Today was a positive day in many respects. The conditions at Bull Wall were exceptional. The sun was beaming in the sky and the breeze was gentle. The temperature at the marine buoy in Dublin Bay was over 8 and a half degrees.
At some point today the Taoiseach is going to announce a lightening of the COVID restrictions in some shape or form but judging by the pre release headlines, inter county travel is going to remain off the cards. I thought that in any event if I managed a distance of 2.4 K then I would have covered the distance of the first leg of the Summer (whenever I can get back to Cahore).
Thankfully in my full body layer of neoprene, sea temperature was not an issue and I covered the distance. It was my longest swim so far in 2021 and it felt invigorating. There was bad wetsuit scarring on my neck from last week’s swims but I worked out a clever way to wear the balaclava without it rubbing my neckline. Copious volumes of vaseline helped. There were a few dodgy mouthfuls of Liffey estuary as well !!! I took an extended lunch off work for the swim and made the time up later and all afternoon I was floating on endorphins as I attended meetings on Teams. I think if all my colleagues had gone swimming too there would be less of a general air of ambivalence.
I managed the 2.4 k so job done; I’m now ready for Cahore when restrictions are lifted. In covering the distance, I was left with a very optimistic view of the coming Summer with the opinion that the plan I have set out is not impossible. The other reason I am posting on the blog today after what seems a routine dip is that I want to keep the momentum going on the charitable aspect of this project. I am raising funds for immunotherapy cancer treatment for a close friend and every penny is graciously received with heart felt thanks, even if she cant thank you personally.
You can donate at the following link, and I will put you on the mailing list to be notified when blog posts get published.
Late edit: I heard the general synopsis from the Taoiseach and yesterday’s paper’s were correct. No inter county mingling. Having said that there seemed to be an intonation that this might be looked at in May otherwise I might have to look at some kind of legal loopholes. Mind you from where I’m sitting if a GAA player can travel the length and breath of the country, surely swimming over 150 KM in the sea in a number of months also qualifies as an elite sport?
It was the day after the swim to Kilmichael Point. Mid-afternoon I contacted Ceall. I had a plan. I didn’t fancy another 9km / 10 km swim. I didn’t fancy giving up either, not just yet anyway. I was curious about the coast just south of where we had landed. Ceall had spoken of looking forward to swimming beside the beach again and after the first couple of kms this would be possible. I also wanted to catch up with my parents and they had suggested meeting half way this coming weekend – in Arklow or somewhere nearby. It got me thinking…I checked tide times – high tide was to be 9.30am or so on Sunday morning. Windguru suggested benign conditions (as of then anyway). Maybe a morning swim? We discussed a 9am start. With my wife and kids following down later in the car, I could then meet them and my parents. I checked availability at a hotel between Gorey and Arklow that myself and herself were at before for a wedding which should be a good choice for lunch. They had room, cool, hopefully it will all fall into place and I can show my crew some of the cool spots en route home later on Sunday too. Turns out Ceall wasn’t keen on facing into another long swim either. The idea appealed to him. He could drive down and later drop me to the hotel. Fingers crossed. A little bit Machiavellian perhaps, but suited all well… hopefully the weather will play ball.
The Saturday night weather forecast on tv was still good, but mentioned the dreaded word frost. Summer is departing. Northerly winds had brought cooler air over the last couple of days and the sea temperature was down a degree, but still a very decent 14.8c. While it was nippy loading the bikes initially at 7.15am, the day was fine, dry and sunny and by the time we parked, the day was lovely.
To get to the beach we’d had to drive down an unpaved road, with a few craters for potholes to add to the lots of regular potholes there also. A quick look at the beach – and we could see some cool waves to the right – where the headland started (another) – and to the left a long sandy stretch north, with an odd, almost amphitheatre looking section half way up.
The cycle was a ‘bit bumpy’ to begin with and a ‘bit hilly’ then. Tara Hill was beside us as we cycled north. The area was almost alpine in feeling, a bird of prey also hovered over Tara Hill as we cycled on. Sean Kelly might have enjoyed the hills, himself didn’t, but we got to our destination in decent time. While getting ready we chatted with a retired English lady in a campervan who seemed to be making the most of retirement – travelling around – now that she can, as she said.
The view was still fab. We got started and stopped and restarted a few times over the course of the first kilometre or more to take in some of the surroundings, well the rocky shoreline especially. I spotted what looked like an old WW2 Lookout Post on the hill. You can read more about them at https://coastmonkey.ie/protecting-our-neutrality-ww2-lookout-posts/ – 83 Lookout Posts were built at strategic points around the coast at ten to twenty mile intervals from Ballagan Head in Co Louth to Inishowen Head in Co Donegal. Apparently about 50 remain. There was one near where I grew up. You had to climb through a kind of slit window to get in. I came back later in the day to have a closer look at this one in Kilmichael when I brought the family back for a walk on the coastal path. It even had a door and a fireplace – very posh compared to my local one.
Next up came Kilpatrick beach. We headed straight across the bay, staying out to sea and swam towards the headland and towards Clone Strand. We were flying along. Our decision to leave closer to high tide seemed to have paid off. We swam on past the next headland and a rockier section of coastline. Conditions, though not calm, were pretty good. The longer Clone Beach came into view. Another gorgeous beach I had never heard of. We were swimming hard, it felt like race pace. It got me thinking about The Liffey Swim which should have been on yesterday – Saturday August 30th – and it would have been the 100th anniversary swim. Another event that was (so far anyway) a victim of Covid. We decided to land on the beach, maybe half way down and past the river. As we got closer in, it was odd, there were suddenly some very cold spots and it stayed colder as went in. There were some fine houses pretty much on the beach and a caravan park further down, higher up the dunes.
After a short break, we swam on staying close to shore. It was another Michael Phelps type swim. The current was so strong that if you stood up for a second you were still being pushed south. Apparently, according to Aine, a local who sails, Kilmichael Point makes a big impact on the local currents. We had stopped to have a look at some of the dune protections – a mass of cement circles arranged on the dunes to try and stem the coastal erosion. Back into the Olympics we went (if only). A bit further down, Ceall suggested a few sprints. I had been thinking along the same lines – we hadn’t done so since Kilcoole. We decided on 20 strokes – broadly equivalent usually to a 25m pool length. Three sprints – he got me every time, but feck it, it was good craic – I’ll use my wetsuit as an excuse – it is more a leisure suit than a racing suit. The fact that we could do it after a few kms was good too.
I was tired at the end, yes the distance was shorter and we had a tide, but that was why we pushed it so much. Apart from a jellyfish sting on the wrist, my first of this Dublin – Wexford swim, and second of the summer, it was a fine enjoyable dash south. After the slog of the previous swim, this was a refreshing change. Himself said after “there wasn’t one bit of that, I didn’t enjoy”. I’d been thinking beforehand that this might be the last swim, but this has renewed my hope we might just go again.
Day 19 To Courtown
Another weekend has arrived, this time it’s a Saturday swim. I was with the young fella in the morning at a GAA match he was in in Shanganagh. Logistics meant he got a lift from Stephen who also took the bike rack (thanks Stephen) while I cycled there. Ceall then collected me c1.15. The drives were getting longer. After we arrived it was time to take some pics for our charities – Temple St and Clean Coasts – in their gear. I hadn’t been to Courtown in some time. My late Uncle Jim was a lifeguard in his youth with a pal called Michael. Jim used to tell the story of a largeish woman they saved. They brought her in and as a thank you she later gave them a few pence – they felt like throwing her back in apparently. Courtown is sometimes called Dublin 25 because of the numbers who come south in summer. It has its crazy golf and dodgems but all around is gorgeous. We cycled out of town and over basically a gorge (you wouldn’t think twice as you drove the same route as you can’t see below) but it was pretty impressive and the forest was lovely too. Indeed, I would say soon after that this was the most verdant (lush/green) cycle yet. It was pretty hilly in parts. On we went, past The Orphan Girl…why is it called that I wonder, apprently (the claim at least) it is famous for its chargrilled steaks. More hills, so we walked with the bikes and had a feast of (not chargrilled) blackberries while we were at it.
