Words by Maureen McCoy, Photos by Paul McCambridge
The Seven Lakes charity swim challenge started for us on the Friday afternoon. All packed with a bundle of towels, copious swimsuits and a huge parcel of snacks to keep us going for the two days, we headed south. It was a scorcher of a day which held great hopes for the weekend.
Seven 1k swims in seven different loughs in the Wicklow Mountains could be made or broken by the fickle Irish weather.
Arriving in the early evening to the proposed first lough high in the Wicklow Gap we found a scenic parking spot to watch the sun go down over St Kevin’s Way. The evening light turned the land from brown to a deep glowing copper and the sky took on a hazy pink hue before the stars took the stage on a clear cool night.
Early in the morning two Dublin Mini coaches pulled up and started spilling out swimmers with cries of “Where’s the lough then?” as they hauled bags from the rear.
Lough Nahanagan, a short drive below us past Danger and Keep Out signs, was perhaps not the wisest nor the most attractive place to venture for a swim! As we poured out of our coaches for this deliberation the barrier gate to the hydro-electricity plant was quickly and quietly drawn shut -security battening down the hatches against a group of rough-shod climate change protesters?
None of us felt inclined to find out first hand how far electricity can arc or test the effects of electricity and water on the human body and so the unanimous decision was to move on to the rather safer option of Upper Glendalough.
Pilling back on board the coaches, I guess to the relief of the plant management, we tootled down the valley to the Glen of Two Lakes, already welcoming its first visitors of the day.
Startling those morning sightseers, we stripped down to our swim gear with the mist clearing and the lough perfectly still, just a hint of haze along the valley.
The plan; to swim out 500m and when the first swimmer hit that distance and turned, we would all return to shore – I’m not sure if those first swimmers heard that instruction as they hurtled off like steam trains down the lake towards the rising sun.
Now fully wakened we padded and waddled our way along the boardwalk to the Lower lough for swim 2. Once again treating the well-dressed walkers and tourists with their chic hiking boots to the sight of a motley bunch of swimmers in a plethora of hoodies and dry-robes, towels wrapped around their lower halves and squelching flip flops.
The deer peeping out through the long grass, however, didn’t seem too perturbed at our fashion parade.
Thankfully none of us caught a glimpse of the monster in the lough who used to prey on the congregation way back in St Kevin’s time.
Next to Vartry Reservoir and, standing on the stony shore as the wind picked up a little, we prepared for a cooler dip. A pleasant surprise when it felt warmer. We were all well into our stride now and headed off down the lake in companionable strokes, bright coloured hats a striking contrast against the grey water. On reaching 500m a circle was formed – feet in the centre, sculling to hold form; little kicks in the centre – “Right leg – up! Left leg -up! Two legs – up!” And…sink, before returning to shore – another 1k done.
Side-note; when the water is low here you can see the stone walls underwater, the remains of the village that lay in the valley before it was flooded in 1863.
Back to Roundwood and a picnic lunch; 3 swims down – 4 to go.
Now, Lough Dan and what had been referred to as “A bit of a hike…” took the best part of an hour for us all to get down to the lake – with some grumblings. The water was low and as most started the long trek through the shallows, five of us went rogue and explored the river which flows into the lake. It started promisingly with us managing front crawl to the first bend. But from here on it was shallow, forcing us to scull, dog paddle and use the good old “crocodile crawl” to wend our way to the main lough. Still, we were off-grid and “venturing through the wilds…”
Once in the main lough we joined the group. Coursing through the blackness I could see tiny golden bubbles rising from my hands as I disturbed the silky water – from black, through gold to the surface grey sky above.
With not enough time and unlikely to get access to the Guinness lake, swim number 5 was re-scheduled to be a dip in the rockpool just below the bridge on our return walk. We had now re-named this river Coopers Creek. Clare once again led the way in, clambering over the rocks. Our circle was formed, this time perched on boulders and an attempt made at the syncro routine.
For a final flourish, we each ducked into the small space behind the tiny fall to look out through the curtain of water streaming into the pool.
The first mizzle and rain of the day caught up with us on the steep climb back up to the road. Un-daunted we had only two swims to go – Upper and Lower Loughs Bray.
These were the coldest of the day, the skies were grey and the light rain whisped through as we clambered inelegantly over rocks and stumbled our way in to each of these loughs.
7 swims completed and still enough time to bathe with Fia’s Lake Soap from her native Sweden in preparation for our reservations at the Merry Ploughboy.
We all smelt quite lovely at dinner!
The 7 Lakes Swim Challenge drew two coachloads of seasoned outdoor swimmers, from Channel swimmers and Ice-milers to Wild swimmers, all ready for an adventurous day out with a great deal of craic raising money for Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Ireland;
If you would like to donate, please click on the link;
Thank you all for a brilliant day!
Thanks to all the organisers including; Fia, Sarah (Aqualine) who printed the T-shirts, the two Stephens, Kevin and the ever patient drivers Daniel and Liam.