I have no plan to swim into every cave on the Copper Coast, and no plan to subject you all to every one. But we have almost covered all the most interesting ones that I’ve swam to date: Some are obviously above high water mark and inaccessible, and some are too small, and there are sooo many. Some always seem to catching swell and/or aren’t safe when I visit them, especially on the lengths of coast where I swim less. But I do swim into anything big or interesting looking. And when I think I’ve seen them all, I discover something new. In fact, after I wrote this (a couple of months before it was posted), I swam into another big cave, and through another large arch.
Sheep Island in Kilfarassey separates Gararrus and Kilfarassey Bays. In both cases the promontory/island is at the more inaccessible far end away from the small car parks, east from Kilfarassey, west from Gararrus.
Swimming from Kilfarassey with a trip out to and around Burke’s Island first (because that’s what I normally do) can mean a 40 minute swim to get to Sheep island. Or sometimes, if you are going around high tide to get access to some of the arches, you are swimming east against a tidal current and it can take 50 minutes, (as it did recently), passing some of Mick O’Meara’s seapaddling.com kayak day-trippers. Halfway across Kilfarassey Bay.
There they are, clambering around the rocks out on Burke’s Island with their kayaks pulled up, feeling like adventurers, when next thing some lunatic in an orange cap swims past. I’ve seen the What-The-Hell look on their faces. Mick recently set a new Irish Sea kayak record by the way. (Ironically, we’ve yet to meet, though we must pass each other regularly in the water, and my car is often parked beside his van at Kilfarassey). There’s a tunnel in the promontory inside Sheep island that I’d looked at last year, that had grown longer and narrowed in my imagination, you can see it in both pictures above on the right-hand side. (Notice the reefs around the exit). When I finally swam back to it after circling Sheep Island, swimming from the west outside and around to the east, I realised it was actually only about 30 metres long and quite wide, two to three metres. But I swam through it anyway. Swimming though the tunnel . The promontory itself is also separated from the cliff and is like a giant Swiss cheese with a few large tunnels though it, most above high tide, though one or two are accessible to swimmer or kayak on a high spring tide. Those I swam last year, and are amongst the least interesting, partly because they are so large much of the sense of adventure is lost. When I’d swum around Sheep island, I was swimming in among the rocks, looking for channels when I caught a glimpse of blue sky … through the rocks. I swam closed and discovered another tunnel, through Sheep Island itself. Unlike the other tunnel, this was narrow and crooked. Attempting the Sheep Island “narrowest arch” from the east video. I made an “exploratory probe” into it, and discovered the other end was narrower, very narrow. It wasn’t safe so I exited. Back through the channel between the island and to the west side of the island for a look from there. Everything happens slowly when you are swimming. On that side I discovered the tunnel was partially hidden behind a low reef. There were also reefs almost touching the surface, which by now was only about an hour past high tide. I made two attempts to get in. There was a barnacle-covered rock just under the surface. Surges of water seemed amplified coming over the outside reefs, the walls were right beside me.
Each time I abandoned and went back. On the third attempt I stood on the sub-surface rock, the gap only a metre away,, and, what added to the difficulty was that it was slightly less than shoulder width and with a slight bend. Back I went again, before I decided this might be my last (or only) chance this year. I didn’t want to wait till next year. I was willing to risk some skin. I was going through. It was too narrow to film, the thing was to be decisive and move quickly. I managed to make it around the subsurface rock in a lull. Then I had to duck under water surface to avoid the dropping drop of the side. It was a three metres or so of difficulty before I made it into the wider stretch. I was through, the Sheep Island tunnel, by far the most difficult, was done on the fifth attempt (from both sides). Oh, and also on this little expedition I swam into a channel where jellyfish polyps were releasing, small jellies, some only 1 cm in diameter. Attempting the tunnel from the west. I had quite a number of cuts and grazes, the worst on my hand and my back. Totally worth it.
When I got back the beach after another 30 minutes, about two and a half hours after I left, the normally deserted Kilfarassey beach was inundated with people.
It was still bright and sunny, unusual this summer, so a good day for cliff walking.
Looking carefully, a couple of kayakers could still be seen paddling through the reefs out at Burke’s.
What produces all these great caves and arches is the interaction of the punishing Atlantic storms with the Old Red Sandstone of this coast.
In the couple of years since I’ve begun haunting Kilfarassey, the cliff edge has retreated one to two metres in a couple of places, with only short sections left of the old stone cliff top wall.
I took this image on the left last year, but that stretch of wall is now sadly gone. New electric fence installed within the last year is only a metre from the cliff edge and will surely need to be moved again within another two years. Oh, why are there electric fence by a cliff you ask? Cows. We have them. Lots of them.
Almost all the early summer thrift were faded, only a few stalwarts left on sentry duty.
I’ve been a bit heavy-handed with the colour saturation on my photos lately, a tendency I must try to rein in. But when the skies are grey so much of the time…
The wall fragment above in context. Seen from the side it’s even more exposed.
Just one thrift, with the sea as backdrop, my current desktop (at a larger resolution). It’s a long way to next summer, a long way to 15 or 16 degree water, a long way to spending as much time in water as I want and not thinking about it.
- Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 1 – Islands and Arches (loneswimmer.com)
- Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 2 – Cave Exploring (loneswimmer.com)
- Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 3 – More arches, more caves, oh my! (loneswimmer.com)