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Images of 2013 – 2 – Swimming Locations

I didn’t think 2013 was a great year for swimming new locations for me, though early in the year I’d hoped that would be different. Unsurprising, I suppose, as the longer I’ve been swimming, the further I would need to travel to swim new locations. I’ve covered all the Copper Coast, much of the rest of the Waterford coast and I’m not a fan of river swimming, and there are no significant lakes anywhere near me. Also, I had no big swim this year, not being able to afford one, and the situation looks the same for 2014. :-(

But that didn’t stop me having a look through the year’s locations, and there were a few I’d forgotten to add to my favourites and in review the year wasn’t bad.

I’ll start with my watery home, Waterford’s Copper Coast, and most specifically Tramore Bay from my usual starting location of the Guillamenes Cove.

Tramore Bay_MG_8972.resized
A very calm day in Tramore Bay in December, made even calmer through use of a very long exposure. The orange buoy is about 450 metres out, can’t be seen from distance in the water, and what I use to test my navigation skills during the summer, requiring of myself that I reach it with no more than a 25 metre deviation to either side.

It wasn’t all good at the Guillamenes this year. The increasing litigiousness of Irish society and the nonsensical and fearfully reactionary approach of Tramore town council and my own club led to this steel monstrosity, which so incensed Wallace.

Wallace Guillamenes

Newtown Cove is only 200 metres away from the Guillamene Cove. Though I swim past it on at least half of all my swims, dependant of swim direction, yet I start there less than one time in a hundred. We did however start the distance camp swim from Newtown Cove.

Cove entrance_MG_8971.resized

My favourite other location on the Copper coast is Kilfarassey, providing as it does a range of reefs, caves, tunnels and swim distances and directions, centered around my favourite playground of Burke’s Island which sits about 600 metres from the beach. As a swimmer and blogger I use more representational images. But as an aspiring photographer, I’m increasingly drawn to try to capture more of how I feel about a place.

Burke's Island IMG_8614_01In the first two of the extraordinary five whole weeks of summer that Ireland received in 2013, while the water hadn’t yet risen above 10C, I swam more on the coast at the east side of Tramore Bay. Swimming out from Ballymacaw, Portally and Dunmore East, including finally swimming partway into Seal Cave between Portally and Ballymacaw, a scary place. I’ve never swum this wild stretch of coast without experiencing strong tidal currents running east or west.

One Saturday in June, I took some photos of an inshore fishing boat passing below the cliff walk. Three days later I heard of yet another boat from the local main fishing port of Dunmore East lost with all three hands, all of them brothers, off Powerstown Head, which marks the entrance to Tramore Bay and can be seen in the first photo above, and which is the terminus of the easternmost stretch of Waterford’s coast. When I checked my photographs, it was indeed the same boat, the Dean Leanne, with two of the three tragically lost brothers onboard, probably the last every photograph of the brothers at sea. I found a connection to the family and passed on all the photos.

Dean Leanne & Hook head

In January a group of us attempted an Ice Mile in Dublin at the Bull Wall, but the water wasn’t cold enough, even though I got quite hypothermic.

The swim route. Nothing much to see here.
The swim route. Nothing much to see here.

A few weeks later In March, the same group swam in the Wicklow Mountains at Lough Dan. For a variety of reasons I decided against the full attempt but the trip was great, and wading into ice-covered water measuring less than two degrees at the edges was … interesting.

Lough Dan_IMG_1304.resized

 In the coldest spring in over fifty years in Ireland, Dee and I took some Mexican visitors to the West Coast for the view. The howling Force Eight wind and five degree (Celsius) air meant they were unable to emerge to see much of the scenery. But apparently the most shocking thing they saw was me going swimming in Doolin harbour in a three metre swell in a howling wind and crashing waves, wearing a Speedo, with a dolphin and two fully dry-suited divers. How Dee & I chuckled.

Beyond Doonagore Castle the Crab Beast roars
Beyond Doonagore Castle, Doolin Bay with Crab Island bearing a full Atlantic attack. This shot was taken three miles from that wave.

I don’t think my first Sandycove trip of 2013 was until April, but I managed more Sandycove laps in 2013 than in 2012. My lifetime total is still well below 200, so joining the Sandycove “D” Club of 500 lap swimmers seems distant at best and I shall to remain content with being  “C” club member. Most of the rest of the County Cork Coast eluded me this year, despite early promises from other Sandycove swimmers. And I guess I’ve written and shown you plenty of Sandycove before.

Morning view from the outside west entrance with the sun in the east. The slipway is on the left, some of the reefs at the first corner are appearing and the tide is dropping toward low.
The Red House above is no longer red.

