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.) 

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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

 

BALLYGALLEY CO ANTRIM COAST

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A Tale of Two swims…

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

With the early evening sun on our shoulders Alison and I entered the calm sea at Ballygalley beach. I was struck by the simple beauty of the muted greens and greys of the sandy floor, moving through the spectrum to soft blue. The deeper water then revealed emerald green, bright with shafts of sunlight dancing across the sand.

The bay was flat calm, the water silky as Alison and I swam out to a large pink buoy then, keeping parallel to the beach, aimed for the rocks at the end of the bay.  The water was cool and perfectly clear, I could see the occasional rock deep beneath, covered with sea-weed in a desert of sand.  We passed two more buoys, their weed encased ropes curving down into the depths conjured thoughts of a ghost ship, covered in years of growth.

Turning back down the beach in an amicable front-crawl, together we swept past the Castle Hotel with its imposing façade.

The lighthouse beam from the Maidens swept across the beach as we left the sea,

dressed in our scruffy after-swim joggers and with salty hair and sandy flip-flops went into the Ballygalley Castle Hotel and ordered hot chocolate and coffee, and watched the sun go down over the glassy water.

Alison Cardwell and Maureen McCoy

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A year later and the same spot provided a very different swim. Michelle was waiting for favourable tides for her North Channel solo and was keen to keep her cold tolerance high. So on a windy Saturday with a group of friends, lulled by the recent hot weather, we bravely set off. The water was cold and choppy as we waded out and our sanity was questioned. Rachel and Erin led the way by quickly plunging in, followed by Michelle then myself and finally the boys, “It’s actually not that bad once you get going!” said a surprised Richard. Although it took a little time to adjust their breathing amidst the waves and chop and quite a lot of water made it into their mouths, they enjoyed the exhilaration of the surf.

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Michelle and I headed across the bay, feeling the power of the sea as the waves pushed us towards the shore and we had to adjust our course. We soared above forests of kelp, shafts of sunlight piercing the water and the occasional crab scuttling along the sea-bed on some errand, oblivious to the maelstrom above. We had to stop regularly to regain sight of each other in the choppy water – neither of us wanted to go back saying we’d lost the other!

Finally we returned, dressed and joined the others to sprinkle sand again on the hotels carpets!

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Parking in-front of the hotel with steps leading to the beach.

A long strand, popular with families and very clear water.

An ideal training ground for long distance or triathletes with approximately a 1km stretch across the bay.

CARRICK-A-REDE Rope Bridge

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Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

The sun was high as we arrived mid-day at Larrybane Bay, Paul, his son Kealan and I.   As we walked down the path and got our first view of the bay my breath was almost taken away.  The white cliffs, reminiscent of Dover, then the rocky shoreline similar to a Croatian coast and the tall grass-topped and sheer cliff islands rising out of the sea, like something straight out of a movie shot in Thailand.  Who would believe we had such a place in Ireland.

The bay curves around providing a great coastal scramble with caves breaking up the tall white cliffs and in places the most perfect white rounded pebbles you could ever hope to find.  Wading out into the shallow bay though, the rocks give way to a clear sandy floor.

We struck out on the one kilometre swim straight across to Carrick-a-rede Island. Looking down through the emerald green water to the sand deep below unbroken by any sea-weed or rocks, I felt I could be in any exotic location in the world.  The tide, still on its way out left shallow water under the bridge, so shallow that we could walk through.  Occasionally dipping into deeper patches as we waded under, it felt like walking through a fair-ground fun house, up, then down, then up again.  As the water got deeper again we swam on between the towering cliffs of the island and the shore, people high above us carefully picking their way across the rope bridge.

As I rounded the corner it seemed I was swimming into the “Lost World” with great Jurassic black cliffs soaring above.  Exploring these rocks and the clear water below was a joy and we spent a long time breast-stroking and gazing up, almost expectant of a prehistoric creature to swoop down at any moment.

The tiny Fisherman’s cottage on the island had a fresh coat of white-wash and the steep steps leading down to the waters edge with the old winch broken and rusting, showed the remnants of the old Salmon Fishery here in times past.  The sun was still strong as we made our way back under the bridge and out across Larry Bane Bay for that second kilometre swim back through those emerald waters.

A good two kilometre round trip for the strong and confident swimmer. 

Follow the signs to Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, a National Trust site, which is worth a visit to cross the Bridge and get an impressive view of the coastal cliffs from the island.

From the car park, follow the road down to the overspill car park in the Quarry.  Here you can park and follow the track on foot to the shore.

This is an advanced swim for the experienced open water swimmer.  Although not difficult it requires knowledge of the swimmers limitations and of the local tides.

It is wise to avoid the bay on the Sheep Island side of Larry Bane as here the currents are much stronger and the eddies and tides can be powerful.

