Supermoon Swimming

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There is something magic in a moonlight swim, with that disc gleaming pearly white.
The call of a bird across the beach, I can’t see her in this muted light
As I take off my shoes and press bare feet into the cool, damp sands,
I remember a time many moons ago, when I held my brothers hands.
Our first night swim, a Donegal beach, we begged our parents consent.
And scrambled our way down a steep sand-dune, there stood with nervous intent.
I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight but I remember that night so clear.
Adventure, excitement, the cold and damp, all tinged with an escence of fear.
Now forty years on and again I stand, as wavelets caress the shore
Silver threads dance that are soon to be lost, as the waves retreat once more.
As I cast my clothes in a heap on the sand, my skin glows a milky white
And I step into the water, a silver-tipped grey, under pearlescent moonlight.

Winter Solstice Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual MediaDevenish Island, Fermanagh

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media Devenish Island, Fermanagh

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge

 

This the shortest day seems to me to have a magical quality to it; the year is about to turn, the nights have been drawing in over the months culminating today in these brief daylight hours. From tomorrow, almost imperceptibly the days will begin to stretch, but you will barely notice.

Determined not to get weighed down by recent heavy rains and grey skies, there is little that banishes the blues and awakens the soul as quickly and completely as full emersion, time for a swim. With the sun pushing the clouds aside and gleaming on the water’s surface, the tall reeds across from the jetty waving in the breeze and the water lapping over the wooden pontoon, I made my way out.

A lone fisherman, wrapped deep inside his waterproofs looked at me in disbelief, I smiled as I passed and offered no explanation. The jetty was slippery, the water has been very high for over a week now and algae has grown so I gingerly made my way to the ladder. I like to get in slowly, sit and dangle my legs then gently lower my body in, bracing myself for the cold. I felt okay; my recent swim in the sea only two days ago had helped to accustom my mind and body. Yes it felt cold, it always feels cold but I know that I will warm, I will be able to function and I will feel utterly amazing for it.

As I put my face in and began to swim, the water felt icy on my cheeks and the back of my neck, I breathed heavily, forcing the air out of my lungs to bring in the next lungful as I turned my arms over quickly. Within a short space of time I settled into my slower, normal stroke rate, I was moving easily through the water and the view was beautiful with the bright sunlight tickling the dancing reeds and water surface, turning everything golden. Now used to the water I climbed out to play; diving from the slippery pontoon into the deep black water, to rush back up to the surface again and again.

As I took this swim I could almost see the sun lowering in the sky, shadows becoming longer and the little heat there was began to ebb away. The final touch to end my perfect Solstice swim was a rainbow appearing, arching from the lake over the trees, a touch of magic.

HAPPY SOLSTICE…

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual MediaDevenish Island, Fermanagh

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media Devenish Island, Fermanagh

Winter Solstice Ice Swim Ireland – 3rd Session

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

Today, a choppy and windy swim was followed by me, and each swimmer, being bundled into a warm, wood-panelled cabin. A hot towel was thrown around my shoulders and a cosy fire burning in the stove, what a treat! I was soon comfortable, hugging my hot water bottle and sadly contemplating braving the outside world again, just a few minutes more though.

It was a rude introduction into todays’ swim. I usually take my time, walk in slowly and huff and puff before I’ll even get my hands wet but, with the boys all striding with purpose down the carpeted slipway and launching themselves straight in, I felt a little rushed. So, not wanting to be left behind, I walked further and faster than usual, then promptly fell off the end of the runway! Nothing for it but to swim on and do my puffing as I swam, with the first pink buoy teasingly bobbing on the waves, chuckling as I approached and the added menace of a leaky goggle. In all fairness, the kayakers were on the ball, as one came racing over to me I quickly shouted “It’s the goggles!” before I would be whipped out to safety.

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I enjoy choppy water but today felt colder than the last time I was in – yet it was a degree milder – that’s the wind-chill effect. I’m sure not the effect of Friday evenings Christmas celebrations! Honest, I only had hot chocolate last night and then early to bed.

As ever at Camlough, there was a wealth of happy supporters, spirits were high and the atmosphere was buzzing, so much so that David couldn’t resist an impromptu dip!

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I hope you enjoyed it!!

Thank you to all the Camlough team for a well organised event – (despite Padraig still being mean!)

And thanks to all the Ice swim volunteers, it’s so good to be welcomed by so many friendly faces encouraging and helping – you all know what it feels like and those of us swimming really appreciate your time and effort.

Happy Yuletide

 

…and Safe Swimming to one and all!

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Camlough Lake Ice Mile Training

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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!

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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.

