Tag Archives: arch

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

Winter reduces my range. I swim at the Guillamenes, along the cliffs and shore of Tramore Bay.  Maybe, just maybe, I might get down to Sandycove for a lap. Days pass when I see no-one, arriving, swimming and leaving without a soul.

Spring comes with almost imperceptibly warming water and air and increase in the number of people. The winds slacken, swim time gradually extends. The rest of the Copper Coast calls out to me, to return and see what the winter has wrought, to find new experiences and new memories.

Burke's Island & reefs, Kilfarassey
Burke’s Island & reefs, Kilfarassey

Kilfarassey and Burke’s Island are always my first Copper Coast spring swim away from Tramore Bay. My playground of the island and reefs sits just a short swim away at high tide, a full circumnavigation of all takes only forty-five minutes, with optional paths around the reefs to lengthen any swim.

There was no-one else around, the tide was dropping and the sky was blue with a few actual white puffy clouds, not the usual grey-bottomed bringers of Atlantic rain usually visible. The water wasn’t quite calm, a light easterly Force Two breeze ruffling the surface and adding a nip to the air as I walked the hundred metres from the car down the slipway, crossed the stream and beach and left my sandals burdened under rocks on the sand. I lined up the zero triangle and minute-hand on my watch to indicate departure time and waded in, then dove into an incoming mushy wave.

The water was about ten degrees Celsius, according to my built-in skin thermometer. The cold shock associated with such a temperature dissipated within a minute or so as I swam out toward the windward east side of the island, stretching out my arms and shoulders.  Within a dozen minutes I’d reached the nearest shark-fin-shaped reef, and instead of a longer circumnavigation around the outside reefs, I turned west across the back of the main island. The water was a clear cool mint and jade in the cross-shore breeze, submarine reefs reaching up, old friends from previous years welcoming me back.

Another few minutes and I passed the main island and reached the inside end of the channel that divides the easterly and westerly reefs.  I was at the east side of the largest reef, a north-south ridge some seventy five metres long and reaching in places up to ten metres above the surface. Populated by birds and guillemots, mostly by Black Shags, who have always vocally disapproved of my unaccustomed irregular appearances, they threw themselves from the reef into the air, wheeling and dive-bombing and screaming their indignation at my arrival in their offshore haven.

I was swimming to The Keyhole, my nickname for the first rock arch I’d ever swum through. It’s an east-west narrow-waisted arch in the ridge, only ten metres long at the water’s surface, with a bare dogleg between the ends. There’s not much of a roof,  cut away as it is to the sides. When conditions are right, the arch, which is too narrow for most kayakers, compresses the flow and a swimmer can shoot through like a fairground water ride.

The easterly breeze wasn’t enough to shoot through at speed but the clear water gave me hope of seeing an anemone clinging to the rocks under the low tide mark, so I decided to swim through without breathing, to extend my underwater investigation.

With head underwater, I cruised west  through the arch, feeling the water flow keep me clear of the harsh sides. The quality of the sub-surface light changed, surely a cloud filtering the light entering the water, transforming it to a rich golden hue.

Under the surface was so crisp, so clear. The sand of the bottom, the encrustations of thousands of generations of barnacles on the rocks, this reef their universe, our air their outer space. The kelps and weeds waved in the backward and forward tidal stream. Ochre, umber, sienna. Jade, olive, phtalo green. Marl and charcoal. A merman’s palette of literal water colours. No fish were visible in the clear water this day, but here was every child’s daydream of swimming in an aquarium’s watery castle. No plastic scuba or treasure diver was required to perfect this idealized underwater scene.

All for me, just here, just now. All this time to see so little and yet so much. Only a double-handful of strokes on one held breath from arch end to end.

You can’t eat scenery, they say in Ireland. I was a child when I first heard that and I still knew they were wrong. Not with your mouth. But you can eat it with your eyes and your mind and your imagination. You can use it to create your soul, to fill your self.

Lisa at Kilfarassey.resized

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 1 – Islands and Arches

Summer in Ireland! See for yourself.

In the middle of a horrible summer, some swims can still just be so much … fun. You don’t always need racing or swimming big distance or doing challenges. Sometimes just easy swimming with a friend can result in a truly memorable swim. Here’s a quick reminder of how stunning Kilfarassey can be for two days of summer, when all these people decide to show up on my normally almost-abandoned playground.

Kilfarassey, August 2012- it only looks like this two days a year!

A recent visit by English Channel superstar Lisa Cummins saw us doing a couple of fun swims on the Copper Coast, as my attempt to introduce this incredible swimming location to others continues. The first day we had a great swim at Kilfarassey around the playground of Burke’s Island.

I’m using the full resolution version of this as my desktop wallpaper

Swimming out, a heavy squall we’d seen approaching from the South East caught us on the flattish low-tide and resulted in one of these beautiful views of rain hammering the surface into a beaten grey/green cloth.

Shortly afterwards  the sun came out and we swam around the very low channels and reefs, having to forego a couple of options as the tide was too low. We got pulled and pushed through the main channel after watching it from outside to see if we could enter it between waves and had to pull ourselves over kelp in a few places. Lisa and Owen O’Keeffe, another recent visitor, have both commented on the thick leathery nature of the kelp (kelp/mayweed/sea hedgehog) on the Copper Coast, something I’d never thought of, so used to it am I at low tide, but it’s very different to the Japweed and Deadman’s Bootlaces seaweed more common at low tide around Sandycove Island due to the fresher nature of the water there, and if you hit a big patch of the Copper Coast kelp at low tide, you can’t swim through it, but must pull yourself over it.

Then we shot the Keyhole arch at a nice speed …

…and a great visit into the Barrel cave under the island. (I just call it the Barrel cave for no particular reason, like the names I have on some of the others, just what comes to mind).

Lisa exiting the Burke’s Island cave