We got to our start point down the pot holed road and locked the bikes. It was pretty much high tide but a new app we checked out had suggested we should have some kind of push all the way. The forecast was for cloud and a chance of a shower or two, with a westerly wind. The sea was very, very calm, even around the first headland. There were some lovely wee coves. A man with a metal detector was in one, hoping to strike it lucky. My mother had lost a ring on Rosslare beach when I was a teenager. While she went and prayed to St Anthony, the loan of a metal detector was also organised. We went back to the beach and either by religion or science, said ring was found. My mother claimed the former, I was in the camp for the latter.
It was unusual to be swimming in such calm water. I was breathing bilaterally, and when I breathed to my left the horizon seemed to go on for ever. We swam parallel to a long sandy beach and were making decent progress, past a small rocky section and on beside another beach with a series of rocky intervals. Ceall seemed to think / hope we were further on than we were. I was pretty sure we still had not passed the beach at Seafield on which I’d been with my family last week. On we went and next up indeed was the longer Seafield beach. At some stage around here we also passed an old shipwreck. The bits left didn’t seem too ancient, but a quick google later would revela that The Ullswater, a 247 tonne brig which was wrecked off Ballymoney on January 11, 1868. Not sure if it the same remains as is there now. We moved out to sea a bit to avoid a series of outcrops of rocks. Coming into view then was a beach with a red lifeguard hut and a good sprinkling of people on it. This was Ballmoney beach north. We carried on past the rocks to another smaller beach (Ballmoney beach south) and decided to pull in for a break. I was a bit disorientated and wobbling a bit as I came out onto the stones, it wa a bit odd. Then I thought I heard my name being called – Niall, Niall, Niall. I had earplugs in but didn’t think I was hallucinating and put the goggles back on to try and see better (being in your 50s is a pain). Another few calls of my name and as I moved closer to the sound, I could hear it was Claire from Dublin SC and some other swimming pals of hers. They had been swimming on the north beach and were now heading away. They were lovely and gave me some coffee and cake and then Ceall joined us also – alas just as he did the dog went for the cake and that was the end of that. Cake gets mentioned a lot on the Dublin SC WhatsApp group so finally it is finding its way into this blog too. The other swimmers were local and knew the coastline well and indeed one mentioned how nice the section before Courtown was. She was right, the forest that hugged the shoreline was gorgeous.
While the view would be fab, the pace slowed dramatically as a combination of fatigue and a tide that was not helping us one bit took their toll. We had done a few sprints a little earlier, but that seemed like a long time ago now. Ceall was feeling it most and as it transpired, he was under the weather in the following days. I suggested we swim in shorter stages of 100 strokes and try and get to our end point by degrees. We had been in the water a long time by now – this was a 7km stage – and to make matters worse as we got to the last kilometer or so we could hear and see the enemy of swimmers – three jetskis charging in and out of the harbour. In fairness they never got too close, but we were weary and wary. As I mentioned I was enjoying the scenery, Ceall was more ambivalent. There is a line of deciduous trees in front of the evergreens, beautiful. Rocks were to the front of the beach to prevent erosion. There were a series of yellow buoys as we got closer and we used these to prove to ourselves that we were actually making progress. More breast stoke was employed too – to make sure we could see what lay ahead. As we got closer to the harbour and the sounds of the jetskis we decided when doing crawl to stop after every fifteen strokes to make sure.
It was good to make land. We changed quickly as dusk settled on us. A bag of chips and maybe more was needed. We queued in our masks while a rowdy enough bunch were drinking in the pub next door. Just as we got the food and headed back to the car, down came the rain, lashing it was. We had been lucky again. By the time we collected the bikes and drove back to Dublin, it was late, after 9pm for me and later again for Ceall. The swim had been two hours 50. Again, I was wondering was that it. Next week is my birthday and I’ve started an open water coaching course which requires a few Sunday mornings. Life is busier, work has picked up, there are lots of kids GAA matches. We had spoken about that we would have liked to have gotten to Cahore Point. Who knows?
Day 20 – Lets go to Cahore
The next weekend, despite the Indian summer, hadn’t been an option for a swim. I was busy, Ceall was under the weather (not Covid), but the fine spell was lingering into the next week and conditions and tide times were almost willing us to have another go. Feck it, I turned 52 on Monday. Older but not wiser as they say, it can be a birthday present to myself. Ceall hadn’t taken summer holidays so he had the possibility to go Wednesday – and while he wasn’t 100%, he was to quote himself (luckily) “better than I sound”. He was, he swam well throughout.
It was an early start. I’d happened upon another website – https://eoceanic.com/sailing/harbours/9/courtown_harbour – which is brilliant. It has old and new pics of Courtown but more importantly it gave quite a bit of detail on the strength and direction of the tidal currents. We were aiming for a c9.30am, at the latest, start. For the final 30 minutes of the drive we had been in thick fog. When we made it to Cahore (another first for me) and got ready to change it was pretty chilly as the sun was well and truly hidden – see pic below. I wasn’t concerned about the swim, but moreso the cycle back to Courtown. I didn’t fancy being smashed by a car on the way there. I had an orange top, so stayed behind Ceall, hoping cars could see us more easily that way. It wasn’t too bad in the end, but you needed to be wary as it was school drop off time and busy enough.
A trip to the loo in in a very quiet Courtown (Thank you Wexford Co Council also) and on to the beach beside the harbour. It has become very stoney over the years but once out a little it was nice and sandy below. Ceall’s parting words were “Lets’ go to Cahore”…and we did. This would, much to my surprise, be one of my favourite trips yet and include one of the most magical sections of coastline I have ever swum. Visibility was poor, really poor, but we had no plans to swim far from shore and could see the coastline at all times. There were plenty of places to pull into if we needed to. Being a week day foggy morning there were no jetskis or boats about either.
Not far south of the start were red clay cliffs. Below was still sandy and the water was clear. It is always nice to see your stroke and it reminds you sometimes to continue to work on it so as to swim better, straighter, smoother. On the first half of the last day’s swim, you could see for miles, this time the horizon seemed to be just a few feet away. The effect was eerie for the day, but what it did do was make you focus only on what you could see in that particular frame or moment, and there were lots of wonderful framed moments along the way.
There were a lot of rocks added to the shoreline on this section. Wexford Co Council had been busy – there were quite a few houses close to the shore (possibly should not have been given planning permission but that’s a whole different story) and caravan / mobile home parks too. I’d day we saw thousands of large rocks added as coastal protection. It must have been quite some job.
You could follow the ripples of the sand and then in the next bay, it was if they had been fired in clay, so pronounced were they, looked a bit like terracotta below us…beautiful.
The swim had started out as a kind of ‘lets get this leg done and we will definitely call a halt then’. We had no great expectations. In a number of places, especially along the small headlands we were swimming over kelp and rocks. It was more like a snorkelling expedition in parts. Apart from the absence of fish, I was loving it.
After Ardamine and the Pollshone Head, we stopped in a gorgeous beech. It was stoney enough getting out, so wouldn’t be ideal as a typical family outing location. There was a river flowing from the land and beside this a fine wooden framed house. This seemed to provide the only access to the beach, so its probably a place very few people visit. Much of the chocolate bar and water was consumed. The fog was still all around but the sun seemed to be making an attempt to get through – you could see its outline on rare occasions. My feet were getting a bit nippy so I decided to try out a pair of booties that John in the club had given me a loan of. These are proper swimming ones unlike those I wore way back when we departed from the 40 Foot. They did the job; my feet were toasty, though they did slow me down a bit.
