31b

The swimming part of Alison’s life is now firmly behind her and she has moved on to pastures new, breeding Alpaca on her farm in Wales and following her own spiritual journey. Animated, she chatted about her two new baby Alpaca and the exquisitely fine wool Alpaca hair produces wholeheartedly laughing as Carina described her own dog as “My baby!”

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Seeing Eye to Eye, Kevin and Padraig

Looking at Padraig Mallon standing with King of the Channel, a comment reached my ears. “Padraig could be a clone of Kevin, separated at birth by a few miles – and years!” Perhaps a degree of similarity can be seen between the two, I’ll allow you to make your own decisions on that.  As Padraig is beginning his adventure in ever more challenging open water events, he clearly shows a great respect for a man who has wealth of knowledge.

ILDSA Awards 35b

Alison’s genuine words of encouragement to the gathering made me smile, although I do not quite believe her statement; “Anyone could do what I have done.” And, “Perhaps I have a great deal of bloody-mindedness!” It was nice to hear how she felt so welcomed in Ireland and that was why she kept coming back, Mercedes Glietze I believe, said something similar, even our bitter cold and hated jellyfish didn’t put these great ladies off!

With such a small community here in Ireland, there is a great mix in the swimming world with the uber-endurance swimmers rubbing shoulders (sometimes literally) with the sprinters and the leisure swimmers – many of us would see ourselves in more than one category – we all enjoy the great outdoors, and all deserve the hot chocolate/hot toddy after, the community spirit growing ever stronger.

Cus D’Amato said of a boxer, ”Knowing what he goes through, the very act of climbing into that ring stamps him a person of courage and discipline,” same could be said of these swimmers awarded by ILDSA, the open water, their boxing ring.

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CURSED LAKE – Slieve Gullion,

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

To dip in the legendary waters of a volcano crater, famed for a curse on the giant, Finn McCool, was too good an opportunity to pass by, so on a warm, sunny day we drove to Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Armagh. A track led us up the mountain and during the 45 minute walk to the summit we passed a stone shelter and read of ancient tombs and the legend of the lake itself.

Arriving at the trig point, to our left lay the small Lough, the sun was shining and with the Lough reflecting the blue sky, it looked like a scene from a Dali painting.

A grey haired man suddenly appeared from the other side of the hill, taking his daily walk, saw that we intended to swim and warned us of the curse…

…when the great, Finn McCool came to the Lough, he saw a beautiful woman there who enticed him into the waters, he bathed but, having entered the water as the strong giant of legend, he emerged reduced to a weak old man with all his hair turned to white!  The beautiful woman was a Witch who had cursed the Lough stealing the great Giants’ strength and power.

 

It took him years of searching but finally Finn found a good Witch who was able to restore his youth, strength and vitality, but his hair remained forever white.

Despite this warning we ventured in, and found, quite unnervingly, our skin took on a blood-red hue in the peaty water, this must keep the story of the Curse alive!

We lay on the water and sculled our way towards the centre, but the Lough is very shallow and floored with peaty silt, easily disturbed and quickly turning the water black, so not good for swimming, although a quick dip on a hot day is refreshing, you will spend more time wiping the silt from your body after!

Perhaps just to sit on a rock and cool ones feet, is enough.

Still, to dip in the blood-red waters of a volcano crater in Ireland was an experience!

Philips Street Atlas, Co Armagh, pg 140, E5

 

Slieve Gullion Forest park, Armagh, drive along the forest road and park at the side of the track. The walk took around 45 mins from the start of the track to the trig point.

 

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zDJSgtJazNy8.k7CY5rJeUTiE

 

MAGHERY TO CONEY ISLAND Co Armagh

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Words By Maureen McCoy
Photography By Paul McCambridge
 
As I stand here in the warm sunlight on a sunny day in May, I look out across Maghery Bay to Coney Island. The sun glints on the waters’ surface as I slide in and catch my breath as the cold water folds around me, the warm sun belying the fact that the water has not yet warmed this early in May and I take a moment to acclimatize to the chill.  The soft peaty water of the lough takes me back to swimming as a child a little further along the shore, at my grand-parents farm in Co Tyrone. I am reminded of the adventures my brothers and I had, swimming, canoeing and camping out on our own small island, taking over the hide used for duck shooting in season, and imagining ourselves far away from the civilized world.
 
To the right of the slipway, two markers approximately 150 metres out warn boats of the shallow water, beyond these markers it quickly gets very deep.  The bay is sheltered out to Coney Island which sits 1 kilometre away as the crow flies and makes a pleasant swim for the strong and confident swimmer, however the far side of the island is exposed to the greater lough and is subject to the eddies and currents lough Neagh is renowned for.
 
Here at Maghery Country and Caravan Park – at which there are no longer any caravans and only the occasional wild camper – a slipway flanked by wooden boardwalks gives easy access.  A noticeboard maps the Blackwater canoe trail and the canal leading to the Blackwater river is to the right of the slipway.  A little further down the laneway one may take the footbridge across the Blackwater and step into County Tyrone.
 
Living year round on the Island, Peter the caretaker, has a wealth of knowledge of the rich history, flora and fauna. Peter gives guided tours by prior arrangement through Kinnego Marina.
 
Take a dry-bag with warm clothes and sandals for a great day out, swim to the island then take a walk around the paths leading you to the Anglo/Norman motte from 13C, the 16C O’Neills Tower and the stone at which St Patrick rested during his travels. Just leave yourself good time to swim back again. 
 
Be aware that at times jet skiers use this jetty too and make yourself clearly visible.

CRAIGAVON BALANCING LAKES CO ARMAGH

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

Tuesday had been a wet day with only a few breaks in the heavy rain showers but come 7pm, the sun was venturing out and it promised to be a reasonably warm evening.  I arrived early at the North Lake and introduced myself to the other early birds.  With the air warm and muggy I was sure the water would be warm too.

The small band grew as more and more arrived and I was introduced as their ‘guest’ swimmer.  We stepped into the lake and soon got into an easy front crawl.

A kayaker went on ahead to negotiate us around the heaviest patches of weeds.  At times we almost had to crawl over this wiry, prickly stuff, pulling lumps of it out as it caught on wrists and watches.  A few short patches of this were the only thing that would mar a very pleasant swim.  With the evening sun breaking through the grey clouds, the tall reeds, their feathery heads stretching high above the waters edge, the scene had a dreamlike quality.

As we returned to the shore on our third lap, the rain started and quickly became a downpour.  I lifted my head and swam head up, fascinated by the drops hitting the surface so hard that they bounced back up forming thousands of what looked like pawns from a chess set – repeatedly formed and broken.  Finally the rain began to ease and we tried vainly to seek shelter as we dressed under a tree.  One swimmer said he’d been quite surprised to look back and see “a nudey person behind me!”  So used to the black arms of wetsuits, a bare arm was easily spotted.

 Tuna Triathlon Club now use the South lake on a Monday evening at 7.00pm from the sports centre.

 I swam as their guest but the club website does ask for all swimmers to be members, wear their wetsuit and have completed at least a 1500m continuous swim in the pool.

Check out www.tunatriathlon.org for club information.

Lurgan Masters Swim Club also use the lake on a Sunday evening at 6:30pm, with 200m/400m/750m/1km courses marked out. LMSC ask that swimmers have membership of either Swim Ireland/ILDSA/Triathlon Ireland for Insurance reasons

http://www.lurganmastersswimclub.com 

See map below for entry point. 

©PAUL MCCAMBRIDGE PHOTOGRAPHY Picture By Paul McCambridge Tel 07711167277