April and May saw me returning to my usual caves on the coast, but leaving exploration for new caves until the water warms up later on in the summer.

Newtown Cave
It is impossible to capture the range of light visible to the human eye with a camera in one photograph but I love the reflections of this shot from inside Newtown Head cave.

I made it back to Coumshingaun in the Comeragh Mountains during both winter and summer. Coumshingaun is the closest lake to me, if one ignores the 45 minute climb, but only I swim it during summer as the edge is circled with rocks and being so far from a road the risks are too high to swim in winter. 

Coumshingaun in winter (Nat Geo filter).resized

Loneswimming Coumshingaun.resized

I’m not sure if I made it out to Carricknamoan rock off Clonea in 2012, but I was back there in 2103. It’s a swim that looks simple in the picture below, taken from the slight height above the beach, and is only about three kilometres round trip, but it still requires experience as the rock is so low that it can’t be seen until the last couple of hundred metres, and there are changing tidal currents.

Carricknamoan & Black Rock_MG_4927-resized.resized

 I also completed a short swim I’d scouted in 2012, swimming out of Ardmore Bay to the wreck of the Samson, under the cliffs of Ardmore Head. (Ardmore is the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland). You can take a shorter 10 minute swim to the wreck if you climb down the path to the angling point and start from there, but what’s the fun in that? While rounding Ardmore Head into the bay on the return swim, Dee took a favourite photo with mine.

Loneswimming IMG_4749.resized

While Distance Camp final weekend and the qualification and torture swims were on, I instead cancelled my planned attendance on the last weekend to catch up with a swim I wanted to do for many years, to circumnavigate Skellig Michael, the 800 feet high island peak the site of a 1500 year old ancient hermetic site, 12 miles off the Irish south-west on the end of the Continental Shelf. Another swim not for beginners, despite its short course.

NW reef IMG_7077.resized

During the summer, I also range out along the Copper Coast away from usual entry and exit spots, particularly liking to risk swimming across Ronan’s Bay, as the return trip can present currents strong enough to cut swim speed by two-thirds and generate a significant challenge.

Newtown Head and the Metalman & pillars from across Ronan’s bay

August is the summer peak for open water swimmers. Long warm(-ish) days (this is Ireland after all), warm water (16 to 17 degrees Celsius in August this year, exceptional) and races. Carol Cashell organises the local favourite Ballycotton 4 kilometres race, which is usually cursed with bad weather, late in August. It’s a challenging swim and the conditions the past two years have made it an experienced-swimmer-only race.

After the race, after the pub, I wandered back down to the tiny beach to catch the moon over the island.

Ballycotton Island moon IMG_8815.resizedSeptember saw two visits to Dover for Sylvain’s Channel Butterfly swim. So there were the usual swims in Dover Harbour,

Dover Harbour Entrance IMG_0196

…and a swim into France with Sylvain. Channel dawn.resized

Not a bad swimming year I guess, in reflection.

If the weather co-operates, when this post is published, I’ll be swimming at the Guillamenes for my Christmas day swim.

Update: The Christmas day weather didn’t co-operate. The swim was cancelled due to heavy seas, but I swam anyway and about 20 people foolishly followed me into the water. Foolish as the swell as almost three metres, and I’ve had a lot of practice at timing and rough water particularly in Tramore Bay. But everyone was safe and fun was had.

Maybe we’ll get to swim together next year but regardless, have a happy holiday and my best to you all, my friends.

Related articles

Images of 2013 – 1 – Swimming People (loneswimmer.com)

Cork Distance Week Copper Coast swim

Cork Distance Week has become increasingly well-known over the past few years since it started by Ned Denison in 2009, succeeding the Champion of Champion races of the previous two years. I’ve been involved every year either as a swimmer or a volunteer and last year I hoped to bring the Camp swimmers over to the Copper Coast for a swim, but as ill-luck had it, we had a 48 hour south-easterly gale before and on the planned day, the one wind which makes the entire Copper Coast and much of the rest of the south coast unswimmable.

A brief précis of Distance Week is enough to tell whether you have distance swim genes. It’s held over nine days, with twice daily two-hour swims at six am and six pm with a Torture swim on the final Saturday, and a six hour qualification swim of multiple laps of Sandycove on the final day. Most swims are around Sandycove but the Camp travels to the Blackwater, Inishcara lake, Lough Hyne and other locations. Total swim volume over the camp is from 80 km to 140 km, depending on year and whether you can get through every swim. If this sounds in any way attractive, you have the illness.