The tidal push, had for the most part been strongly behind us. Thank you oceanic website. We knew that the 5km mark should be pretty obvious but could not yet see the long ribbon or outcrop of rock. The shoreline was rocky and beautiful. On one rock ahead were a large bunch of cormorants and gulls and a lone heron. The heron was the only one to stay there as we got closer. Indeed, as we approached it was clear also we were closing in on the 5km mark – the ribbon rocks. The lingering fog meant we had limited vision, but this section was the highlight of the trip. Again, there was lots of kelp and rocks as we approached. We had to be careful as the rocks were often barely below the surface. We made our way through a gap and the current just pushed us through – no swimming needed, so I could enjoy the view – and what a view. Maybe it was just the adrenalin or something but I think this was one of the most brilliant few minutes of swimming in my life, I loved it, it felt magical. The cliffs to the right looked almost hexagonal or something and a shiney black.
On we went and back moreso to normality – just very nice instead of stunning, but more snorkelling too, still no fish alas. Then a short beach, followed by a long beach – Donaghmore Bay. The arms were getting tired and Ceall was waiting for me at more regular intervals. We were still nipping along nicely however. I had tried to draft off him a couple of times but kept losing him. Below us was more and more like in Kilcoole – a clear stony / sandy bottom. The fog was still very much around us. It was making us play mind-games. We felt we should be nearing the end and normally Cahore Point would be very very obvious. We decided to pull in again to an inlet before a rocky section. There were lots of gulls on the beach, it was also all very pretty. I opened up the towfloat to finish off the chocolate and water and decided to put on my glasses for a better look. It was almost a biblical moment . The fog seemed to give way and all of a sudden I could see Cahore Point and the harbour wall ahead. Nearly there. The booties came off and away we went. We still had about 1.5km to go but we made good progress all the way. And suddenly there was the small beach at Cahore. The sun was now shining and the sky was blue overhead. A mix of younger and older people were there enjoying the waters. We stopped and started, making our way in, aware that this was probably the last bit of swimming on the project for the year. Indeed if we were to have had more second thoughts; the moving of Dublin to Level 3 re Covid within days soon put a stop to any such ideas. The local pub has a website which extols the beauty of the place and “the sweeping views over the sea to Wicklow Head”. We didn’t quite see them today, but hey…I’ll have another look when I’m back again. There is by all accounts a fine coastal path along her enow also.
Some (approximate) stats for the numbers lovers amongst you:
Kms swum: 105
In metres: 105,000
Kms cycled: 150
Lengths of a pool (25m) equivalent: 4,200
Strokes taken: 85,000
Breaths taken: 34,000
Headlands, beaches and cliffs: Lots
Craic and good fun: Lots
Most importantly, money raised: €3,175 from from 60 fantastic supporters
Thank you to the many readers, supporter and helpers!
It was raining as we left Dublin shortly after 7am, but we knew this would pass, the rainfall radar had the cloud coming in from the south east. Within a half hour a glimpse of blue sky was seen. I was in great form, I felt alive, as if I had reached the top of a mountain or was going on holidays. I was reflecting earlier also how this whole thing would be a very different beast if we weren’t cycling. I’ve enjoyed the cycle part but it also means; we aren’t driving alone and you can have “the chat”. There is only so much talk on the swim itself. The chat has tended to be moreso on the way south but it’s been good craic. Turns out himself has a new album out too – here’s a link to a song I like: “The Protest Song“
We parked outside a caravan park on the north side of Arklow and cycled due north from there. This was the best cycle yet I think with highlights and noticeable things along the way including:
Birds such as swallows, robins, pigeons and more doing their thing.
Some gorgeous looking trees and honeysuckle in the hedges.
Views of the coastline at times as per below.
Four horses standing at the top of a very high sand dune – it had the look of an award winning photo, you’ll have to take my word for it.
Odd cement section of road – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rural cement road before.
People walking on the road and all friendly saying hello.
And for Ceall only a couple of small hills.
We parked near the beach entrance. Another advantage of this being a start / finish point is the presence of a public loo. Thank you Wicklow County Council! The car park and beach were still quiet and a person from the aforementioned Wicklow county Council was picking up rubbish. We have done so at the end of some of our swims and would so again today. Given that we have decided to raise money for the wonderful Clean Coasts programme, it would be crazy not to.
There had been high winds overnight and although it had calmed down. Storm Ellen would also be coming on Thursday and there weren’t any other windows this week. The sea was still a bit up and down, admittedly without the white breaking waves. Indeed, this swim would have probably our most continuously more difficult, but far from insurmountable, conditions. The European Golf Club to our south occupies land to the south of the headland and that was our first target to get around – I see now it is called Mizen Head. More impressive rocky coastline was to be seen along here. We made steady if not spectacular progress to the end of the headland but soon after we seemed to be on a treadmill, we were going nowhere. We swam in closer to shore and was glad to be away from that body of water. We aimed for a spot further down the shingle beach and decided to take a break – It was about 5.7km into the journey. We were in front of the wonderfully named Buckroney Dunes – which may have been where I saw the horses earlier. The wind turbines out to sea – The Arkow Banks – were turning and generating lots of power no doubt, they would be in for a busy few days. More jaffa cakes and water consumed and a seal popped up while we were there too. He would follow us for a few hundred metres before leaving us to our swim. The water was still very choppy as we headed on toward the next section of beach. We weren’t getting any great push until nearer the end so it was very much a case of swimming on our own steam today. We took a second break on Ennereilly Beach and then on we went. After Ennereilly we were over two thirds to our endpoint. Yet more tough waves, resulting in more breaststroke than normal. The stroke felt dodgy but we were making progress.
The coastline from here to Arklow was really impressive with interesting rocks jutting out, lovely coves and longer shingle sections too. Arklow wouldn’t be known as a tourism hotspot but I’ll certainly revisit along here again at some stage. As we got closer to the end the water was a bit darker. One of the negatives for Arklow is that because of numerous court cases and planning delays it still has no proper sewage treatment by all accounts, with untreated sewage still pumped into the Avoca river. An Bord Pleanála has granted planning permission for the Arklow Wastewater Treatment Plant Project, the sooner it happens the better. Anyway, I was still enjoying the swim but after a final slog, we made our way to shore two thirds of the way down Porters Rock beach. From there we made our way across to the next beach and up through the caravan park to the car. It was a tough old swim but also momentous – it was our first 10k swim!
At Brittas later, collecting the bikes, we had a very well-deserved ice cream. Yum.
Day 17 –Arklow to County Wexford – Kilmichael Point
We have been lucky a few times that the only real swimming window over a few days was the one that suited us both schedules wise; and this was the case for this leg.
Ceall was on the road from town c10am to get to the dart and I collected him from Seapoint at 10.45. It looked calm there. The drive to our swimming end point – Kilmichael Point – was as Google predicted, about an hour so. Despite coming from Wexford, I have never been here, though it has been on the radar out of curiosty to do so. Last year I was in the area – to attend an indoor hurling match of all things with the young fella – at nearby Castletown. It was poor weather after the game and I had others in the car too, so never made it that day.
The weather was decent – maybe 16c / 17c. We had a quick look around at Kilmichael. The view was fabulous. To think, just an hour ago I was in Dublin and hear I am now in this wonderful wild location. There are people living / holidaying in what is I assume to be the old coastguard house (they all look kind of similar). There were some others parked there also and we got talking to an older couple, he a musician and she an artist. They loved the idea of what we were doing. He said at one stage he had hoped to kayak around Ireland with some pals but it never happened. It’s nice to have these spontaneous conversations on occasion as we travel around. Indeed, it’s one of the things I like about Ireland. Gear sorted, a bit of food into me as it was lunchtime and I like my food, and didn’t fancy waiting ‘til mid-afternoon to eat again.
