Howth – Dublin

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

On this, the first weekend of summer, a festival vibe sweeps along the coastal path from Howth as a host of teenagers in swimsuits and shorts flock alongside tourists. Clutching their return tickets for the Dart they pass the cliff top shop, towels slung over shoulders and lost in chatter.

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No longer allowed to jump from the pier and now fined if they do, they instead have re-claimed an old diving haunt a little way along the craggy coastline. Leaving the tourists to watch as they drop down off the main path onto a beaten track clearly used year round by fishermen, they make their way to a vertiginous staircase. I thought of Escher and his drawings of the impossible stairs or Harry Potter with the moving staircases of Hogwarts. With no railings and seemingly suspended held only by their own weight, the steps span the cavernous drop to the rocks below and lead onto a rocky outcrop where the concrete plinths of old diving boards still remain.

The water is deep and clear, I can’t see the bottom but I can see that it is very deep and there are no dangerous rocks beneath the surface, a perfect dive pit.

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Plunging in and swimming the few metres to the diving platforms, teens scramble up the cliff in swimsuits, with socks the only protection for bare feet on the barnacle encrusted rocks. Tourists shout encouragement from their vantage point on the cliff path above as a wet-suited young man ventures to the highest plinth. He steps to the edge, clenches his fists then backs away. Gripping his long hair in frustration as he repeatedly goes through this performance. The spectators are getting restless, cries of “Go on! Do it! It’s not that high!” Cameras are poised for the action as anticipation builds. The board below him looks only about 3m from this height.

It’s only when I get down the path, level with the board that I can see I was mistaken. The lower board I would estimate 5 – 6 metres above the surface that would make the higher plinth close to 10 metres. I’ve jumped from 10 in Dublin’s NAC, once, and there’s a lot of time on the way down to realise that you just might have made a mistake.

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Across the deep green natural diving pit, four young men line up along the facing cliff. Standing level with the high plinth, one after the other they leap. The sharp smack as their canvas shoes hit the water reverberates around the cliffs, applause from the coastal path high above as their whoops of delight carry up to the crowd. They swim across to a small rock and rest in the sun. One standing as the others sit they look from a by-gone age. I am hit with a thought of this very same scene happening in the twenties or thirties, a ‘great Gatsby-like’ vision of young men in their prime enjoying the beginning of a seemingly endless summer. Finally they decide to join the throngs of younger divers on the main rock.

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We leave the rock littered with girls and boys, their happy chatter and laughter echoing as we cross that impossible staircase again.

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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)

WILD ART

Aside

WILD ART

Irish Artist Neil Shawcross – Weekly dip in Strangford Lough

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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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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.