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

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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.

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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.

Mussels on Johnnie Walker… July 2015 Co Wexford

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

Along a stony beach in the sunny south-east I was absentmindedly combing the area for interesting pebbles and shells. The gentle hum of wind turbines on the headland above and the hiss of the waves as they swept back over the stony shore. Flotsam, bleached wood and sea-weed torn from the ground scattered the shoreline when I came across a Johnnie Walker bottle. The label washed off save for the man himself, striding out, his jacket now sea-bleached from vibrant red to pink, this empty bottle now the traveling home to a growing colony of young mussels.

I wondered how long these pretty molluscs had floated around the seas, clinging to their dubious life-raft.

The irony of a bottle of Scotch lying on the Wexford shores was not lost on me but I think it would not be long before the colony would increase and cover the entire bottle. Sometime in the future this little colony might return to the shore and the beach-comber who finds them may not even recognise that under the layers of smooth, pearlescent grey gleaming shells crowded together, their tiny raft is in fact glass.

The vibrant orange lips of each shell stood out against the grey, gleaming in the evening sun. Crowded together tightly, every so often a shell would open a little and the hair-like gill would push out, testing for the returning water perhaps?

Did you know?

To attach to rocks, ropes (or whiskey bottles), mussels secrete a liquid which sets in contact with seawater formingbyssal threads or beards. This cement is so strong the mussels can even cling to Teflon – try getting them to let go of whiskey!

Scientists are trying to develop a mussel-based adhesive for eye surgery.

Mussels with thick blue shells probably lived on shore where they need strong shells for protection. Those living off shore or in pools constantly covered by water grow quickly and have a thinner shell.

Mussels feed on plankton.

Mussels are rich in protein with less fat and more nutrients than beef.

The mantles of lady mussels are orange while gents are creamy white.

The size of mussels varies with the season, largest and fleshiest in October and smallest in March.

Mussels have been cultivated and eaten throughout the world for over a thousand years.

I couldn’t contemplate eating these pretty fellows though and wish them well on their journey.

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THE HERMITAGE The Mournes – Tollymore Forest Park

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THE HERMITAGE    Tollymore Forest Park       Mournes, Co. Down

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

From the car park at Tollymore Forest follow the River Trail under the impressive stone arch and follow the stream as it chatters on its way down to meet the Shimna. The first of many pools sits just below a small waterfall and bridge, pleasant for swimming with broad flat rocks on the edge.

Continue walking upstream and in a matter of minutes you come to the Hermitage, perched on the edge of the rocks, this whimsical folly leads you through tiny medieval style buildings.  The open windows look down into the miniature gorge beneath and a deep pool that curves around the rocks.  Follow the path through each room to a low, castellated wall, step over and climb down the rocks to the pool.

Allow your imagination to run wild as you swim downstream, under the turrets of the Hermitage, looking out for trolls or other dangerous creatures hiding in the crevasses! Returning upstream, the light, dapples as it breaks its way through the trees to play on the waters’ surface. As you approach the top of the pool the flow of the water increases as it spills from the river above, forced into a narrow channel. With the thrill of fast moving water bubbling past your ears, swim hard towards the fall into the melee of churning water, a natural jacuzzi, then relax and let the force sweep you back to the calm of the wide pool.

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The little row of charming buildings tends to bring out the child in each of us, the urge to duck through the low doorways and play games of knights and castles. They never fail to bring a smile to my face and it’s lovely to think of the thousands who have sheltered from the rain in them since they were built in the 1770s by James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Clanbrassil, in memory of the Marquis of Monthermer.  In those days gone by the ladies would shelter inside while the gentlemen fished for salmon in the Shimna below.

Children will love exploring the path and buildings and for a longer walk continue on up the river where there are many more pools to explore. A full day can be spent happily walking the many paths of this superb park.

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Solar Eclipse Swim 2015 – Bloody Bridge, Newcastle

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Picture by Paul McCambridge

Walking down from the car park and over the rocks towards the shore the sky began to take on an eerie deep grey.

Imagination or anticipation? Was the Solar and Lunar pull on the earth also pulling me? Not sure quite what to expect, how dark would it be? Would I see anything much at all? Would this be like a night swim? No, but it had its own special quality.

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Picture by Maureen McCoy

The sun gleamed on the water and chinks of blue sky could be seen through the darkening clouds. Here was quiet, just the surge of the water as the tide rose, spilling over the rocks, oily and heavy. Millions of tonnes of water drawing in and out. Eddies curled around the rocks creating whirlpools as the sea breathed softly. Glancing up at the cloud covered sun I got a peek at the bright disc, a little bite out of its side, then the clouds once more hid it from view. As the sky grew darker; it felt like twilight, at 9.30 in the morning, the air cooled and an involuntary shiver ran through my body.

Gingerly stepping over the rocks I made my way to the water’s edge, the scene monochrome; dark sea, black rocks and grey skies above, the horizon a dark line with that shrinking silver gleam on the water’s surface. I slid in, slowly, quietly, breathing in and out with the cold strong tide as the sea wrapped around me. Above I could glimpse the crescent sun through a light film of cloud, strange to see that shape I know so well in the moon now mimicked by the sun. As the shadow slowly moved along and the warmth and light returned, I felt connected. There I was, floating in the water just for the sake of it, no reason other than it felt good. I had immersed myself completely, my first solar eclipse, spring equinox swim.

Wrapped in my towel and sitting on the warming rocks I watched the sea lift from dark grey to light and the shimmer of silver extended again beneath the horizon.

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.

