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)

Lough Derg – Co Donegal

©Paul McCambridge.com / MAC Visual Media

Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The reeds whispered in the gentle breeze as we walked into Lough Derg on a warm summers evening and swam out into the dark, peaty water. Far across the lough rose the impressive structure of the Sanctuary, the circular Basilica with its great copper dome dominating the lake. I thought of the many thousands of pilgrims who have travellled here seeking enlightenment, or to ease their suffering and that of others, or came here in thanks. Clearing my mind of the everyday rush, I stopped making lists and simply enjoyed being here, immersed in the water and the moment. In a kind of meditation I let myself relax and breathe, taking the time to enjoy the cool water, the warm sun and the soft breeze.

For hundreds of years, Station Island where the Sanctuary sits was believed to be a special place, even before Saint Patrick travelled here in the 12th Century. But it was after Patrick’s vision of the afterlife during contemplation in a cave here that it became a place of Christian pilgrimage and the island was given the name, Purgatorium Sancti Patricii.

©Paul McCambridge.com / MAC Visual Media

The largest lough in Donegal at six miles by four, Lough Derg can afford the swimmer plenty of quiet places to explore without interrupting anyone else’s spiritual experience. Away from the main car-park there are plenty of access points used by fishermen and with no motor-craft allowed, the peaceful air is tangible.

Although it would be tempting to swim out to the Sanctuary, they ask that no craft go within 300m of the island, and I accept that this would include swimmers and so I am happy to enjoy my solitary contemplation, enjoy the peace and admire the grand building from afar.

 

Donabate / Portrane Co Dublin

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

An early evening walk along the public right of way through the golf course, led us to the long strand at Donabate. Dotted along the beach were little family groups, a dad watching one son running in and out of the tiny waves and a younger boy perched high atop his shoulders. A bright picnic blanket in the distance made a splash of red against the pale sand, waiting for another family to return from their play in the sea.

I paddled through the shallows the water lapping around my ankles as I picked up and examined various tiny shells. The sand crunched beneath my toes and my sandals swung loosely in my hand, such simple pleasure. I could have been on any beach, anywhere in the world but for the next pair I came to meet.

A whimsical Irish sight; fiery red hair above freckled skin, bikini clad and wielding a hurling stick, she looked like a modern day, Irish Boudicca. I couldn’t have scripted such an encounter. Only in Ireland, aye but here’s the rub, neither of the hurling players were Irish. They were in fact, French!

Speaking in perfect English, Severine told me how she’d been in Ireland now for several months and had recently bought the hurling sticks as a souvenir of her time here. This quiet beach was the perfect place to hone their skills. Running and laughing as they passed the sloitar between them, trying to keep control of a steady volley back and forth, their game continued long into the cooling evening. As I left them and walked back along the boreen through the golf course, I could hear the gentle crack of leather on ash as it echoed across the strand.

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Donabate Strand – Lifeguarded during the summer months

12 miles north-east of Dublin, the town centre is served by both train and bus routes from Dublin.

The strand lies between the Rogerstown and Broadmeadow estuaries, both of which are designated Special Areas of Conservation with an internationally important population of Brent Goose and nationally important populations of other bird species.

Nearby Newbridge Demesne is a Georgian mansion built for Charles Cobbe, Archbishop of Dublin, in 1736. It sits on 370 acres of eighteenth century parklands with woods, lawns and wildflower meadows. The estate is now a public park used year round. Newbridge House was a location for the 1965 film The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, starring Richard Burton.

Irish Grid Ref  0225501

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/

 

Helen’s Bay – Co Down

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

Helens Bay is a very popular beach on the coastal path that runs from Holywood through to Bangor.  My swims here have been many and varied, including swimming right through the winter before my Channel swim in 2009. I have never had a bad swim here, even in the cold of February, when I felt the muscles in my back tighten, protesting against the chilly 3C of the water, but instead of resisting I relaxed my mind and concentrated on the winter sun shining down making the sea sparkle on the ripples I created as I swam. Getting accustomed to the cold I thought of the swims my Mum and I would take in all weathers when I was a child. How pleased she and my Grandpa would have been that I follow in their footsteps, loving the sea as they did. Other beach users, wrapped in puffa jackets against the cold, gazed astonished as I swam the length of the bay.

Helen’s Bay has always been a popular place for swimming and I’ve been told many times of a lady who swam there every day until she was well into her 80th year.  I can only hope that I remain fit and well enough to do the same.

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Now with face-book messaging it’s so easy to find like-minded souls to join for a dip. A swim was posted and, despite concerns raised of jellyfish, 11 of us met at the car-park at 10.30am. Some wet-suited some not, we walked down the grass to the beach, the tide high and the sand higher. The waves rolled into shore and shivers of anticipation ran down my spine as I searched for my goggles and hat. As the first few headed into the fray we were greeted by 2 Oceans Seven swimmers; Kimberly Chambers who completed Oceans 7 with her North Channel swim on Tuesday, and Darren Millar who completed last year. They had heard about our gathering from “a guy in a bar last night” and decided to come and meet us. What a pleasure to meet such accomplished swimmers, emphasising the community spirit and support in open water swimming. They wished us a good swim and admired the view before returning to Bangor.

