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

 

 

 

Neil Shawcross

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©Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media –  Renown Irish Artist Neil Shawcross takes his weekly dip in Strangford Lough, over 40 yrs he has kept this ritual

 

Words by Maureen McCoy, Photos by Paul McCambridge

Neil arrived in the café, casually dressed in jeans and a shirt, he immediately spied us across the room and approached with a smile. I was relieved as we had arrived late due to the horrendous traffic and a staff member had told us that Neil had had to go on to take his brother to the airport, but that he would be back if we would wait. Of course we would.

 

As Neil shook Paul’s hand he introduced me saying,

“This girl swam the Channel…”

 

Neil shakes my hand and seems intrigued, he pulls himself a chair as I launch into the reason we asked to meet.

“I believe you are also a keen swimmer.”

“Yes.” He confirms, “I swim in the sea every week, all year through.”

 

I explain the concept I’m working on, this diary of swims, writing how I feel during the swims and of others who swim, what they gain from it, why they do it. Is it meditative? Does it clear the mind? Is it for the health benefits?

 

Neil thinks for a moment then looks intensely at me, smiles and says

“I do it for fun. There is perhaps an element of the rest, I’m sure there are health benefits and it’s certainly become a habit, but mostly I do it because it’s fun and I have done for forty years.”

 

It’s refreshing to hear such a simple explanation, something so in line with how I feel, it is fun, and that’s the point.

 

His face becomes more animated as he talks of his regular swims with his friend, Henry French. He clearly does love this, it’s written on his face, and he seems pleased to talk to a couple of like-minded folk who understand.

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©Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media – Maureen, Henry and Neil 

I think of how many of the poets and artists of the past who also enjoyed the freedom of swimming in the sea, rivers and lakes. Of course, then, that was where one bathed – swimming pools are a fairly modern phenomenon – but it seems sea swimming is now done by a growing number as simply an enjoyable thing to do. It’s not seen as a workout, performed for some future goal of health, fitness or weight loss but rather for the pleasure it brings at the time. That strikes a cord with me, being ‘in the moment’ is something I strive to be aware of and I catch glimpses of it. Swimming can be one of those glimpses, the watch is discarded time is forgotten and so, briefly, stands still. Of course later, after I dress, or perhaps it’s during that dressing, time has to catch up again and suddenly I am brought back to the fast world with a bump.

 

Neil is quite right, it is fun.

Swimmingly Shawcross-web use 1 copy

©Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media – Renown Irish Artist Neil Shawcross takes his weekly dip in Strangford Lough, over 40 yrs he has kept this ritual

Since that first encounter, I have been able to meet up with Neil and Henry, Bob and Dougie many times to join them for this fresh sea dip. There is no ‘Hanging around.’ With these guys! My usual tentative, halting, walk in means I am put to shame. They will drive up, jump out of the car and nip behind the nearby wall to quickly strip into swim shorts then, with a childlike exuberance they race across to the water’s edge, walk straight in and begin to swim – no fuss.

 

I am left standing, marvelling; how do they do it? I know standing there and waiting will not make it any easier to take the plunge but for some reason I simply cannot will myself to dive straight in. Once I do stretch forward and move out into the deep water to join them my body tingles with the cold and I giggle with the joy of a swim for no other reason than pure pleasure.

 

The current is strong here so we will look at the boats moored a little way out and decide which direction to swim, the aim each time is to get in and allow the water to assist, sweeping us down towards the slipway. In the warmer weather we might take two of these trips, or begin by pressing up against the flow, working hard to gain a little ground against the strong current and then stop, lie on our backs and drift lazily back to our starting point.

 

Over-coated onlookers gaze down at us calling out; “Is it cold?” We reply; “It’s fabulous! Lovely! The water feels beautiful!” Surprise in our voices even though we do this every week, each time feels new… a tiny little adventure.

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©Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media –  Maureen and  Neil Shawcross 

Wild Swimming in Ireland – The Book

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Order your copy of Wild Swimming in Ireland here through the security of Paypal

for the discounted price of £14.00 + postage and packaging

 Signed by both authors.

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We have a limited number of SIGNED books left, so why not treat someone to our ‘glove compartment-friendly book’ sold here for £14 + £2.80 postage.

