Day 14 – Wicklow Head Saturday 1 August 2020
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.
You can read more about the history of the three lighthouse structures at: https://www.greatlighthouses.com/lighthouses/wicklow-head-2/
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.
More information on this part of Ireland also available at: https://dusac.org/dive-guides/wicklow-head/
Planning Ahead – South Wicklow and beyond
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!