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.

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/

 

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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BT N I Press Photographers Association – Sports Feature Picture of the Year

This image of our own Maureen McCoy ‘Winter Dip’ at Murlough Bay, Dundrum, Co Down won the Sport Feature Award at the Hilton Hotel, Belfast. The N. I. Press Photographers Association awarded Paul’s image of Mo, who trains regularly at Murlough Bay throughout the year, winter included, the prestigious accolade.

********Not for Online Use******** ©Paul McCambridge Photography Winter Swim

 

Christmas Day Dip 2013, Newcastle Co. Down

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photographs by Paul McCambridge

Cries of “Happy Christmas!” mixed with “I’m cold already and I haven’t even got in yet!” greeted me as I arrived at Newcastle harbour where the crowd in various stages of undress milled about in anticipation.

11.30am Christmas morning, in Santa hats, Christmas dresses and bright swim-suits and all in festive spirit, giggling nervously and rubbing hands, we made our way down the slipway and huddled together for a group photo. The RNLI crew shouted their support from a rib sitting just outside the harbour as around 30 people braved the sea.  Swimming and wading, holding hands and trying to keep hats from falling into the brine, laughs and grimaces against the cold and the age-old calls echoed around the harbour-

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“I can’t feel my hands!”

“My toes hurt!”

And; “Don’t you feel so – ALIVE!” –

Does that feeling of vitality and newness ever wear off?  Seeing the mix of generations, teenagers, parents and grandparents makes me think, no, it mustn’t. It’s why pockets of people all around the country do this daily, weekly, year after year.

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I joined Kathleen and her granddaughters, Rachel and Emma, holding hands as we picked our way over the rocks trying not to stub our toes. When we reached the sand, Emma lifted each foot and pulled off her flip flops, turned and threw them back to the shore. As she did, Rachel leaned forward and started a swift head-up front crawl out towards the buoy, Emma quickly followed. We each swam out around the buoy and back, then met again in the shallows and joined hands to make our way safely out.

Dressed and some hugging hot-water bottles, we squeezed into the RNLI station for tea, coffee and mince pies, a chance to catch up and for organizer Kathleen to thank everyone for raising funds for this years’ charity in aid of Motor Neuron Disease. Soon we parted, with cheeks glowing, to head home for the rest of the days’ festivities. A lovely start to Christmas Day!

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MURLOUGH BEACH – Newcastle

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Twilight swim at Murlough
Words by Maureen McCoy
Photography by Paul McCambridge
As I stood and looked out on the evening calm the air stirred and breathed in my ear, everything was still. A gentle sigh as the Sea swept across the sand and clouds drifted low on the Mournes in a smoky evening sky as the last few dogs and their walkers left the beach.
With the lights beginning to twinkle on in Newcastle I walked to the waters’ edge. Toes numb as sharp pins pricked my calves, my knees felt the pain of cold then my thighs raised in goose-bumps as I walked on, glad there were no waves to shock my still warm and dry upper body. I dipped my hands in, oh the shiver as I gently lifted the water and smoothed it down my arms, more boldly passing it over my shoulders and the back of my neck. I grit my teeth and dipped under, bouncing up again quickly – the air warmer than the chill sea.  Again a dip under and this time remaining submerged I took a few strokes, my back tightening in protest against the cold, the skin pulling taut across my muscles, but yet I was able to swim, even the icy cold across my face did not deter. I was glad of the two caps pulled down well over my ears and tight to the rim of my goggles. The seal was good and no water leaked in, yet I could not help but shiver at the thought that some of that icy brine could seep its way under my cap and creep into my ear.
I ran from the water and jogged up the beach, my body warmed and I felt revitalized, alive, almost glowing.  The ridges of sand were hard underfoot and I kept on my toes, splashing through the shallow puddles left by the low tide, warm now but soon to be swamped by the returning sea.
Dressed again I walked back through the dunes as the dim light seeped away.

Ballymorran Bay – Strangford Lough

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge

Jon and Sarah, silhouetted against the gleaming water, little splashes from their hands becoming sparkling diamonds in the air as we swam in the low November sun.

We were taking advantage of the dwindling sunny days and with the winter fast approaching, to swim out across the bay toward Darragh Island.  The plunge was taken and the brutal chill awakened every sense in my body as we settled our breathing and then began to swim through knife-like cold, clear water. Jon and Sarah took great delight in introducing me to this secret spot their family have come to for years. They told me how there is now a community of wild goats on Darragh and that as you swim closer to the island there is a deep crevasse where one can feel the temperature drop suddenly as one swims into the deeper water.