Wild Water – Armagh (Conroy’s Pond)

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Molly Conroy clearing the ice for her Ireland Ice Swimming Challenge training

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

SNAP! – the sound of the ice cracking as Molly stepped into her back garden swimming pond. The sunlight diffusing as it shone through the fence panels, not yet warm enough to make any indentation on the water’s frozen surface. Picking up a slab which looked like a thick piece of frosted glass, Molly tossed it behind her to shatter on the ground. Half an inch thick it lay in the growing pile as she tentatively cleared a path through towards the deeper water.

My toes, I thought were already cold from the bitter water until I placed my foot on the ice, waow! What a shock, almost sticking to the surface, the skin a bright pink vying with my nail polish, I should have brought my skates!

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All the time asking ourselves why did we want to do this? the whole Conroy family cheerfully urging us on. Quickly our feet were so numb we could barely feel the ground and our fingers tingled from lifting out the great lumps of ice.

The pond, surrounded by wooden decking, is 25 metres long by 2 lanes wide, 2metres at the deep end and 1.2 at the shallow where steps lead in off a gently shelving toddlers paddling area. A good deal of thought has gone into the design by Ian, using his experience of working in set design and large art installations. Along one side wooden jetties disguise the filtration pumps while creating shallow stoned bays which will be planted out in the spring. For now they serve as excellent access points to the water.

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ICE-SPY…

Sitting on the jetty at the deep end, pink feet in the water and frost glinting on the wood we gently lowered ourselves in. Another minute sitting on the edge of the bay, mentally preparing for the next shock of cold and then again I slid very gently down into the water. Breathing out slowly the pain was limited to my fingers and toes, compared to that, the rest didn’t feel too bad! The thick ice stretched across the shaded part of the pond and firstly I wanted as little splashing as possible, secondly I feared I would either cut myself or bruise my hand if I tried to break it!

“Madness!” I hear you say. Yes but a special kind of madness, the urge to pit oneself against the extreme, mind-power over body. Yes, it hurts. Yes it’s cold and no matter how often you tell yourself you know it’s going to be cold and it’s going to hurt, you still cry out as if in surprise. Only those who’ve experienced this know just how cold and how much it hurts and, which is more, you are doing it by choice, for fun. Is it a little crazy? Yes, but many people do it and have done for decades. we expound the health benefits – when I winter swim, I rarely get a cold, when I don’t I am plagued by sniffles and feeling “under-par”. After a cold dip or swim I feel buzzing, revived, energetic and enthused. This is why I do it.

Saturday 7th February 2015, Molly and 15 other local swimmers will push their boundaries in the ICE Challenge and attempt to swim 1000 metres in water under 5’C, and perhaps break the record time! Conroy’s Pond is the venue and with experienced ICE swimmers coming from Scotland, Russia, Estonia and Germany, Ireland has a strong group of dedicated swimmers who have been training for the past four months.

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Thank you to the Conroys for allowing me the honour of being the first non-Conroy to swim in your pond and I wish the best to all the Ice swimmers taking part on Saturday – I am with you in spirit on every stroke!

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IRELAND ICE SWIM – SATURDAY 7TH FEBRUARY 2015 @ WILD WATER, CO ARMAGH.

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)

Salthill, Galway – Boards and Ice Bucket Challenges

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The wind whistles through the metal rails flanking the boards. The waves wash the concrete structure and a queue weaves its way up the steps, spilling out onto the top board. Squealing youths launch themselves into the air, legs kicking as they approach the water, to land with a great splash. A rush of sea water and bubbles as they each claw their way up to the surface, gasp for breath against the cold and exhilaration, then, shaking the sea from their hair, race back to the steps and climb to the high board again.

Mere minutes from Galway City along the Salthill promenade is where you will find these famous diving boards and this traditional sea bathing area. The yellow walls of Salthill, built at various angles to create shelter from the wind, invite one into the inner sanctum where white painted benches, strewn with towels and little mounds of clothing, run the length of each wall. A community of sea-swimmers thrives here, coming from all walks of life.

Early morning sees the business folk taking a dip before their commute. Mid-morning and the retirees club share swims, stories and cups of tea and after school and throughout the summer, the youths congregate.

Following the traditions of past generations, the high boards have become a rite of passage. On the last day of school the leavers flock here in uniform to storm the sea, a release before exams begin. Encouraged and guided by the veteran divers, they progress from the lower and middle boards. Finally making their way up to the double-sided high platform. Egged on by each other and the older divers, they gain confidence, throwing themselves, twisting and somersaulting, towards the ocean.

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Now taking the ice-bucket challenge to new heights, a group of teenage girls arrived. Each clutched a small white bucket, pink fluted pinnies worn over their swimsuits. They giggled as they milled on the steps, each pushing another forward, none wanting to be the first, while the on-lookers smiled in amusement. They nervously followed the stream of boys up onto the high platform. The boys shouted as they leapt while the girls, one by one, edged to the front of the board, looking back for re-assurance, then, with courage plucked, a deep breath and a scream, stepped out.

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Squeals of delight as they re-surfaced, the girls joined the boys again in the race back to the top.

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Salthill; Sea Swimming area and Boards

Easy to find along the promenade and show-cased around the world in film, including Brendan Gleesons “The Guard”, the area is a hive of activity.  Bicycle parking and toilets.

Flanked by banks of steps, the near-side bathing area forms an amphitheatre above the sea stage, behind the double-ended boards soar up.

Seamus Heaney wrote several poems in this area and along the promenade you can find quotations of his scribed on the sea wall.

Here is the place to meet swimmers and find out about the local history, people will share with you the hidden beaches and will recommend the entertainment spots in the city.