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Kimberly Chambers, Rachel Smith, Maureen McCoy, Darren Millar

The choppy water was pleasant and no jellies to be seen, so after a couple of laps we gathered on the beach and urged the wet-suited to try a quick dip – sans suit. Well done to the brave boys who took on the challenge.

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Helens Bay          Co Down

Popular with families and dog walkers, the bay is well signposted after driving through Holywood and Cultra, good parking with toilet facilities.

Swim parallel to shore, spotting the last tall tree at the far end and the conveniently placed apartment at the near end make it easy to keep a straight course. Approximately 400 metres from the slipway at the apartment to the concrete steps at the far end.  With its’ gently shelving sand it is a super training ground for swimmers and triathletes as well as for family swimming.

(There is a patch of sea grass one will hit in the middle at low tide which can be disconcerting to swim through and seems to always get trapped in goggle straps. When the water is high though, it’s clear across the bay.) 

Creggan Country Park – Derry / Londonderry City / Stroke City

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

Up on a hill overlooking Derry City lies Creggan Country park, the site of an old reservoir which is now used for water-sports and fishing. As I crested the hill I got my first glimpse of an interesting building, slate walls and a green roof lifted my hopes that this could be an oasis in the midst of residential housing.

A crowd was milling at the entrance and I joined them to introduce myself to Mervyn, one of the Northern Velocity coaches. With changing rooms and showers above the gated lake this is not a wild swimming area, but it does provide a safe training zone for those wishing to venture into the open water. The water quickly becomes deep and each of the wet-suited swimmers scanned their micro-chipped armbands as they made their way in to swim the 1km loop, with the swimmers content to swim at their own pace a couple of kayaks paddled out as safety craft.

The advantage of Creggan is that it is compact and swimmers are always visible from the slipway, marker buoys form a loop that never sees the swimmer too far from the shoreline. Beside the concrete jetty new swimmers can slip into deep water yet be coached from the side before venturing out into the main body of the lake for their first lap. This is the opportunity, for some the first time, to experience the lack of visibility in lake swimming. The shock of colder water – (some swimmers will never again say an indoor pool is cold!) and the feeling of exposure in a much larger expanse of water than previously experienced.

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Ranks of inflatables and kayaks moored up create a separate area for these test swims and the large zorbing balls and great green and white climbing pyramid show this site is well used by young and old.

If you want a play session for yourself and the kids, check out the Country Parks activity program and if you want a safe, well-marked training area they can give all the times when swimmers are welcome.

Creggan is a NOWCA listed lake – (National Open Water Coaching Association)

Moville Lighthouse Swim – Co Donegal

Moville Lighthouse Swim (Dolphins included) – Co Donegal

 

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Written by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The sun was shining on lough Foyle as a small crowd gathered at the harbour. Keen long distance swimmers and some completely new to open water were there to brave the sea on the 3rd annual Moville Lighthouse swim – 1.2km out from the harbour, around the lighthouse sitting pretty on its stilts and back to the slipway.

As the 38 swimmers, mostly “skins” (normal swimming togs) with just a few in wet-suits, walked down the slipway to ready themselves for the start of the race, an audience of family and friends cheered them on. Kayaks sat a little way off waiting to guide the swimmers and out near the main channel rescue boats hovered. As the field began to spread a huge container ship sounded its horn as it slipped on down the Foyle.

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The organiser Peadar’s comment before the swim, “Those of you not racing for a fast time, when you get to the lighthouse just take a moment…look back at the scenery” was ringing in my ears as we watched the swimmers finishing and a pod of Dolphins appeared, jumping and riding the wakes of the safety boats.

A spectacular show followed and I was jealous of the lucky devils out there in boats and kayaks with those magnificent creatures showing off around them.

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My apologies now to the swimmers, you did great but the Dolphins stole the show!

Certainly this event will continue to grow in numbers, it’s a beautiful swim, well organised and I am keen to sign up for next year, especially if there is a chance that the dolphins might return and I will be taking a camera with me!

 

Swimmer and spectator quotes

   “Moville Lighthouse Swim completed today. Can’t believe a few months
ago I started swimming. If you had said to me I would have done a
triathlon and an open water event, I would have laughed out loud. To top
off the swim today I was literally swimming with dolphins. Happy Happy
Happy.”

 “Congratulations , another superb event . We are getting bigger and
better each year , the dolphins were a master touch!”

   “…a great swim today.  I had the added bonus of swimming with the
dolphins for part of it. I look forward to next years’ swim.”
 

“Mammy, when will I be old enough to swim around the Lighthouse like them?”  – Comment by 5 year old boy to parent

19th July 2014

 

“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”

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