“Now she(Maureen McCoy) and fellow swimming enthusiast photographer Paul McCambridge have produced a glove compartment-friendly book called Wild Swimming in Ireland.” – Sunday Times

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Book of the Week – “Like David Walsh’s excellent Oileáin which […]  contains much for general readers and dreamers too, Wild Swimming in Ireland is a serious guide book but also an enjoyable and informative read for any hibernophile.” Irish News

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“When the sun shines, there’s nowhere better for an outdoor dip than Ireland. Here are 10 sweet spots for your swims…Here’s a book with summer written all over it… Irish Independent 

“Wonderfully illustrated and […] conveys the sense of adventure involved in swimming in an uncontrolled environment like the sea.”– Irish Mountain Log

“There’s a sight you will see in Ireland that you won’t see elsewhere: diving boards! Authors Maureen McCoy and Paul McCambridge guide us to their top 5” –  Outdoor Swimming Society and ‘5 best places to swim in Ireland’ –  OSS

“The book is full of practical information to make wild swimming safe and invigorating for everyone, whatever your swimming ability.” – Irish Swimmer

Sunday World – Roisin Gorman

S. World 1

 

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.

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

YULETIDE SWIMS 2015

Newcastle Xmas 11b

CHRISTMAS EVE SWIM at King John’s Pier, Carlingford, Co Louth.

24th December; Register 11.30am, swim starts 12noon.

CHRISTMAS DAY SWIM at Newcastle Harbour, Co Down. Raising funds for Knockevin School Dundrum.

25th December, 11.30am

XMAS MORNING SWIM  at Myrtleville Beach, Cork, 11am.

DARE TO DIP for Cancer Focus NI at Crawfordsburn, Co Down.

Registration £10.

1st January 2016; 11am. http://www.communityni.org/event/dare-dip#.Vnmq0fmLTIU

NEW YEARS DAY DIP at Brown’s Bay, Co Antrim

1st January 2016; 1pm.  http://newyeardip.weebly.com/

NEW YEAR’S DAY SPLASH for mental Health Charity AWARE, Newcastle Beach, Co Down.

1st January 2016: 10.30am

Newcastle Beach near the beach gate entrance to the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. Access is available from the beach or from the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa

The first 70 people registered will receive a free spa pass for two at the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa or Culloden Estate and Spa (valued at £60)! 

Registration is £10 and that includes an AWARE t-shirt.

www.aware-ni.org/newyearsplash

If you would like to know more about AWARE or about the event please don’t hesitate to contact kieran@aware-ni.org.

Newcastle Xmas 10b

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

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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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Moville Lighthouse Swim – Co Donegal

Moville Lighthouse Swim (Dolphins included) – Co Donegal

 

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Written by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The sun was shining on lough Foyle as a small crowd gathered at the harbour. Keen long distance swimmers and some completely new to open water were there to brave the sea on the 3rd annual Moville Lighthouse swim – 1.2km out from the harbour, around the lighthouse sitting pretty on its stilts and back to the slipway.

As the 38 swimmers, mostly “skins” (normal swimming togs) with just a few in wet-suits, walked down the slipway to ready themselves for the start of the race, an audience of family and friends cheered them on. Kayaks sat a little way off waiting to guide the swimmers and out near the main channel rescue boats hovered. As the field began to spread a huge container ship sounded its horn as it slipped on down the Foyle.

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190714-Moville swim 168b

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The organiser Peadar’s comment before the swim, “Those of you not racing for a fast time, when you get to the lighthouse just take a moment…look back at the scenery” was ringing in my ears as we watched the swimmers finishing and a pod of Dolphins appeared, jumping and riding the wakes of the safety boats.

A spectacular show followed and I was jealous of the lucky devils out there in boats and kayaks with those magnificent creatures showing off around them.

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My apologies now to the swimmers, you did great but the Dolphins stole the show!

Certainly this event will continue to grow in numbers, it’s a beautiful swim, well organised and I am keen to sign up for next year, especially if there is a chance that the dolphins might return and I will be taking a camera with me!

 

Swimmer and spectator quotes

   “Moville Lighthouse Swim completed today. Can’t believe a few months
ago I started swimming. If you had said to me I would have done a
triathlon and an open water event, I would have laughed out loud. To top
off the swim today I was literally swimming with dolphins. Happy Happy
Happy.”

 “Congratulations , another superb event . We are getting bigger and
better each year , the dolphins were a master touch!”

   “…a great swim today.  I had the added bonus of swimming with the
dolphins for part of it. I look forward to next years’ swim.”
 

“Mammy, when will I be old enough to swim around the Lighthouse like them?”  – Comment by 5 year old boy to parent

19th July 2014

 

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