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.

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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

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 

Mayo Shipwreck – Inver

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

At the height of summer, in the townland of Inver, west Mayo, a fleet of bicycles of various sizes and colours lie in the grass verge, above a tiny beach and pier. These belong to a group of children and young teens paddling and rock-pooling in the last of the evening sunshine before heading back to holiday homes and barbeque dinners.

South of the main Inver beach and looking out across Broadhaven Bay towards Belmullet with Ballyglass lighthouse glinting in the distance, this tiny beach can be found. From here, take a stroll further south along the shore, over rocks and puddles providing safe haven for baby jellies and tiny crabs, marooned by the out-going tide, finally coming to this melancholy sight; the slowly decaying mass which the local children have dubbed “the Pirate Ship” (some say; “The Black Pearl”).

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The rusted metal of winches and pulleys and the wood creaking in the gentle breeze, now in its final resting place, the carcass lists toward the sea as if trying to return. The fat hull now breaking away with each storm and the ships ribs exposed revealing the internal organs. A tap, a valve wheel; traces of paint still clinging in protected grooves, the beauty of the silvering wood and the crafted joints now tearing apart to look like teeth of some ancient sea creature. Sea-weeds, anemones and limpets claim a home on the broken remains of a boat which must once have cut through the waves with speed and grace. Now, the sea begins to reclaim her for her own.

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On the 15th September 2015, the Irish News displayed the plight of a similar shipwreck, in Magheraclogher beach, Gweedore, Donegal. “Eddies Boat” has been a tourist attraction for some time, but now the wreck has become unsafe and may have to be removed. The boat that has been drawing tourists since it was washed ashore in the 70’s, may soon be no more.

Link to Irish News article

Who knows how long this Mayo shipwreck will stand the wash of daily tides and so if you wish to visit her, do so, soon. Back at the pier take a swim, either along the shore or strong swimmers might want to head across the 800m or so across to the small, private beach on the opposite headland.

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Perhaps we should take the chance to see and savour all that we can; for all our perceived mastery of earth and sea and sky, Mother Nature will never be conquered, like the children, we can only play and admire the fleeting glimpses we are privileged to view.

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On the Pullathomas 50km cycle loop from Barr na Tra on the R314 between Belmullet and Belderg. South of the village of Inver a sign from the loop road brings you to a small turning circle.

Ice Mile – Wild Water Armagh

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh

Maureen and Molly

Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

Wild Water Armagh once again held host to bunch of crazy swimming thrill seekers. Sunday lunchtime, instead of preparing to sit down to a roast dinner we were stripping down to swimsuits, pulling on caps and securing goggles so they would have no leaks when we braved the chilly waters once again.

 Fired up from their success with the Ice Kilometre earlier this month, Gillian McShane, Molly Conroy and Jon Glover felt they could take on another challenge – a mile!

Gillian went first, quietly and steadily clocking up the lengths of the 25 metre pool, cheered on by ice km swimmers Ciara and Geraldine. Judith perched at the deep end counting the lengths down from 64 to 0 as she turned the numbers for Gillian to see – you know how easy it is to forget how many lengths you’ve done, add some brain freeze to that and then try keeping count!

 “What is your cats name?” was called to Gillian around halfway through the swim – a simple question to check she was still focused and fully aware.

(I hear you thinking ” Are you quite sure your minds are working properly when you contemplate getting into swim at this time of year?” – the jury is out on that!) But the correct answer came back “Charlie!” I think it was…

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015Ice mile held in Armagh

 Next in was Junior 1km record holder; Molly Conroy and me. I gingerly made my way down the steps into the chilly water – a tad warmer than the last day I swam here at 4.3’C. I sat on the bottom step preparing myself and settling my breathing, with all eyes on me, “I’m not having a pee!” I assured them as I realised my pose looked a little suspicious! I ducked under the wave-breaker lane rope as Molly followed down the steps.

