Day 16 – Brittas Bay to Arklow
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!).