Heading into Wicklow

Day 8 – Shankill to Bray

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.

Info if interrested on birdlife of Wicklow: http://bwifingal.ie/data/documents/WTW-Wicklow-Coast.pdf

The stony beach of Bray

Day 10 – Greystones to Kilcoole

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.

For information on An Taisce Clean Coasts see https://cleancoasts.org/  and for Temple St children’s hospital https://www.cuh.ie/ . Thank you to all our supporters who have now given over €1,000.

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