No point waiting to get colder – the sooner I start, the sooner I get finished.

 ©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh

I could feel my hands getting colder and then painful – a crazy thought shot into my mind; they feel as though they will fall off! Like the Pobble Who has no Toes, a favourite childhood poem of mine. I quickly dismissed that, telling myself quite sternly that was certainly NOT going to happen. Hands and soles of my feet began to burn with cold, my focus came away from my hands as I expected this, but the soles of my feet was something new… is this what it feels like to walk hot coals? The sensations of heat or cold indistinguishable, to be replaced by pain? Last 250m though and it’ll all be over.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh

Molly had a phenomenal swim breaking her own 1km record by 2 minutes! And then her sister,

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015Ice mile held in Armagh

Olive went in to swim an extraordinary 1km in 15mins and 52 secs. What a swim!

 ©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh

After that Pawel and Caroline were in to do a 450m qualifier for an up-coming Russian event and Jon Glover made it look easy as he ploughed through the mile. The last swimmer of the day, Patrick was cheered on when the sun decided to break through the rain clouds.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh

After warming up in the port-a-cabin sauna (this could catch on) we gathered for soup and chocolate cake and soon the question was raised of the next challenge – I propose a warm continental swim perhaps?

 Thank you to the Conroys for letting us play in your pool again, everyone for looking after us so well and Paula for that lovely soup – I’ve nicked the recipe!

Special well done to Gillian – 1st Ice Miler in Wild Water Armagh.

Molly at breaking her own record and Olive on a smashing time for 1km.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh Olive Conroy, cold but happy.

A gallery of images from the Ice swim training and events will be uploaded soon.

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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Clougherhead – Co Louth

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Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

With countryside to rival any on the West Coast of Ireland, Clougherhead has a popular beach. Chalets line the rise behind the strand making the most of their sea-view and the gently shelving beach gradually fills as families come out to enjoy the sun. With mum and dad, son and daughter and the family dog, all racing in in to enjoy the waves before heading back up the beach for breakfast.

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Families here take pride in their chalet-life during the summer months and some come back generation after generation to weekend and holiday in this prized spot.

Taking the path from the beach we were told of a lovely walk from the village along the sea cliffs into picturesque Port Oriel Harbour. “Be guided by the Dancing Starfish.” They told us. A grassy track up over the cliffs, full of places to scramble and explore, we found craggy inlets topped with mauve clover flowers and white daisies lead down into deep gorges. We climbed down one of these gorges to plunge in and, as we swam around the rock-face, we found what remains of Red Mans Cave, almost inaccessible now after decades of the seas erosion.

There are several gory tales as to how this place got its name; one story is set during the Cromwellian wars of 1649, which tells of Cromwell’s soldiers having put to death a number of Catholic Priests here. Until recently the cave was repainted red to commemorate this event, now, time and sea, have worn it almost away. The cave also is said to lead to a tunnel which runs to the tower at Killarty where St Oliver Plunkett was sheltered prior to his imprisonment and execution in 1681.

With a shiver we re-traced our strokes back into bright sunlight and climbed out to follow the rocky coastline further. Dancing along the harbour wall, standing tall and waving to welcome us into Port Oriel, the starfish is a happy sight.

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Clougherhead has been used as a film location for several movies; Captain Lightfoot (1955- Rock Hudson and Barbara Rush), The Devils Own (1997 – Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt), Perriers Bounty (2008 – Cillian Murphy, Jim Broadbent and Brendan Gleeson)

“11 Feet” Never gave an inch to conquer North Channel

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L-R Adrian, John, Jacqueline, Alison, Barry and David

’11 Feet’ – Never Gave An Inch!

Words by Maureen McCoy

Picture by Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media

When David Burke was asked to sign a piece of paper without reading it, he knew he had let himself in for a big challenge.

