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)

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/

CAMLOUGH LAKE, Co Armagh

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Irish International Triathlete Aileen Reid(nee Morrison) training in Camlough

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I did a lot of my channel training at ‘Crooked Lake’ Camlough. The lake is calm, sheltered, with easy access from a wide slipway, providing an ideal training ground.

I love the days when I do a long swim down the lake, seeing the sun stream down over Slieve Gullion. Aiming for the V formed by the two hills at the far end, swimming past an old pontoon on the right hand side, a favourite spot for herons to perch. As the winter deepened the local fishermen looked on in amazement as I stripped down to my cossie and waded into the cold water.  Deep breaths as the cold chilled my skin, I would count –1 – 2 – 3 – GO!  Off with a fast front crawl to generate some heat in my muscles on the 250m out to the first buoy, I would then settle into my stroke heading around the second buoy to complete a lap of 750m at the slipway.

A co-incidental meeting in Dover the week prior to my channel swim caused me to bump into a group of fellow Camlough ‘training ground’ swimmers returning from their successful stag do relay swim.  Since then, this group of Camlough and Newry locals have been organising superb events at the lake.

This previously hidden gem in South Armagh hit the world stage when more than three hundred swimmers from all over Ireland and beyond joined the local community to continuously swim for nine days.  On the 9th of the 9th 2009 the Guinness World Record for the longest ever relay swim was smashed.

Following on from that success Camlough Lake has grown in popularity and 2010 saw the inaugural Camlough Water Festival, a weekend of kayaking, water-polo, short swims, 5k and 10k swimming races.

Go down to the lake in the summer and you will find something of a carnival atmosphere with children paddling, swimmers and triathletes enjoying the water, you are likely to be welcomed by some hardy folk, including Bridgeen, Micky or Milo, who have been swimming there since the mid 80’s.

More on Camlough Water Festival http://www.clwf.eu

Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

Enter from the slipway on the Crossmaglen road, where you will see marker buoys forming a 750m loop from the slipway – further buoys have been added creating a variety of circuits, detailed on the map below.  Newry Triathlon club have set up a container here providing a changing facility and storage for safety equipment.  They run events through the year, triathlons and occasional night swims.

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Above Open Water Swimmer Colleen Mallon 

Course Map and Safety Information Below

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