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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BEST EVER SWIMMERS MEETING! – SKINNY-DIPPING – SOMEWHERE IN CONNEMARA

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

 

Words by Maureen McCoy, photos by Paul McCambridge

Traveling along the coastline of Ireland I have been welcomed by swimmers young and old in the ever-changing weather, the common thread between us all; a sense of play and having fun in the outdoors.

Following the coastal roads there are many single track, rough lanes leading down to the shore. One such lane brought me to a chance meeting with a gentle man on an almost private beach. The track ended with just enough space to turn a car and a flat grassy area surrounded with tall bracken, a superb place to pitch our tents on this late summer evening. As the air cooled and the sky darkened we settled down to have a hot dinner and a cool cider.

As the early morning sunshine lit up the tent walls I could hear the stirrings of the others as they rose. Without enough strength yet in the morning sun to warm the air I pulled on my fleece and prepared to greet the day. Zipping open the tent there was an excited; “You just missed the funniest sight!” and as Darragh related to me our new friend’s dramatic entrance to our little ring of tents, pitched as we were at his favourite early morning bathing spot, Paul came charging to his car for camera lenses then sprinted back over the grass towards the sea to record this impromptu introduction to John’s morning ritual.

“This guy just walked past our campsite… BUTT NAKED!”

Tentatively following Darragh and Paul towards the shore I kept my gaze to the ground but was soon assured that the swimmer was merrily breast-stroke swimming at a modest distance, quite decent and perfectly happy to be photographed. As I approached he called across the silver water with a cheeky smile, “Maureen, I hope you don’t mind but I’m not wearing any trunks!”

The sun glinted silver on the water as he happily extolled the virtues of “free-swimming” while drifting back and forth and the tide gently filled the bay, his Jack Russell terriers scoured the rocks on the shore, chasing the varied scents and every so often lifting their heads to check on their beloved master.

“Do you know, September is a great time of the year for ladies to swim in the sea?” he told me. “The sea-weed releases its nutrients into the water. It’s good for the skin, you can bathe in the true fountain of youth and it won’t cost you a penny!”… He invited me to join him, I declined but Darragh decided it was time for his morning bath and so launched himself in…modestly clad.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

 

…“Now, Maureen, you know I’m really going to have to come out now and I don’t want to offend you.” As I turned away to spare his blushes he followed with; “Mind you I don’t think I’d offend anyone right now!”

Wrapped safely in his towel and with a disarmingly good-humoured manner, he quoted some Seamus Heaney and cited the feel-good benefits of sea swimming.

Over a warming cup of tea after his swim John told me that, when he saw our campsite he had almost turned away and left but then said to himself, “Feck’em! This is my beach! I come here every day, if they don’t like it, tough!” and so he had carried on, striding boldly through our little campsite, towel slung over his shoulder, cap and goggles on and nothing else… to swim as nature intended.

Since retiring he has given up alcohol, eats only fruit for breakfast and enjoys a simple life; his ritual sunrise dip in the sea every morning from early spring right through into autumn, while the dogs investigate the rocks, impatiently waiting as he dresses to then take a warming walk along the shore. Later, he might meet up with friends for lunch or go home and read; poetry his favourite. Feeling healthier than ever, he has contentedly exited the rat race and found these simple pleasures perfectly fulfilling.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

He looked at the sky and pointed; “See, there’s a squall coming through. It should miss us though and stay out over the water.”

I left this new friend with a renewed sense of the beauty of outdoor swimming, so many people, from so many different walks of life sharing a common love. No matter where one goes, when one meets a swimmer there is no difficulty in conversation.