Dunkers & Dippers

 

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.comWords by Maureen McCoy, Photography by Paul McCambridge

Cold water swimmers each have their differing reasons for hitting the water on a regular basis, some wish to prepare for challenges such as the Ice Swimming distances or an event where the ability to deal with the cold for a long period is paramount. Others are aiming to reap the benefits purported to be induced; it is said it can boost the immune system, help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Whatever our reasons, it certainly gives one a zing and zest for life and the camaraderie found in swimming groups is infectious.

We are now well into April and the recent good weather heralds the coming of spring. Lengthening daylight and the promise of warm summer to come has set many swimmers thoughts to returning outdoors. However, plenty of hardy souls have been enjoying the invigorating sensations of dipping and dunking all through the cold, short days of winter.

As lifetime advocates of year-round swimming ourselves, we took the opportunity to meet up with several of these newly formed groups…

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Ballyhornan Bay Swimmers

Approximately half-way between Strangford town and Ardglass, along the Killard Road, lies Ballyhornan Bay and its close neighbour, Benderg.

A soggy morning in mid-February was the time we chose to visit the swim group that formed here over the winter. Running a little late, I arrived to see one other straggler just ahead of me making her way to the waters’ edge. I hastily stripped down to my cossie, crammed my cap on my head and fished goggles from the depth of my bag, fearing the others would leave the water just as I arrived.

No need to worry as I waded in calling out the one name in the group I knew; “Roisin?” one wetsuit clad lady said “She’s over there…” pointing to a tow-float anchored not far out where a little party of swimmers were doing repeated laps between this and a second rescue buoy.

When I joined them they were on lap 6. In the lee of Guns Island we did several more laps, swimming a mix of Breaststroke and Front Crawl, with a bit of chatting in between.

Finally, we were drawn to try out some body surfing in the small rollers breaking in the shallows, with a lot of squealing and trying not to lose our goggles in the foam we managed to return intact.

As we left the water the rain got heavier, it wasn’t the weather for hanging around, so everyone quickly retreated towards home with calls of; “See you next week!” and “…really enjoyed that!” leaving the beach with a happy buzz.

Thanks for the warm welcome ladies and I hope to see you again soon!

FB Link – Ballyhornan Sea Swimming Group

Ballyhornan – Lecale way inlet 

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©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Lough Neagh Monster Dunkers

On the shores of Lough Neagh, behind the Discovery Centre a short slipway offers entry to a sheltered section of the lough and it’s here at the weekends that Lough Neagh Monster Dunkers meet.

Rows of cars parked close to the water, spilt out swimmers in various stages of undress. Some with woolly hats, others already in their swim caps, all the same pale blue with a very amiable-looking Monster depicted on the side. The Dunkers have arrived.

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

A quick pre-dip brief by founder member Chris Judge included a warm welcome to us guests, it’s been quite a while since I swam with Chris at Newcastle harbour on a grey day. Nice to catch up again and it was great to see so many faces in the group.

After briefing, the Dunkers flooded down the slipway, some singing and some squealing as they waded in. A sea of bright coloured tow floats jostled with the blue Monster hats and the singing continued.

 Catching up with Francie McAlinden (Winner Global Swim Series 2018) who amongst other things is planning a charity swim for his grandson, 14th September – Swim for Oran – raising funds for the Heart Beat Trust RVH, I’m all signed up!

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Several members of Lisburn Triathlon club were tempted to explore winter dunking and swimming and then were very quickly drawn irreversibly to “the cold side…” These guys have ditched the wetsuits and set themselves some challenging swims over the next 2 years.

The wearing of bright coloured togs is optional but has become the trade mark of one “Paddy Pineapple” – Paddy Montgomery – Lisburn Triathlon Club, Ice Km and keen promoter of “Budgie Smugglers” togs… perhaps it makes one at least think a little warmer when dressed in tropical prints…

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Darren Cusick – Lisburn Triathlon Club, Ironman and Ice Km, has really taken to cold water swimming. Comfortable in the chilly water, it begs the question has he found an, as yet unresearched advantage? Subcutaneous ink-sulation???

Andrew Vaughan – Lisburn Triathlon Club, quietly takes it all in his lengthy stride…

Cathy Devlin, a founding member of the Monster Dunkers, greeted me with a big hug, having now ditched the wetsuit – a change from that long ago night swim at Janet’s Rock.

It was nice to catch up with old friends and see so many new faces getting into the water. Thanks for the swim caps Chris!

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

FB Link – Lough Neagh Monster Dunkers

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©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Jordanstown Lough Swimmers

Meeting up at the car park on the Lough Shore at Jordanstown, just beside the small café, it wasn’t long before we spied a small group of swimmers; warm coats and kit bags slung over their shoulders… we were in the right place.

The water looked grey and a little murky with the wind lifting a chop and creating waves which churned up the sand below, still, most of todays dip would be head up. More swimmers gathered, and we introduced ourselves to each other before Jonny lead us along the path that winds across Loughshore Park. At the far side we passed under some trees and were brought close to the water’s edge. Here the path met a high wall which we skirted around and continued along the seaward side to a gate and slipway.

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Nestled between the wall and the gate is the perfect changing area. As we prepared for our dip the air began to crackle with excitement, a few first timers were a little nervous but support was plentiful.

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

No two swims are ever the same, weather changes, conditions are different, how we feel on that day… these factors and more will make a difference…that’s what makes it so addictive.

The waves washed seaweed around our ankles as we made our way into the lough chatting and encouraging each other.

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

Bobbing about in the waves we looked toward Belfast, the giant yellow torsos of Samson and Goliath (cranes in the docks) standing out against the grey sky – the iconic view of Belfast. Still chatting happily as we climbed our way out across the mat of seaweed, everyone seeming to revel in the post swim buzz, discussing the merits of various coats, jackets and changing robes. The conversation continued as we walked back to our cars and the café.

Thank you, Jonny and JLS for inviting us to join you – great swim and see you again soon!

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

FB Link – Jordanstown Lough Swimmers

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Everyone; keep swimming, keep safe and keep enjoying…

©Paul McCambridge - www.wildswim.wordpress.com

 

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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 

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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https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zDJSgtJazNy8.kXtFcLxBnZNw

WILD ART

Aside

WILD ART

Irish Artist Neil Shawcross – Weekly dip in Strangford Lough

Image

 

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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