Ceall had been in touch with a friend who lives in Arklow. She had given him information about the best cycle route to take back. It was deadly. We departed by 12.30 or so and I even found a few blackberries to eat along the way – the first of 2020! It was nice rolling countryside and I should add, there was a small forestry plantation near the point also, so some more trees! Our plan was to cut out a big section of the road we had come here on by cycling through the quarry just south of Arklow. It had a grit road which brought us alongside the giant quarry – it is massive – and directly towards Arklow harbour. At its end in another section of the site with thousands of concrete blocks made and ready to be moved to the building sites of Ireland I assume. There is a harbour there too and this is separate to the main Arklow Harbour which we cycled towards, passing the lifeguarded South Beach en route.
We stopped by the Avoca River in the town to have look at the water quality, it seemed ok there. On we went to the caravan park – where we were told, local rights of way exist – and we met Ceall’s friend, her hubby and daughter. They walked with us almost to our start point. One look at the sea and you could see the dark colour – I was trying to convince myself it was just the peaty water coming down from the mountains. We walked past the first near beach where some folks were in swimming and over a cliff area towards the next bigger beach where we had landed. I wasn’t exactly sure where we had landed but himself brought us towards the section of beach where an Irish flag had been painted on a rock (I guess there since the flag has become a symbol of support for healthcare workers). There had been another painted flag further up the beach.
The plan was to swim out quite far to hopefully get into clearer / cleaner water. A fair amount of breaststroke was done at the start as we swam out. We couldn’t put it off any longer, heads down, front crawl, we were off. The colour was, and I’m probably being generous here, a slimy dank green. It wasn’t nice to think about it. On we swam, seemingly not making great progress. I could see the house next to the first beach but it didn’t seem to be getting much further away from us. Then the stones and rocks for the coastal protection were in view. We were moving but not at any great speed it seemed. Having said that I had a nice rhythm to the swimming, initially breathing every three strokes, later every three followed by two strokes on one side, three again, two on the other side, back to three and so on. I was kicking too – I’ve no idea if I have a two beat or a six beat kick – must ask someone about that. Through the slime we swam – swimming at a diagonal to both get out further and hopefully away from the darkness – and to swim across the bay, rather than along the shore to shorten the distance. The thought crossed my mind more than once that kayak or boat support would have been useful. Being so far out – it felt like perhaps a kilometer or so – made it harder mentally as, because of the distance to landmarks on the shore, it is harder to see progress in the short term. Ceall was getting a bit annoyed. I had been counting 100 strokes and then looking to shore to one of the higher buildings or a landmark to see if we were actually moving – I didn’t fancy being stuck out to sea. We were – albeit – not that obviously and it didn’t seem that quick. We had been spoiled up the coast with the push we got at times. We ploughed on. At one stage Ceall told me I was swimming out to sea. I was just going wider than perhaps we needed. We were about 25m apart and we came in closer together and agreed our target point. It was still pretty dank and we were keen to leave the seemingly polluted waters and the views of Arklow behind us asap. For me, the end of the harbour / spit and the following headland kind of merged into one – and my goggles were a little fogged, so I may have been aiming too wide, but not much… anyway, we were back on track. Past the area with all the bricks and past the harbour, good, progress being made now.
Afead were two beaches. We decided to aimed towards the mobile homes visible above the second – having something you can see cleary is handy at times. The water by now had well improved quality wise and while there was a swell, it was grand for swimming. We stopped and started a few times and headed for shore towards the southern end of Clogga Beach. Like many beaches it has become very popular in recent months. As you know I am raising money for Clean Coasts and the quality of beaches we have in Ireland are just amazing. People really need to care for them and make sure they are as good in the years and decades ahead. I think our beaches have been something of a refuge for people and super for the mental health of the nation.
Clogga made for a good stopping point. It was pretty quiet. A couple and their son walked past, a young couple were messing around up the beach a bit – him half splashing her as lads do, than a more rotund lady went for a dip and seemed utterly happy swimming a bit and lolling around in the water too. We weren’t saying a lot, the last section – 6kms or so had been tough. It had taken two hours ten minutes.
Chocolate eaten, water drunk – time to re-enter the waters, it always feels a bit colder at first after a break. We decided to swim along the shore, having been far out to sea for much of the journey. It’s also more interesting to do so and indeed safer. We made our way south, back into a decent rhythm. As the next headland got closer, it of course got choppier and choppier, for about a 20 metre section, the waves were crazy, after that less so, but the incoming tide was smacking against the rocky coast and was creating a lot of chop. We got past the headland and could see the coastguard house ahead on Kilmichael Point – County Wexford was getting close. Past a smaller beach we swam and this helped give some respite from the chop but soon after came another smaller cliff – flat rock, not so high, but the water was dancing around again as it smacked off the cliff-face and back, smacking us in the face too as we swam.
Usually on a distance like this, Ceall would be moving ahead and I would be playing catch-up, but today I was able to stay with him which felt good. We stopped and started a few more times and could see the small beach identified earlier to land on. It’s about 50 yards into Wexford. Closer and closer we got. It felt great. It really is quite an achievement and a prvilege if I say so myself to make it. We came in side by side, hands were shook and we looked back at the fab views and the distance we had come. It had taken another 55 minutes for the second leg of almost 3.5 or more kms. In retrospect, the latter part was pretty quick.
While not quite up there (arguably) with the Normans landing in Baginbun (south Wexford) in 1169, this was a pretty cool moment for myself as a proud Wexford man to be landing here. 17 swims and not far off 100 kms of swimming later (and of course the cycling too) and here we were into the third county, the Model County. The only thing missing was a few strawberries.
I was under pressure timewise so we couldn’t hang around to take a look south. It looked like there was a nice coastal walk there. I was half wondering to myself, might that be it. Is this the final swim? Do I really want to do more? It took pretty much the full day to do the swim and all the logistics involved – and autumn is clearly coming. And we are tired…Who knows what’s next!
Editor’s note: At the time of writing, I believe Niall O’Sullivan and Ceall O’Dunlaing are the first swimmers to swim the full length of Wicklow County inshore without the aid of any propulsion other than organic swimming (ie no flippers!).
This is the big one – the scary leg. I had been away during the week – two days in Waterford so Ceall, fair dues, followed up with some kayaking contacts I got from a fellow swimmer. I had tried a local boat charter also, but with Covid restrictions lifting and being August his and our schedules didn’t align. He gave us some other names, but nothing came from them. The final name Ceall had came good. Basically, this is a section we don’t want to do unaccompanied so if we got delayed here, the whole expedition faces being held up. Wicklow Head deserves the utmost respect. I had been there – looking down from the land – a year or two back during the winter and seeing the two banks of water from the north and south collide there in front of you is an impressive and memorable sight.
The plan was to collect Ceall from the dart but with a call of nature required by him it was up to Seapoint first – it’s a long way to go otherwise. The new cycle route along here is looking great. Very little traffic on the N11, we drove through Wicklow and on to Blainroe Golf Club. Ceall had been in touch with them and we parked in the top car park near the road. Into the wetsuits again, tow floats and assorted gear, onto the bikes, final check for car key and bike keys and locks and away we went. Unusually, this is a shorter cycle than swim as we cycled back pretty much in a straight line, while the swim would be more of a semi-circle.
Darragh was to be our kayak support and had arrived with his dad to the car-park above the beach. He brought his kayak down the steps through the golf course and we met him again at the bottom. Three other guys were there, preparing to go diving. We talked about the need to keep an eye out for currents and eddies and that we would all stick pretty close. He would generally stay on our inside and as we got closer to the Head that we would probably move further out to sea to get away from the strongest of the currents / local eddies. This was the advice I had gotten from, another swimmer who did it with another guy – I don’t know anyone else who has swum here. It turns out we were in good hands, talking to him and his dad we would discover that Darragh has European kayaking medals to his name. Unfortunately, his discipline is not an Olympic category however.