LOUGH ESKRAGH Dungannon

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A NOVICE EYE VIEW

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

The scene was of a calm lake, a small slipway flanked by two wooden jetties and the evening sun dancing on the water’s surface. Off to the right, tall reeds stood to attention, directly ahead lay a large marker buoy.  This was the venue early that last day of May for both a double and single Ironman event and now a sprint triathlon, organised by the Trilimits Club. A growing group of triathletes were gathering.

Joanne and Julie, cyclists used to mountain and road biking, decided to take part in the sprint distance triathlon, the influence of an evening’s discussion over a bottle of wine possibly being a factor in their decision.  Having made the commitment, they went on the hunt each to borrow a wetsuit.  With some rudimentary advice on how to get out of the wetsuits and encouraged with the knowledge of the extra buoyancy the wetsuits would provide, the girls looked forward to the event. 

Neither of them label themselves swimmers. Julie’s last swim was two years ago in the Big Splash sprint triathlon and Joanne tried to remember her last swim – perhaps she was around 10 years old in the old Lisburn pool, which closed in 1999. The girls were facing their first open water challenge of the season with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation.

Before the swim Julie said: “I think the fear of the open water will make me complete the swim, to do 750m in a pool, well I couldn’t, but this way I HAVE to finish. My main objective is to stay clear of the other swimmers and I will probably use every stroke, front crawl, back crawl and my own made-up strokes to get through it!”

Joanne, also looking forward to the event, said “I’m excited about this new challenge, I enjoy doing something different – THIS is something different for me!”

Before the event the nerves began to kick in, where to rack the bikes? Should they lay out a towel to dry their feet? And how to get into those wetsuits! Suffice to say in all the excitement Julie, having rushed to don her wetsuit, had to try again. This time the right way round. All fixed and ready to go, they followed the crowd into the water.  With a final few tips and words of encouragement, the whistle blew and the swim began.

Allowing the other swimmers to strike out first gave Julie and Joanne space to settle into their swim and, as they predicted, they used a variety of strokes throughout.  Joanne was probably not the most encouraging to her buddy by laughing when Julie’s occasional bouts of back crawl caused her to veer off course.  When she looked around, she was a little disorientated, had someone moved those pesky buoys?

Two laps of the course and both girls were still smiling as they exited the water. In their minds the hardest part of the race was done, now for the bike and run.

How did they feel after the event? Joanne said,

I enjoyed the swim – it seems like a long time ago now already. I was really struggling to breathe at the start, due to a cold I’ve had, so I just decided to take it easy, as not completing the swim (or the whole event) was not an option to me!

It was really nice to be out in the water with the sun starting to go down – the same kind of feeling you get when you walk in the mountains. I’m tempted to go somewhere for another wee swim before I return the wetsuit!

Julie is also planning to get some practice swims in before another event.

Lough Eskragh

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Near Dungannon with good parking facilities and easy access down a slipway.  A second car park is used often by fishermen.

Gently shelving, the lough is spring fed and the near side has a sandy bottom, further out is based on peat so the water is dark and underwater visibility is poor. 

Contact the local triathlon club at http://trilimits.wordpress.com/

CRAIGAVON BALANCING LAKES CO ARMAGH

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

Tuesday had been a wet day with only a few breaks in the heavy rain showers but come 7pm, the sun was venturing out and it promised to be a reasonably warm evening.  I arrived early at the North Lake and introduced myself to the other early birds.  With the air warm and muggy I was sure the water would be warm too.

The small band grew as more and more arrived and I was introduced as their ‘guest’ swimmer.  We stepped into the lake and soon got into an easy front crawl.

A kayaker went on ahead to negotiate us around the heaviest patches of weeds.  At times we almost had to crawl over this wiry, prickly stuff, pulling lumps of it out as it caught on wrists and watches.  A few short patches of this were the only thing that would mar a very pleasant swim.  With the evening sun breaking through the grey clouds, the tall reeds, their feathery heads stretching high above the waters edge, the scene had a dreamlike quality.

As we returned to the shore on our third lap, the rain started and quickly became a downpour.  I lifted my head and swam head up, fascinated by the drops hitting the surface so hard that they bounced back up forming thousands of what looked like pawns from a chess set – repeatedly formed and broken.  Finally the rain began to ease and we tried vainly to seek shelter as we dressed under a tree.  One swimmer said he’d been quite surprised to look back and see “a nudey person behind me!”  So used to the black arms of wetsuits, a bare arm was easily spotted.

 Tuna Triathlon Club now use the South lake on a Monday evening at 7.00pm from the sports centre.

 I swam as their guest but the club website does ask for all swimmers to be members, wear their wetsuit and have completed at least a 1500m continuous swim in the pool.

Check out www.tunatriathlon.org for club information.

Lurgan Masters Swim Club also use the lake on a Sunday evening at 6:30pm, with 200m/400m/750m/1km courses marked out. LMSC ask that swimmers have membership of either Swim Ireland/ILDSA/Triathlon Ireland for Insurance reasons

http://www.lurganmastersswimclub.com 

See map below for entry point. 

©PAUL MCCAMBRIDGE PHOTOGRAPHY Picture By Paul McCambridge Tel 07711167277