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.) 

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

 

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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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!

Ballygalley

 

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.

KINBANE CASTLE NORTH ANTRIM COAST

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

Pulling into the small car park on the cliff at Kinbane I looked across to the clearest view of Rathlin Island I have ever seen.  The island is approximately seven miles from Ballycastle but looks so close today.  Behind the island the hazy shore of the Mull of Kintyre with calm deep blue water in between.  One thinks it would be easy to swim, but this is some of the coldest water around our shores and it would take many hours.

Following the steps which snake down the cliff led to a small cove with the remains of the old castles watch tower on a rugged outcrop.  Along the shore a roofless cottage with the rusting remains of a winch and then we could see the cave under the castle ruins that was to be todays swim.

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Clambering over rocks and forests of kelp we used a variation of dog-paddle and crawling, pulling ourselves through the weed until it was deep enough to swim. We made our way deep into the cave and seeing a glimpse of sky, ventured on through the arch carved by sea, under the ruins to emerge on the sea-ward side of the island.  Here the draw of the waves was powerful and sea birds above whistled and called. As we returned we were pushed forward on each wave then suspended, waiting for the next rush, as if on a swing we were drawn back and forth by the sea.

Cave at Kinbane

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An advanced swim due to the strength of tides here, a good knowledge of the tides and currents essential.

Beautiful spot to picnic and explore

Car park with toilets.

Long climb down steps to get to the cove.

THE “SLOUGH” – DUNSEVERICK – NORTH ANTRIM COAST

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

Early evening and nearing the end of a super day exploring the North Coast, the weather was glorious, the warmest day we’d had in weeks.  The evening sun lit up the grassy field as we parked the car on the roadside behind many other cars and climbed over the stile to follow the path down to the Slough.

On the far side of the inlet, nestled on the small patches of sand between large rocks were a couple of extended family groups, with children ranging in ages from a very vocal two year old to teenage.  With wind-breaks pegged into the sand and folding chairs set up, they had been there for the whole day.  Another family picked their way across the rocks, barefoot and in wetsuits to jump from the lower ledges, gaining confidence to later try the high rocks on the opposite side.

As we got closer and the whole of the Slough came into view, a bright pink li-lo starkly contrasted with the teal-green deep water.  Drifting on this was young man, long hair tied back calling instructions to his friends on the rocks.  Another then threw down a large rubber ring and took a great leap from on high to land in the centre.  We all laughed and clapped at his display.

Kealan and I headed to these high rocks.  Kealan jumped first and as I stepped forward I felt a twinge of nerves.  My cautious nature made me hesitate and assess the depth, judge the distance I would need to jump out to clear the rock walls and my heart beat faster as I realised there was no turning back.  3-2-1- jump!  I think I might have squealed a little!  My feet hit the water and I pulled my arms in close to my body, as soon as I was underwater I opened my arms and used a breast stroke kick to stop myself from hitting the bottom.  I needn’t have bothered, wearing my wetsuit I was so buoyant that I popped up again like a cork and bobbed about in the gentle ebb and flow of the inlet.  Barefoot I climbed back up the rocks for a second go.  Then it was time to lose the wetsuit.  The black rocks were warm with the sun beating on them all day and after a few more jumps, and Kealan somersaulting a couple of times, I felt a dive was in order.  Nothing spectacular, just a clean straight dive, start low and work up to one of the higher rocks.

I tested myself on a low rock, ever cautious of the depth, and executed a passable straight dive, next step, a little higher.  The higher I went the more respect I felt for cliff divers, I would never be brave enough for that.  A couple more dives and then I thought I should quit while I was ahead and embarrassment free, maybe with some diving practice I’ll return brave enough to resurrect my somersault, I don’t promise anything though.

I warmed myself on the black rocks as the groups of people began to disperse and we agreed that a long days swimming and exploring now warranted a good feed, the evening sun still strong as we dressed.

Slough at Dunseverick

A lovely inlet with varying levels to plunge from which should satisfy most age ranges.

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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.

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