Lough Derg – Co Donegal

©Paul McCambridge.com / MAC Visual Media

Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The reeds whispered in the gentle breeze as we walked into Lough Derg on a warm summers evening and swam out into the dark, peaty water. Far across the lough rose the impressive structure of the Sanctuary, the circular Basilica with its great copper dome dominating the lake. I thought of the many thousands of pilgrims who have travellled here seeking enlightenment, or to ease their suffering and that of others, or came here in thanks. Clearing my mind of the everyday rush, I stopped making lists and simply enjoyed being here, immersed in the water and the moment. In a kind of meditation I let myself relax and breathe, taking the time to enjoy the cool water, the warm sun and the soft breeze.

For hundreds of years, Station Island where the Sanctuary sits was believed to be a special place, even before Saint Patrick travelled here in the 12th Century. But it was after Patrick’s vision of the afterlife during contemplation in a cave here that it became a place of Christian pilgrimage and the island was given the name, Purgatorium Sancti Patricii.

©Paul McCambridge.com / MAC Visual Media

The largest lough in Donegal at six miles by four, Lough Derg can afford the swimmer plenty of quiet places to explore without interrupting anyone else’s spiritual experience. Away from the main car-park there are plenty of access points used by fishermen and with no motor-craft allowed, the peaceful air is tangible.

Although it would be tempting to swim out to the Sanctuary, they ask that no craft go within 300m of the island, and I accept that this would include swimmers and so I am happy to enjoy my solitary contemplation, enjoy the peace and admire the grand building from afar.

 

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.

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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