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Glassilaun Beach – Killary, Connemara, Co Galway

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Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

I have been stunned by the raw beauty of Connemara, the lake dotted peat bogs and the myriad beaches from stone, to shell, to fine white sand and now, travelling towards Killary Harbour the mountains soar up. Rugged green banks rise from the roadside and I want to jump out of the car and stride into the hills despite the driving rain, horizontal and beating its way through any gap in my armour. The narrow winding roads take me past new houses, old cottages and tiny fisherman’s hides, some made from metal and some looking like miniature white-washed stone cottages.

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On the Atlantic coast and near the mouth of Killary Harbour, Glassilaun Beach does not disappoint, breath-taking even on a grey and windy, rain-swept day, soft pale sand sweeps round in a gentle arc towards a small island with a second small beach. On a warm and sunny day I would swim from here across to that beach and lie in the sunshine. I would walk on the grass-topped island and look out across the North Atlantic, bring a picnic, and while away the day. Today though, there would not be any sun-lounging, the dry bag was needed to store clothes and towels against the rain as we ran across the sand and into the water – all set to squeal at the chill but no, the water was pleasant. A shoal of the tiniest jelly-fish I have ever seen, our only company. Swaying back and forth with the outgoing tide, little button mushrooms, some smaller than my baby toe-nail, they hadn’t the strength to sting.  We left the colony and swam on towards the island, while the gentle Atlantic swell softly brushed the shoreline.

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Glassilaun Beach is one of a number of Blueway Beaches and as such has car-parking and good information boards. Take the N59 from Leenaun and follow the Connemara Loop past Lough Fee, sign posts then for Glassilaun and Scuba Dive West guide you to the beach and parking – no facilities.

Killary Harbour is a glacial FJARD, similar to a FJORD, only shorter, shallower and broader. At 16km long and over 45metres deep it is one of three Fjards in Ireland; Belfast and Carlingford Loughs being the others.   

The Killary Fjord Swim takes place on the 11th October this year, 750m and 2km swims in the Fjord;

http://www.thegreatfjordswim.com/

 

Creggan Country Park – Derry / Londonderry City / Stroke City

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

Up on a hill overlooking Derry City lies Creggan Country park, the site of an old reservoir which is now used for water-sports and fishing. As I crested the hill I got my first glimpse of an interesting building, slate walls and a green roof lifted my hopes that this could be an oasis in the midst of residential housing.

A crowd was milling at the entrance and I joined them to introduce myself to Mervyn, one of the Northern Velocity coaches. With changing rooms and showers above the gated lake this is not a wild swimming area, but it does provide a safe training zone for those wishing to venture into the open water. The water quickly becomes deep and each of the wet-suited swimmers scanned their micro-chipped armbands as they made their way in to swim the 1km loop, with the swimmers content to swim at their own pace a couple of kayaks paddled out as safety craft.

The advantage of Creggan is that it is compact and swimmers are always visible from the slipway, marker buoys form a loop that never sees the swimmer too far from the shoreline. Beside the concrete jetty new swimmers can slip into deep water yet be coached from the side before venturing out into the main body of the lake for their first lap. This is the opportunity, for some the first time, to experience the lack of visibility in lake swimming. The shock of colder water – (some swimmers will never again say an indoor pool is cold!) and the feeling of exposure in a much larger expanse of water than previously experienced.

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Ranks of inflatables and kayaks moored up create a separate area for these test swims and the large zorbing balls and great green and white climbing pyramid show this site is well used by young and old.

If you want a play session for yourself and the kids, check out the Country Parks activity program and if you want a safe, well-marked training area they can give all the times when swimmers are welcome.

Creggan is a NOWCA listed lake – (National Open Water Coaching Association)

Bloody Bridge River Rock Pools

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

“You don’t actually get in and swim, do you?” This is often the incredulous question we are asked when we inform others of our intentions to venture out for a winter swim. Quickly followed by exaggerated shivers and a look that relays considerable concern for our mental stability, you know that look. If you’re the swimmer, you’ve received it and if you’ve not yet tried a REALLY cold swim, then you’ve probably given it to someone who has. Check the mirror, it may be on your face now…
Still, if you’re reading this, you’re curious – Yes, it hurts. Yes, it takes ones’ breath away and yes, it IS amazing. Your skin tingles, the sharp intake of breath as you enter the water, the thoughts that you can’t do it and then the realization that you can and, what’s more, you are going to. Okay, so it’s pride that takes over, someone else has gone first, you can’t turn back now and lose face, so you grit your teeth, clench and unclench your hands take a deep breath and… wait… just another moments’ preparation, delay, before the inevitable.
Shocking cold wraps your neck, pain cuts across your cheeks and every muscle in your back tightens. But as you try a few fast, uneven strokes you find that you can cope, those tight muscles may protest but they don’t tear, when you lift your face out of the water the pain in your sinuses eases and you feel the first flush of euphoria.
You tell yourself, “Next time I’ll get straight in, none of this faffing and going slowly, it doesn’t make it any warmer!”
I tell myself this every time, yet every time I go through the same routine! Still, I love it!

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