Given the two and half hour drive from Kinsale to Tramore, Distance Week organiser Ned wasn’t keen to include the swim this week. So I engaged in some blackmail, favour for favour, and the swim was added.

Busy morning in the Newtown & Guillamene car park
Busy morning in the Newtown & Guillamene car park

Those of you here will know this, since its the entirety of our world now, but for everyone else, Ireland is having possibly its hottest June and July in a generation. It’s welcome since we literally had no summer last year, as it started raining on the first of June and rained for the rest of the summer, and this was followed by the coldest spring in sixty years.  Previous to the last year we didn’t have any real sunshine for the five years before that, and the last year considered a good summer was … 1996. (Weather everywhere seems to be about extremes and records now, which the Climate Change Deniers and Luddites will tell you has absolutely nothing to do with the highest recorded atmospheric carbon).

Not long ago we were suffering in unseasonably cold air making the cold water tough and in a mere few weeks of continuous sunshine water temperatures have risen sharply reaching the magic figure of 14 Celsius a couple of weeks ago and continuing upward. Further increased heat had the water in Tramore Bay reaching 15 to 16 degrees by mid-day when I did a scouting swim over the planned course at low tide. Jellyfish were disappointingly absent, especially since I’d been stung all over my face myself only a few days previously.

With the good weather, it seems the entire population had decamped to the coast. The club (Newtown and Guillamenes) allocated precious parking spaces in the car park for the swim and word was working it way around the area that “there’s a big swim on”.  One person was heard to say that the lobster pots about two hundred metres out in the bay were “the inner line for the big race. Off out there!

The swimmers started to arrive by five thirty. Former Club Chairman and Mayor of Waterford Ollie said a few words welcoming the swimmers and giving a brief overview of the club’s long stewardship of the area.

Gabor, Sylvain, Donal IMG_6632.resizedWe had twenty swimmers including one world record holder Hayden Welch. Globally know Australian marathon swimmer Penny Palfrey, swimmers from the UK, USA, Canada, Malawi Waterford and Cork, friends from previous distance camps included Carl Reynolds and Helen Gibbs. And my boys, my Hungarian stepson Gábor and world record Aspirant Sylvain Estadieu.

I did a quick swim briefing with a large map so the swimmers would know the course, gave them the waypoints and turning points, local swimmer Colm Breathnach the only one who knew the course. I had also anticipated asking them a question I hoped they’d never been asked previously in a swim briefing; does anyone suffer from claustrophobia  (No-one did). And there was a follow-up question, was there anyone who hadn’t done a night swim? The group was made up of very experienced swimmers and most had swum at night, though a few hadn’t. With sunset still four hours away, I explained that the course would include a long cave swim!

 

Newtown Cove exit
Newtown Cove exit

Given the large crowds, I decided to start them at Newtown Cove off the shingle beach (for a bit of extra Dover training simulation) and we all trooped down, the line of tanned and elegant Speedo and swimsuits-wearing models capturing everyone’s attention.

We let the two slowest swimmers off first, then I led the next group out toward Newtown Head, to be followed by the fastest swimmers, as I wanted to group everyone under the Metalman before proceeding and I didn’t want anyone getting cold while waiting, though given the warm water and sunshine this wasn’t a significant concern.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe assembled in the water, the RNLI rib under command of Raymond Cowman keeping us company on the outside. I indicated the darkcave under the headland, the Sun now sliding into the west actually making the entrance less darkly intimidating that it is in a mid-day Sun, when the shadow is impenetrable.  And then I led them all into it, stopping under the rim to show that once into the shadow it’s not as dark. We then swam into the inner cave, the water quickly going pitch black.

Inside the Cave
Inside the Cave

I have to say that reaching the inside and looking back to see twenty swimmers follow me, with Gábor and Sylvain right behind me, into a place where I usually swim by myself, was as much, if not more a thrill for me as the cave was for many of the swimmers. There was plenty of hooting and then we (mostly) exited on the right-hand side of the west side entrance.

Leaving the cave

There were a couple of young anglers on the rocks on the far side of the Headland, and from being alone, suddenly twenty swimmers swam out of the cave.

Cave entrance
Cave entrance

From there it was back around the headland and the swimmers set off of the pier of the beach. I waited until all swimmers were in front of me, and had a chat with the RNLI crew.

Rib and main group passing the pier (not visible)
Rib and main group passing the pier (not visible)

I exited at Newtown Cove (as did a couple of others who wanted a break from all the swimming and travelling) so I could get changed and watch the group from the cliffs. I had time for a few chats before I moved to above the Comolee’s rocks. Two swimmers were passing underneath having turned at the pier, and in the distance the main group had passed the pier on the way back from the beach.