Having had his left leg amputated above the knee, at the age of only seven, after being hit by a car while watching a stock-car race in Dundalk. David was then determined to learn to swim, he told me how, when he went to lessons with his school, the other children would play and splash about but “I worked and worked at my swimming.” He went on to compete at the Paralympic games in the 400 metres Freestyle; “I never liked sprinting!”

David recently returned to swimming through triathlon events, “I saw people posting their achievements online and I thought; I could do that.” So his open water journey began 3 years ago, training with the Newry Triathlon club, Co Armagh, and then venturing into Camlough Lake.

Last years “Around the Rock” 1.5 km swim at Warrenpoint almost stopped his ambitions. “It was brutal. I was upside-down and thrown everywhere. I came out of that swim petrified. I wasn’t going to swim again.” But he was signed up to swim the following week in a triathlon.

The day before the triathlon, his friend and mentor, Padraig Mallon, completed his own English Channel solo. “After Padraig achieved that I can’t pull out of a 1 mile swim!” so, David faced his fear. “I had a fantastic swim! The quickest amputee there!” he joked. “Towards the finish line I realized I was alone. I thought; either I’m the very last and everyone’s gone or I’m out in front.” It wasn’t until he crossed the line and looked back that he found he was indeed ahead, finishing in 4th place.

Why the North Channel? “I was press-ganged. After last years’ Camlough 5km swim, Padraig took me for a meal, he passed me a piece of paper and said – Sign this, don’t look at it, just sign it, you can read it after. Another friend at the table said; I’m a Doctor, I’ll witness it.” So David signed and was then allowed to read the challenge, a North Channel relay attempt, signed and sealed, two years to deliver.

Training began and winter swimming was on the table, the whole team worked together, supporting each-other through the highs and lows of winter sea swims and building stamina in the pool. The Feel Alive Club was born and stalwarts Alison Cardwell, Jacqueline Galway, Adrian Poucher, John McElroy, Barry Patterson and David were joined by many others in their regular dips in Carlingford Lough. Alison, the most experienced swimmer on the team, has competed for several years in ILDSA events and won Ulster Open Water swimmer of the Year 2013, after completing, amongst other swims, the 25km Lough Erne Challenge. Although the entire team have taken part in various open water events and triathlons for a number of years, the North Channel, a 21 plus mile swim in waters rarely above 12’C is no light under-taking.

Social media messages fired back and forth and as the year progressed the training became more intense. David told me in March how he was feeling more ready, “Compared to how I felt four weeks ago, I now feel more mentally prepared, I know there’s a long way to go yet but every time I get in I learn something more.”

By the 5th of July the lessons learned have paid off, the six strong team of Alison Cardwell, Jacqueline Galway, John McElroy, Adrian Poucher, Barry Patterson and David Burke – “11 Feet” achieved their goal by swimming the North Channel in 12 hours 52 minutes. Each taking a 1-hour stint in the water with David having the honour of both starting the swim and taking the final strokes to the Scottish shore. “I was absolutely shattered, the tide was pushing us from right to left and the wash was bouncing back off the shore. I hit more jelly-fish in the last 20 minutes than in the rest of the swim!”

“We as a team set out to conquer a wee piece of water yesterday, six swimmers and a great support crew. I had the honour of finishing it but would not have unless everyone on board stood up and were counted. Whatever praise comes in about me being the first amp to do it is all your praise as we trained as team suffered as a team and succeeded as a team. To each and everyone one of you we really have done something that will forever bind us. To Padraig thanks for taking me to such a lovely place. To Martina my rock when I was tired and cold, thank you. My dad always blamed himself for my accident and went to his grave thinking that, but yesterday he swam beside me (pity he didn’t remove the jellies). So Dad this ones for you”

WILD ART

Aside

WILD ART

Irish Artist Neil Shawcross – Weekly dip in Strangford Lough

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A weekly sojourn            To catch his bliss

Determination                 In a clenched fist

Strides in with purpose    And submits to the Sea

Tense for one moment     Then exquisitely free

 

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