We set off at about 9.10am, high tide was due at 9.30. Nearby is another beach, much favoured by seals, but all was quiet there today. From perfectly calm it was getting choppier as we moved out past the small headland. The giant cliffs of Wicklow Head and the more modern lighthouse soon came into full view. Like so many others, it is another feat of incredible engineering. I do love a good lighthouse. I was in the 800-year old Hook Lighthouse, Ireland’s oldest lighthouse – the day it was decommissioned and went automatic in March 1996 – all happened live on the Pat Kenny show on Radio 1. Anyway, I digress…as we stopped to take it in, we could see we were making really good progress. There were a couple of fishing vessels out also. There was plenty of chop but it was manageable and good fun. I had been in Tramore two days previously trying to surf and that was a lot more crazy. We got through the chop and the fear of the place diminished. No sudden eddies swirled around us, nothing separated us as a group, no monsters lurked in the deep to seize us.
I really should reiterate that this is not a place to go for 99.9% of swimmers. We had the best possible conditions, had done our homework and were well supported. We were by this stage also nicely fit from the previous legs. We stayed about 200 yards out around the main headland and stayed out to sea also as we headed on south.
We swam past Silver Strand which would have abeen a lovely beach to stop on, but hadn’t been able to get permission to to through the caravan park behind the beach. I had been there in November a couple of years ago, as an extra of all things in the making of an Eir Christmas television ad. We repeatledly ran from the beach, wearing Santy hats into the water, while being filme dbya drone overhead. Luckliy it was a decent day and there was good craic and banter amongst us all. But agian, I digress…We slightly overshot the beach into Blainroe and had to fight hard to swim against the current to get into the beach, thoughts of drifting to Wexford crossing my mind, but we managed to get in, much to the amusement I think of local folks on the beach. They were full of chat and curiosity. With Wicklow Head complete, Wexford now becomes much more feasible, given that the summer will start to slip away as August progresses.
Ceall wants to get ideally to Carnsore Point – a logical end but I think time is probably against us. I mentioned in a previous section that he loves a target – I think I need to persuade him to be less focussed on the very south east tip, rather to try and do as much as we can. Between club swims, family holiday, camping trip with my son / his classmates, signing up to an open water coaching course and more, work, life is busy. We may do an overnighter where we try and get in maybe three or possibly even four swims in two days – but tide, weather and diaries need to coincide for that too. I phoned him to have a chat to see what was possible / realistic and we’ll plough on as best as we can. I guess I wanted to make sure this stayed enjoyable (it is) and not a case of continuing for the sake of it.
A handy website for planning swims in Wicklow re tide times I have discovered incidentally is: https://tides4fishing.com/ie/leinster/wicklow – and indeed for other counties – other sites just give the next few days or maybe a week ahead, for this you can look as far ahead as you want.
Day 15 B2B – Blainroe to Brittas
A longer swim today. Nearly 9 kms planned – if we are going well, we may stretch it out to a 10k and the very end of Brittas beach. A longer cycle too as a result – much to the delight of himself there were a few hills along the way – “I’m no Sean Kelly” he said as he called for a break. I really enjoyed this swim, the Wicklow coastline is not Cliffs of Moher impressive but superb in its own way.
We left from Blainroe in mid-afternoon and were moving quickly from the off. It was choppy again close to the first of our smaller headlands of the day.
It calmed down again as we came upon Magheramore Beach. According to The Bray People newspaper, 2,500 women from 32 counties and over 22 countries stripped off there in 2018 at the secluded beach to set a new Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of skinny dippers, while also raising €500,000 for the charity Aoibheanns Pink Tie. A few of our female club members were part of that great event. Magheramore looked fab, not a naked lady in sight alas, but with a line of trees along the shoreline – similar indeed in that respect to the next larger beach just to the south past Ardmore Point. More chop there. Sadly, they are just a thin strip of trees – Ireland needs more trees. The only forest properly on the coast I know of in counties Dublin, Wicklow or Wexford is at the Raven Point in Wexford – which we will get to at some stage this year or next. Earlier when we had cycled past it was an odd sight near these beaches to see double yellow lines on a country road. Clearly parking is an issue here.
The various headlands and distinctive beaches and coastline help break up the swim and gave a sense of where we are at as we tried to recreate the google map in our head. We still aren’t using a GPS watch but Ceall has a basic watch so that we record our time.
The planned stop for the day was to be Jack’s Hole resort no less. I had flown over this part of the coast en route to Germany or somewhere a couple of years back and had been curious about this strip of coast. It looked like there was a harbour there in the short time I could see it. Jack’s Hole s is a private caravan park. It used to get a lot of newspaper gossip page coverage back in the days of the Celtic Tiger. In the same way that there were inflated taxi plate license prices (remember all that palaver) mobile home pitches would sell for crazy money in Jack’s Hole. The press liked to refer to the various business leaders of south county Dublin who had their “exclusive” patch of land at the resort. In fairness it all looked very nice. As we cycled past earlier, the gates were firmly locked, but we weren’t expecting private security to be patrolling the beach as we swam in (they weren’t). We went in on the southern end so that the final leg would be shorter. Today is a Tuesday and it was probably just as well we didn’t swim on Sunday as originally hoped. The place has a load of jet skis – well about 15, and maybe 5 – 8 ribs (boats) moored along or near the shore. There might have been a lot of boat activity which wouldn’t have worked so well with our leisurely swim. I don’t fancy a Kirsty McColl type end (she was killed by a speedboat while swimming on holiday in 2000) any more than I do being hit by a fishermen’s lead weight.
There were a few teenagers on the beach, an older couple near the beach shack, a guy on a canoe and not much more happening. We sat down and enjoyed the snack. Today’s selection comprised of jaffa cakes for myself and a Mars bar for himself, washed down with some nice tap water in the reused Seven Up bottle. Classy or what!
In retrospect we should have landed closer to the centre of the beach as by swimming near the headland it was mad choppy as we got out further. There is another little headland just south and for the next few hundred metres it was like a washing machine / tumble dyer. We navigated our way through and within about 10 minutes the North beach of Brittas was beside us. We skirted closer to the shoreline and at this stage the body was tired. Most of the day trippers had left. It is a long beach, especially when you are tired. I only ever did one race here and the waves were massive, though the last time I was here was with the kids and it was flat calm – a beautiful summer’s evening. We were en route to Wexford that time – by car – a lot simpler. While we still had some tidal flow with us, my pace felt slower and Ceall was waiting for me moreso as we neared the end. I think he was glad of the rest too. The distance we are now swimming is new territory for the both of us. Today would be 9kms. A guy we know – Garrett – had completed the North Channel – from Scotland to Northern Ireland – swimming for something like 14 hours. It’s some achievement but the training and that distance of swim holds no attraction for me I have to say.
We could see a lifeguard hut ahead and had it in our heads it was the one near the South beach car-park. It wasn’t. Luckily we had decided in any case to swim beyond it, and in so doing we would get to the second hut – with a stop or three along the way for a quick float and reflection. We swam in diagonally to our finish point, hands shook and another leg done. Good stuff!
We got parking at the end of a laneway by the beach at Six Mile Point. There are a couple of houses down there at the railway crossing. Some guys were fishing – not the more typical mackerel fishing we’ve seen thus far and would see again. Onto the bikes and away back to the start – it was a kind of semi-circle – back up to the main road and then off it and back down to the beach at Kilcoole. A farmer was cutting barley which was as early as I have seen that done ( it’s not yet the end of July). We passed an odd-looking building – The Watch Tower – I thought maybe it was a hotel, but it didn’t come up on a quick google search when I checked later – nor is it a nursing home. When writing this I had another look online, it turns out that Watch Tower House was the Irish headquarters of The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland. The building was put on the market for €4.5m in 2011 but I don’t think it sold. To avoid the hill into the main village, we cut through the commercial estate which lead into a housing estate. Kilcoole is bigger than I had thought.
