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!
A lot done, more to do?