Winter Solstice Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual MediaDevenish Island, Fermanagh

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media Devenish Island, Fermanagh

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge

 

This the shortest day seems to me to have a magical quality to it; the year is about to turn, the nights have been drawing in over the months culminating today in these brief daylight hours. From tomorrow, almost imperceptibly the days will begin to stretch, but you will barely notice.

Determined not to get weighed down by recent heavy rains and grey skies, there is little that banishes the blues and awakens the soul as quickly and completely as full emersion, time for a swim. With the sun pushing the clouds aside and gleaming on the water’s surface, the tall reeds across from the jetty waving in the breeze and the water lapping over the wooden pontoon, I made my way out.

A lone fisherman, wrapped deep inside his waterproofs looked at me in disbelief, I smiled as I passed and offered no explanation. The jetty was slippery, the water has been very high for over a week now and algae has grown so I gingerly made my way to the ladder. I like to get in slowly, sit and dangle my legs then gently lower my body in, bracing myself for the cold. I felt okay; my recent swim in the sea only two days ago had helped to accustom my mind and body. Yes it felt cold, it always feels cold but I know that I will warm, I will be able to function and I will feel utterly amazing for it.

As I put my face in and began to swim, the water felt icy on my cheeks and the back of my neck, I breathed heavily, forcing the air out of my lungs to bring in the next lungful as I turned my arms over quickly. Within a short space of time I settled into my slower, normal stroke rate, I was moving easily through the water and the view was beautiful with the bright sunlight tickling the dancing reeds and water surface, turning everything golden. Now used to the water I climbed out to play; diving from the slippery pontoon into the deep black water, to rush back up to the surface again and again.

As I took this swim I could almost see the sun lowering in the sky, shadows becoming longer and the little heat there was began to ebb away. The final touch to end my perfect Solstice swim was a rainbow appearing, arching from the lake over the trees, a touch of magic.

HAPPY SOLSTICE…

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual MediaDevenish Island, Fermanagh

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media Devenish Island, Fermanagh

YULETIDE SWIMS 2015

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CHRISTMAS EVE SWIM at King John’s Pier, Carlingford, Co Louth.

24th December; Register 11.30am, swim starts 12noon.

CHRISTMAS DAY SWIM at Newcastle Harbour, Co Down. Raising funds for Knockevin School Dundrum.

25th December, 11.30am

XMAS MORNING SWIM  at Myrtleville Beach, Cork, 11am.

DARE TO DIP for Cancer Focus NI at Crawfordsburn, Co Down.

Registration £10.

1st January 2016; 11am. http://www.communityni.org/event/dare-dip#.Vnmq0fmLTIU

NEW YEARS DAY DIP at Brown’s Bay, Co Antrim

1st January 2016; 1pm.  http://newyeardip.weebly.com/

NEW YEAR’S DAY SPLASH for mental Health Charity AWARE, Newcastle Beach, Co Down.

1st January 2016: 10.30am

Newcastle Beach near the beach gate entrance to the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. Access is available from the beach or from the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa

The first 70 people registered will receive a free spa pass for two at the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa or Culloden Estate and Spa (valued at £60)! 

Registration is £10 and that includes an AWARE t-shirt.

www.aware-ni.org/newyearsplash

If you would like to know more about AWARE or about the event please don’t hesitate to contact kieran@aware-ni.org.

Newcastle Xmas 10b

Ice Mile – Wild Water Armagh

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh

Maureen and Molly

Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

Wild Water Armagh once again held host to bunch of crazy swimming thrill seekers. Sunday lunchtime, instead of preparing to sit down to a roast dinner we were stripping down to swimsuits, pulling on caps and securing goggles so they would have no leaks when we braved the chilly waters once again.

 Fired up from their success with the Ice Kilometre earlier this month, Gillian McShane, Molly Conroy and Jon Glover felt they could take on another challenge – a mile!

Gillian went first, quietly and steadily clocking up the lengths of the 25 metre pool, cheered on by ice km swimmers Ciara and Geraldine. Judith perched at the deep end counting the lengths down from 64 to 0 as she turned the numbers for Gillian to see – you know how easy it is to forget how many lengths you’ve done, add some brain freeze to that and then try keeping count!

 “What is your cats name?” was called to Gillian around halfway through the swim – a simple question to check she was still focused and fully aware.

(I hear you thinking ” Are you quite sure your minds are working properly when you contemplate getting into swim at this time of year?” – the jury is out on that!) But the correct answer came back “Charlie!” I think it was…

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015Ice mile held in Armagh

 Next in was Junior 1km record holder; Molly Conroy and me. I gingerly made my way down the steps into the chilly water – a tad warmer than the last day I swam here at 4.3’C. I sat on the bottom step preparing myself and settling my breathing, with all eyes on me, “I’m not having a pee!” I assured them as I realised my pose looked a little suspicious! I ducked under the wave-breaker lane rope as Molly followed down the steps.

No point waiting to get colder – the sooner I start, the sooner I get finished.

 ©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh

I could feel my hands getting colder and then painful – a crazy thought shot into my mind; they feel as though they will fall off! Like the Pobble Who has no Toes, a favourite childhood poem of mine. I quickly dismissed that, telling myself quite sternly that was certainly NOT going to happen. Hands and soles of my feet began to burn with cold, my focus came away from my hands as I expected this, but the soles of my feet was something new… is this what it feels like to walk hot coals? The sensations of heat or cold indistinguishable, to be replaced by pain? Last 250m though and it’ll all be over.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh

Molly had a phenomenal swim breaking her own 1km record by 2 minutes! And then her sister,

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015Ice mile held in Armagh

Olive went in to swim an extraordinary 1km in 15mins and 52 secs. What a swim!

 ©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh

After that Pawel and Caroline were in to do a 450m qualifier for an up-coming Russian event and Jon Glover made it look easy as he ploughed through the mile. The last swimmer of the day, Patrick was cheered on when the sun decided to break through the rain clouds.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh

After warming up in the port-a-cabin sauna (this could catch on) we gathered for soup and chocolate cake and soon the question was raised of the next challenge – I propose a warm continental swim perhaps?

 Thank you to the Conroys for letting us play in your pool again, everyone for looking after us so well and Paula for that lovely soup – I’ve nicked the recipe!

Special well done to Gillian – 1st Ice Miler in Wild Water Armagh.

Molly at breaking her own record and Olive on a smashing time for 1km.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 2015 Ice mile held in Armagh Olive Conroy, cold but happy.

A gallery of images from the Ice swim training and events will be uploaded soon.

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

Donabate ed 06b

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

DCIM100GOPRO

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/

 

Howth – Dublin

Howth ed 22b

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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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.)