There were some families at the beach again with kids in swimming. We were a bit later than scheduled getting into the water – 8.08pm to be precise – but as it was mid-summer and as the map below shows it was pretty much a straight route. We swam close to the shore all the way – it was so nice to be able to see the stony bottom below. The sun was setting and there was an amazing arc of cloud around it. Indeed, the clouds that night were very impressive – New Zealand is known as Land of the Long White Cloud and we had plenty of them – out to sea and over the land – running parallel as we headed south. We swam past a part of the beach which is off limits for people. The Kilcoole Little Tern protection Scheme has been ongoing since the 1970s. The nesting terns usually occupy a small strip of shingle beach at “the Breaches”, midway between Kilcoole and Newcastle railway stations. We saw a hide / hut and there was a Birdwatch Ireland volunteer (I assume) on the beach as we passed. Lots of terns were fluttering about over the water and land. Nice to see them thriving there.
We initially thought / hoped the hut was a building further down the coast, but it wasn’t to be. Ceall was a bit annoyed – he can get a bit grumpy at times when he isn’t as far as he thinks – its kind of funny to be honest. We just ploughed on – there wasn’t much choice. By Newcastle beach a few more guys were fishing, I assume for dogfish, bass, or pollock, maybe flatfish…
There was a funny step in the sea at this stage – it was quite marked and dramatic even – if you were getting in for a random swim and weren’t looking it could feel like a trapdoor. It was getting darker, but still fine. We had a good flow behind us for the first hour or so, but for the final half hour we had slack water so progress was slower. The houses at Six Mile Point came into view and when we got close we decided to exit via the second set of steps – to reduce the swim distance for the next day. Tonight had been a 5.5km swim journey and good preparation for our next swim – which would be 7.5km all going well.
Day 12 – Six Mile Point to The Murrough
It was a nice calm Friday morning. We drove to a car park north of Wicklow town and then cycled back to Rathnew and back onto the smaller country road to Six Mile Point. There were some fine old estates along the way. I had been feeling hungry and thirsty after previous swims, so packed in the tow float today was a Lidl Mars bar equivalent and a half bottle of water. We had agreed to stop for a “picnic” in or around the half way mark. Sure why not, no channel rules apply to this jaunt.
The swim was very similar to the previous leg, but this time we saw lots of small black fish. We came across shoals periodically as we swam on south. Earlier in this swim I had seen two “proper” fish – the first I’d seen on the journey thusfar. The same shelf was apparent as from the last day and it also affected your swim speed – if you swam close to it, you were slower than if you were closer to shore. The shelf was a bit like being in an old style swimming pool which has a sudden drop at mid-point. We literally swam a lot of this leg just a few feet above the sand and stones. The picnic was cool – far nicer than being at the computer. There was hardly a puff of wind and we were making good progress.
The water was lovely and clear throughout. Wicklow was full in our sights as we got nearer and nearer to the beach to its north – called The Murrough. As per another website – “The Murrough’ is a 15 km long coastal wetland area, extending North of Wicklow … a walk begins there at the Glen Beach on the outskirts of Wicklow town” There is apic in the next leg also. At 7.5km, this was our longest swim to date. I felt tired, but capable of more.
Planning for Wicklow and Day 13 – Around Wicklow
Our weather source of choice is Wind Guru – https://www.windguru.cz , its fab and the free version gives wind direction, speed, gusts, air temperature, wave sizes and more. Its primarily aimed at wind surfers / kite surfers, so when it has stars highlighted, it generally means happy days for those guys and bigger wind and waves – which are great fun sometimes – but not suitable for swimming races or what we are doing – unless the wind is from the west. If a westerly, the inshore area can be protected from the wind and remain calm. The wind direction also impacts on the wave direction and if you are swimming with the tide, but against the wind, you may lose the tidal benefit you would expect. We have been lucky in having light northerly winds on a number of the legs.
The days leading up to the next swim’s possible window of Tuesday, July 27 (based on work and home diaries, weather etc) showed stars but the weather conditions forecast were changing from day to day. As of the Monday morning; 5pm on Tuesday was one star – but with an improving situation – wind dropping and wind direction was West to North West, which isn’t bad. I also came across https://www.wicklowcam.com which gives a live view over Wicklow from The Murrough to the harbour – covering much of our next leg. Weather conditions of the screenshot were not dissimilar to what we got for the swim. Crucially no sign of white waves. You can see the curve of the beach that we had followed.
This was to be a short 3km leg – the rationale being we wanted to start our next leg with support to get around Wicklow Head with a destination beach in mind and didn’t want to take the risk of making the swim longer than it needed to be. We aimed diagonally towards the lighthouse on the harbour. Conditions were as the webcam promised. There were a few young fellas fishing off the harbour wall. From here we literally flew south. Before long we were at the end of the harbour wall and the old Black Castle ruin was in full view with its lovely little town beach below.
I have both started and finished races here over the years – going to or from tonight’s destination beach. Also last year, we swam a race similar to tonight’s course in very tough conditions (in skins) – but starting further up The Murrough. There were massive waves down by the harbour. It was memorable. A few people were pulled out as it was too much for them. Having said that a couple of our oldest female swimmers (in their 70s) were among the finishers.
On this occasion as we approached the harbour the water simply became very warm – always creates a question in your mind as to why, but anyway…We sped on past the castle ruin and while admiring the scenery another guillemot was just to our right, then he dived down, appearing back just to our left. Onward ho! We landed at the beach beside Wicklow Gold Course. It was empty apart from one woman and her dog. We got chatting and she said she swims a fair bit and her husband was a member of the local Wicklow SC. We got the time from her. The whole thing was a mad 30 minutes – twice the speed of a hard pool swim. It was good fun, but I almost felt a little cheated by how short it was, but hey…
I’m self-employed so have more control over my timetable and things have been quieter of late work wise in any case. It’s a dark overcast Friday morning, following a day of rain. Before getting the dart back to Shankill there was a somewhat frantic search by Ceall for a loo, we found the public ones down to the south of the prom, possible disaster averted. A little later than planned it was on to the dart in our dry wetsuits and back to Shankill beach. The plan was to swim to Bray Harbour and if going well, perhaps on to the end of the beach by the cliffs. The day was bleak enough for the middle of June – air temperature was only 12c, probably similar to the water.
There is supposed to be a petrified forest of sorts further down from where we started. While I saw lots of rocks and mini reefs no ancient forests / tree stumps were obvious. As we stopped about 1.5km from Bray Harbour a (not petrified) seal popped his head out of the water. It stayed with us for the next 800m or so, only visible when we stopped. I do like seals and once did a little work on the fundraising front for The Irish Seal Sanctuary. The northern Harbour wall was ahead of us, but oddly not that obvious from the water so it only really became more apparent as we got quite close to it – and suddenly we were in Bray. Around the wall we went, more people fishing. The feet were a bit chilly but we decided to kick on. In fairness to Ceall, he is better able to deal with cold so it’s not an issue thusfar to him. We swam the final section along the prom about 50 yards out at a decent clip and made it out at the stony incline of beach at the end. My hands and feet were white and cold, but it was good to get to the end. We walked backed to the car along the prom and all the swans were still there. I was attacked by a swan once when I was swimming in The Grand Canal in 2018, but that’s a whole different story. These ones thankfully had ignored us. So, is this the end of the odyssey? Not a chance! The idea of swimming around Bray Head has taken strong root… and sure why not on to Kilcoole then at least.