Returning to the pier I had the urge to dive, as I climbed out, the water covered my feet and I stood amidst the bright yellows and greens of the lichen covered rocks on the 10ft pier wall. I prepared myself for the ice-cream-headache shock when I dived – it didn’t come! Perhaps two caps was insulation enough or brain freeze had already set in, but I simply felt further exhilarated. Sarah joined me, stepping out of her wetsuit to take the plunge in ‘skins!’ Bravely she jumped in with a cry; “You’d better have taken a photo of this!”

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The water felt fresh and clean and the jellies gone for the winter. The family must have had a blissful summer coming to this quiet spot in the hot weather to picnic and play.

As we helped each other into our warm clothes I extolled the virtues of fleece joggers and pyjamas, and thermal socks, easy to slip into with numb toes and sticky, half dried Skin.

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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.

 

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BALLYGALLEY CO ANTRIM COAST

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A Tale of Two swims…

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

With the early evening sun on our shoulders Alison and I entered the calm sea at Ballygalley beach. I was struck by the simple beauty of the muted greens and greys of the sandy floor, moving through the spectrum to soft blue. The deeper water then revealed emerald green, bright with shafts of sunlight dancing across the sand.

The bay was flat calm, the water silky as Alison and I swam out to a large pink buoy then, keeping parallel to the beach, aimed for the rocks at the end of the bay.  The water was cool and perfectly clear, I could see the occasional rock deep beneath, covered with sea-weed in a desert of sand.  We passed two more buoys, their weed encased ropes curving down into the depths conjured thoughts of a ghost ship, covered in years of growth.

Turning back down the beach in an amicable front-crawl, together we swept past the Castle Hotel with its imposing façade.

The lighthouse beam from the Maidens swept across the beach as we left the sea,

dressed in our scruffy after-swim joggers and with salty hair and sandy flip-flops went into the Ballygalley Castle Hotel and ordered hot chocolate and coffee, and watched the sun go down over the glassy water.

Alison Cardwell and Maureen McCoy

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A year later and the same spot provided a very different swim. Michelle was waiting for favourable tides for her North Channel solo and was keen to keep her cold tolerance high. So on a windy Saturday with a group of friends, lulled by the recent hot weather, we bravely set off. The water was cold and choppy as we waded out and our sanity was questioned. Rachel and Erin led the way by quickly plunging in, followed by Michelle then myself and finally the boys, “It’s actually not that bad once you get going!” said a surprised Richard. Although it took a little time to adjust their breathing amidst the waves and chop and quite a lot of water made it into their mouths, they enjoyed the exhilaration of the surf.

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Michelle and I headed across the bay, feeling the power of the sea as the waves pushed us towards the shore and we had to adjust our course. We soared above forests of kelp, shafts of sunlight piercing the water and the occasional crab scuttling along the sea-bed on some errand, oblivious to the maelstrom above. We had to stop regularly to regain sight of each other in the choppy water – neither of us wanted to go back saying we’d lost the other!

Finally we returned, dressed and joined the others to sprinkle sand again on the hotels carpets!

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Parking in-front of the hotel with steps leading to the beach.

A long strand, popular with families and very clear water.

An ideal training ground for long distance or triathletes with approximately a 1km stretch across the bay.

KINBANE CASTLE NORTH ANTRIM COAST

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

Pulling into the small car park on the cliff at Kinbane I looked across to the clearest view of Rathlin Island I have ever seen.  The island is approximately seven miles from Ballycastle but looks so close today.  Behind the island the hazy shore of the Mull of Kintyre with calm deep blue water in between.  One thinks it would be easy to swim, but this is some of the coldest water around our shores and it would take many hours.

Following the steps which snake down the cliff led to a small cove with the remains of the old castles watch tower on a rugged outcrop.  Along the shore a roofless cottage with the rusting remains of a winch and then we could see the cave under the castle ruins that was to be todays swim.

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Clambering over rocks and forests of kelp we used a variation of dog-paddle and crawling, pulling ourselves through the weed until it was deep enough to swim. We made our way deep into the cave and seeing a glimpse of sky, ventured on through the arch carved by sea, under the ruins to emerge on the sea-ward side of the island.  Here the draw of the waves was powerful and sea birds above whistled and called. As we returned we were pushed forward on each wave then suspended, waiting for the next rush, as if on a swing we were drawn back and forth by the sea.

Cave at Kinbane

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An advanced swim due to the strength of tides here, a good knowledge of the tides and currents essential.

Beautiful spot to picnic and explore

Car park with toilets.

Long climb down steps to get to the cove.