Day 9 Around Bray Head
The next section is a much wilder section of coastline and there are no landing points in the event we need to. We contacted a few folks to see if they would accompany us with a boat or kayak. Seán from the local outdoor pursuits centre in Bray agreed to join us. The centre was closed due to Covid but was reopening the following Monday. We were lucky he had the time and he had lots of experience of these waters – again the lack of boats and potential to get support make this an easier trip to undertake than would normally be the case. It was a beautiful Thursday morning, nice temperatures and visibility was good. Ceall’s uncle (Seamus) who lives in Bray saw us off. The first sight just around the corner and out of view from the beach was the old swimming baths. I’ve seen old photographs of these and it was a very popular spot in its day. A few people were down at them, it’s a place I must try and get to some time properly. The cliffs looked amazing from the water. I think the walk was still closed off but we saw the occasional dart passing by to and from Greystones. We passed a nesting area for what I think were kittiwakes – their sound always reminds me of Dunmore East in Waterford where they nest on the cliffs.
Having a kayak changed the dynamic somewhat today, we have tended to swim pretty close to each other. Today Seán was often between us. Probably the most memorable part of today and indeed the journey so far was the sight of about a dozen guillemots sitting in the water ahead of us. We breast-stroked as we approached and they seemed to be in no mood to move. We got to within about five metres before they flew on, lovely sight. I didn’t see much by way of nature in the water otherwise, only saw one other jellyfish – I think it was the Common or Moon jellyfish. This was to be our longest swim thus far, coming in at just under 6km. It took circa 1 hour 45. We haven’t been keeping a detailed record and haven’t bothered with swim watches and GPS etc. I found the last kilometre or so tough and felt as if my stroke was more like that of a fellow club member (who shall remain nameless) who’s stroke I don’t aspire to . The water got warmer as we got closer to the shore and into the modern harbour of Greystones. Ceall said later he had forgotten to put Vaseline on his neck earlier (it stops the chafing), so hopefully he won’t be suffering from it. Another leg done, it was a good one, a really good one and privileged I guess to be able to complete it.
After a two-week gap we continued our swim. Ceall as mentioned previously had had an idea / dream to swim around Ireland. His wife saw things a little differently (understandably). Ceall had reckoned it would take 15 years and require family holidays to follow the coast over the coming decade and more. She cried halt and it seemed the expedition was over. However, I had gotten the bug and the idea of swimming to Wexford had taken hold. I talked again to Ceall and talked about changing the dream and having a target of “just” Wexford. He broached the idea with his wife. There was white smoke and a green light. We aren’t putting any deadlines or targets on this – although Ceall would, quelle surprise, like to stretch it out to the very south east tip of Carnsore Point. We will go when we can, it will probably be next year before we get to Carnsore I think at this stage but getting across the border and into the Model county looks realistic.
We looked at Tuesday, but tides weren’t ideal, it was raining and as it turned out there was a coastal fog. Friday afternoon looked more appealing, but Ceall couldn’t get the car. We are both one car families, so this could be seen as a constraint. Plan B, we could drive to the end point and bring bikes to cycle back to the start of the swim for that day.
The day for Greystones to Kilcoole had arrived. I met Ceall at Salthill Monkstown dart station where I was dropping my kids to go get the dart to a summer (water sports) swim camp in town. On we drove to Kilcoole. It’s hard not to appreciate the distance covered now as we drove down the N11 into the Glen of the Downs. We passed the turn for the old Glenroe farm (“Well holy God” was I think Miley’s favourite line) and on down to the car park beside the train station at Kilcoole beach. I’ve been here many’s a time for a winter walk with the family but it was a first for himself.
On with the wetsuit and a bright tee-shirt for the cycle, making sure we have the gear (imagine forgetting the goggles), lock the car and the half hour cycle begins. It’s a bit hilly and this is Ceall’s maiden voyage for his new second hand bike. Greystones was busy. There was even a queue outside the SVdP charity shop, partly as it has probably only recently re-opened and the social distancing guidelines and people limits in the shop were in place.
Down the hill to the harbour, bikes locked, gear on and we are ready. A couple of mothers were on the slipway watching their kids. I mentioned to them not to expect us back – in case anyone happened to be concerned about not seeing us coming back into the harbour. “You are swimming all the way to Kilcoole?”. “Yup, sure what else would you be doing of a nearly sunny summers Friday afternoon”. The time was 3.05.
Into the water, it felt a bit chillier compared to the last time we were here. We swim past the harbour and then past Ladies Cove, a gem of a beach. We finished a race there from South Beach a couple of years back. I had gone way off course, sighting a local orange buoy instead of the race buoy of the same colour. I had a look for it today out of curiousity, but didn’t see it. Onwards to the main beach – South Beach – in good swimming conditions. We stayed quite far out, aiming for the point at the end of the beach rather than swimming in a u-shape. There were a couple of paddle boarders out, and a trawler further out again, but otherwise we had this patch of ocean to ourselves. No sign of any jellyers either. We clocked up a steady pace, Ceall a bit faster but I was probably getting a straighter line, so the gap was small enough. We stopped periodically and towards the end of the beach there was a beautiful, framed view of the Sugar Loaf with wonderful views behind us also back to Bray Head and more. The section after the beach was all rock, there must have been coastal erosion threatening the railway line I guess. It goes on for some distance, and then there are rocks set further back once you get towards Kilcoole Beach. For the final section we moved in closer to the shore and the push from there to the end was fab, exhilarating. It was a bit like the equivalent of being on one of those moving walkways in airports. This is what it must feel like to be a Michael Phelps, the speed was just brilliant.
We could see the trees and the electricity lines near the station and knew the end of the swim was close. I suggested we do a few sprints and we did 3 x 20 strokes. The fact that we could is a sign of improving fitness. The water temperature was supposed to be 14c and the feet were fine today. As we got near the end some kids were in swimming. There is quite a steep shelf here, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Another leg done, wetsuits off, clothes on, drive back to Greystones for the bikes and homeward bound. Today’s swim had been about an hour and 25 minutes for the 6km, so longer distance wise, but shorter timewise than the last day. I’m glad we weren’t swimming against that current.
The next leg has two possible finish points, Coliemore Harbour or on to Vico. It was a crappy enough day, the wind was from the north. I’m a skinny bloke so I feel the cold. While we are swimming in wetsuits, my feet and fingers had turned white and were cold the previous day. The water temperature was still about 11c and there was to be no solar benefits on this day. I tried an experiment – my fellow sea swimmers would not be impressed – using gloves and booties. It didn’t really work to be honest and slowed us down, the gloves basically filled with water and made the stroke tougher, the booties I don’t think were too bad however, but it was a once off only.
Anyone who knows anything about swimming knows you don’t go for a leisure swim in Dalkey Sound – the currents there are usually described as crazy. We went at the slackest time tides wise possible. We followed the line of lobster pots past the lovely Bulloch Harbour south and the plan was to pull into Coliemore Harbour and make a decision from there whether to carry on. Along the way we stopped periodically. A guillemot flew within a couple of feet as we surveyed some of the nice houses along the coastline. We got into Coliemore making sure not to miss the entrance as the flow was pretty strong (editor’s note: extremely strong!!!) and you could overshoot it. The place was a hive of activity with kids pier jumping and locals swimming safely within the confines of the harbour walls. We decided to call a halt, and besides, it’s a beautiful spot to have to return to.
Day 6 – Coliemore to Killiney
Coliemore again, this time it’s a quieter Thursday evening. A young fella was being tormented by his mates to do a jump which involved jumping from a roof, over the path beside the pier and into the water below. He really wanted to do it, but for obvious reasons was nervous. Eventually just before we were ready to leave, he achieved his little moment of personal history. We had a quick word with the fishermen at the end of the pier, telling them not to expect us back – i.e. please don’t phone the Coastguard. So onward ho. It’s a place much used by snorkellers and I saw a shoal of small fish but no more after that. On we went down, being pushed by the tide, as well as swimming nicely. Again, more folks on the rocks further south fishing for mackerel, so we just had to make sure they saw us and we didn’t get a smack in the head from a lead weight, as I said previously, twud be an ignominious way to go. In no time we were out of the sound and into the bay. The tides and currents are odd here and kind of swirl around so you have to swim hard to make progress. I saw a jellyfish or two and one got to know Ceall well – a little sting on the forehead as a memento of the day’s swim. We decided to swim on past Vico, we are getting a bit fitter and were swimming hard to make progress. We swam on a little past Whiterock – so that we could start next day on Killiney beach which was easier for the logistics. We then doubled back into Whiterock – over the rocks / reef. There we met a couple of Dublin Swimming Club members shivering after a swim. Indeed, we had met someone we know on each leg so far and would do so again the next day, Elena and Michael were chattering and shivering after a swim down to Killiney and back – sans wetsuit – (perish the thought). I’ve grown to enjoy swimming in my suit I have to say and avoiding the shivers that often accompany me after my swims in Ireland. I’m almost famous for it. I’ve probably done close to 200 races in my skins over the last 15 years and swam countless other times but the cold still affects me on some swims, especially if the air and sea temperatures aren’t that high.
Day 7 – Killiney to Shankill
So for the logistics today, we left the car near the beach in Shankill. I’ve never swum at Shankill Beach before, it’s a narrower and rockier version of Killiney I guess. If you google it there is a picture of an unfortunate dead whale which came ashore there in 2016. We got the dart back to Killiney – no one batted an eyelid at two middle aged men in rubber climbing aboard, we alighted in Killiney, a quick word with the lifeguard en route and up over the rocks to the far end of the beach.
The water was nice and clear. It was a straightforward swim and the tide was high enough that we were well clear of the rocks at the south end as we swam over them. No matter how often I go to Killiney you can’t but admire the beauty of the place – as many of us have said during lockdown/Covid, we are lucky to be living in this part of the world. The water got a bit iffy as we got closer to the waste water treatment plant, but there were no ill effects after.
Bray is now ahead in full view, my original destination but sure, maybe we might go on a bit more… My wife doesn’t get the whole swim thing, the kids are ambivalent, but the couple of others I’ve said it to think the whole thing is a great idea.
We went for a swim in Blackrock, swimming to Seapoint and back. It was nice, grand, enjoyable, another swim… but I thought no more of it. Blackrock has become more used of late by swimmers as it is less crowded than Seapoint. During the week I went for a swim in Seapoint (it was busy, too busy and the Gardai – I don’t envy them at the moment – were asking people to move on after their swims and indeed asking for addresses too – the 5km rule was in at the time). I was talking to Ceall after. We had swum to the fifth buoy and back. Ceall’s a good swimmer and loves the sport – and a challenge, or perhaps moreso a target. We got talking and he told me about his dream to swim around Ireland. I quickly said I wasn’t interested – I mean, Jaysus, around Ireland – but having said that I was kind of intrigued. He was thinking this might be a good time to start, what with all the restrictions and lack of things to do. “Ya bastard” I said, “you’ve got me thinking now”, I think were my exact words. So, I thought about it afterwards, why not at least do Blackrock to Bray?
There are no Leinster Open Sea (LOS) races until August and then only three – maybe, so there would be more time this summer. Why not swim a few new spots and give it a go… and so I had started on a journey. It’s been great and the following blog episodes will give you some insights into the swims, the logistics, the fun, the misery (not much of that) and the sights and achievements along the way. The jogging stopped and the swimming restarted…woohooh.
Day 3 – Windsurfers to Dun Laoghaire East Pier
So we start at Windsurfers, there is a mini heatwave and it’s a beautiful evening. We swam out to the 5th buoy (water near there was worryingly warm and a bit dank) and from there towards the Dun Laoghaire Harbour wall. One of the benefits of doing this thing now is that, because of Covid, there is little or no boat traffic, so it’s a lot safer. There may have been two boats out at most and a stand-up paddle boarder (SUPer). We had bright orange tow-floats to help ensure we will be seen. I hadn’t used one before and a had a loan of one for the first couple of legs before buying one, having committed to this lark. Given that we had to walk back to Windsurfers from the end of the pier, we had brought our shoes/sandals in the floats (very handy). It was a lovely swim. Towards the harbour wall we had to make sure the fishermen saw us – being hit by a lead weight is not the way I plan on leaving this fine life. We got a few curious looks as we swam past, but hey, it is the sea after all. It was fab swimming into the mouth of the harbour and seeing the two lighthouses, especially the red lighthouse on the east pier up close. (I can never remember which is which and always thought they should be called the North and South Piers). We swam to the steps around the corner of the West Pier wall. Ceall knew there were steps there from many years ago when his dog went into the water there. We walked back in the wetsuit / teeshirt combo and the squelchy shoes and so a routine had begun.
Day 4 – Dun Laoghaire to Forty Foot
I cycled to Dun Laoghaire and Ceall parked at The National Yacht Club. I had assumed we’d go out the East Pier and swim across to mouth and start again, but Ceall is a stickler – you must start exactly where you finish – there was no point contesting it. We did the longer walk to the West Pier, out to the end, donned the hat and goggles, put the shoes away, inflated the tow floats, down the steps and into the water. A few bemused onlookers asked us what we were up to. Conditions were good, but were expected to change later in the evening. Out we went, seeing Dun Laoghaire from a vantage point seen by relatively few people. We’ve both done the Dun Laoghaire Harbour race on numerous occasions, but that’s a race, whereas this a swim with stops and starts to take in the sights and sounds that greet us.
We swam to the end of the wall and then it was into Scotsman’s Bay. I swam across the bay in a race before but it has since been discontinued alas. At one stage we didn’t seem to be making much progress so Ceall took the lead for a while and then vice versa so that we could draft off each other and up the pace a bit. I seem to recall a seagull flying very close overhead at one stage. We aimed for the red roofed house in Sandycove and then veered left to go around to the Forty Foot. A few years back I came down here for an afternoon swim off-season. It was quiet but when I came out I had the place completely to myself. The sense of owning the place for that bit of time was magic – naturally it didn’t last long – perhaps 30-40 seconds, but very few people have ever had the place to themselves such is its popularity and ‘wonderfulness’. Amazingly, Ceall had never swum here before. As we arrived, the place was busy with gangs of teenagers jumping off the rocks and others swimming and lolling about – all generally enjoying themseles. We shook hands as we got out as would become the customary end to each leg. As we walked back along the waterfront, the wind was getting up, the temperature was dropping and the chop rising. The forecast was right. All good.
This is the story of two guys and their trip south from Dublin to Wexford – by sea – just arm and leg powered… with some tide assistance. We didn’t set out initially to write a blog and should have taken more photos and videos along the way, but hope you will enjoy. You can support our two chosen charities – An Taisce Clean Coasts and Temple St children’s hospital – links to both of these great charities are at the end and to donate click on: [Link Obsolete] All support and feedback is greatly appreciated!
The end of May approaches. Its lockdown and there has been no swim training since mid-March I do like, nay love swimming. I’ve missed the craic also of meeting the gang in my club, Dublin SC.
I did get one swim in mind you shortly after the pools were closed. A bit of lateral thinking led me to a “test drive” in an infinity pool back in March. It was kind of cool – but odd – doing a half hour training session in a business park in Walkinstown…but soon they too would close and I was left with no choice… but to start jogging. I’m lucky that I live near the sea, but to be honest I wasn’t madly keen on swimming until the water warmed up a bit more, so 5k runs in the local college it was. Seapoint then was closed in May but the roadmap suggested hope. I got in for a swim or three in my wetsuit on my own in Blackrock and when we / Ireland got the green light I met a couple of the lads. Summer perhaps was starting…