Classic open water swimming pack formation
Classic open water swimming pack formation

Gradually the lead fast group came closer and in the zoom lens I could make out Ned, racing as usual. Tern minutes from the Comolees saw the final  swimmers round the rock into Newtown Cove, the late evening Sun directly into their eyes, and threaded between all the casual swimmers. Depending on the speed and lines taken by the swimmers they had swim up to seven kilometres in the two hours.

Finishing_MG_6617.resized

We had a chance to stand around chatting a bit afterwards, I got to meet most of the swimmers, some finally in person after previous online correspondence, whether Twitter, my blog or the marathonswimmers.org forum.

Distance Camp Copper Coast group shot
Distance Camp Copper Coast group shot

I was very happy and indeed honoured to have so many marathon swimmers visit my usually solitary playground. I appreciated that it wasn’t a short trip, and I certainly hope they enjoyed themselves.

Next year I’ve got a longer cave for them.

Ballydowane.resized

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 3 – More arches, more caves, oh my!

 

Continuing to take advantage of unusually warm water that is completely out of sync with the crap summer we are experiencing, I’ve been revisiting some of the caves and arches from last year’s Project Copper now that I have a waterproof camera (oop, just realised I must do a review of it) to take some photos of the more memorable and less accessible locations. And in the course of this you’ve seen that there are also some new discoveries.

Since so many enjoyed last week’s cave swim, here’s a longer more detailed video I took a few weeks ago. Without a professional camera rig and lights, it’s hard to film on a handheld camera 60 metres from daylight. This isn’t national Geographic you know. Shoestring budget and all that. And when I say shoestring, I mean the one holding my swimsuit on.

While not new for this year, there’s also the shark-fin of St. John’s Island, a former promontory now separated from the mainland.

I passed John’s Island a couple of times last year before I noticed the arch entrance. It’s quite narrow and like many, if you breathe to the other side just at that moment, you miss it.

It was only that last year I decided to swim around the island that I noticed the island had a hollow heart, not noticeable even from out at sea where I’d gone past it.

But the island is an island in truth only at high tides. I swam around the back on a lower tide and discovered there were two reefs leading away from and protecting the hollow heart at lower tides.

In fact how do you decide what’s a cave and what’s an arch? The hollow heart of John’s Island is like a natural place of worship for swimming pantheists, a church of rock and sea to worship the wonder of nature. At one side of the island is a narrow entrance, at the other the entire side of the island has been scooped out and washed away, the minerals swallowed by the Celtic Sea, like a cone or a funnel laying sideways through the Triassic sandstone.

Swimming through St. John’s Island video 

The tunnel through the island can only be seen from one fairly inaccessible place on the cliffs, on a day with blue sky, and with a telephoto lens and gives a good sense of the fragile heart of the island.

Want to worship nature with an atheist/pantheist? Come swim with me! Some of the Sandycove Island swimmers are starting to talk about it. Organise a bus trip!

 

 

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 2 – Cave Exploring

Summer swimming on the Copper Coast 1 – Islands and Arches

Having swam at Kilfarrasy with Lisa, a more extraordinary cave swim came two days later when we swam another section of the Copper Coast.

First we swam into one cave, exited and swam around a tall overhanging sea stack, getting gently pushed and pulled through the canyon between the cliffs on the half metre off shore swell.

We swam around and back, into another large and regularly scary looking cave, because it’s deep, completely black from the outside, and with even the smallest water movement sound booms out from the inside. Inside we made an extraordinary discovery.

The two separate caves were actually joined deep inside by a tiny shingle beach 50 to 75 metres from the sea. It’s dark but once you are inside, bright enough to see around. Video and photographs struggle to capture the conflicting darkness and bright cave entrances, with no flash on the waterproof camera. Even on small swell the waves are compressed and break onto the little beach with the sound amplified by the walls and cave roof. It felt like an extraordinary discovery, that we might be the first people to ever discover this as it seems possible that the kayakers, the other Copper Coast adventures along with myself, wouldn’t have entered the whole way for fear of being unable to turn or reverse their kayaks.

And even if not, surely we were the first ever swimmers to penetrate the cave system, which must 100 to 150 metres long in total.

A few short clips of the cave edited together.

I’ve said before, every day in the sea is mini-adventure, few though rarely so exciting as this. Want to find out where it is? You’ll have to come swim with me to find out. :-)

Ballydowane to Ballyvooney – The penultimate Project Copper swim

Ripple currents sign & entrance to Ballydowane

This is Project Copper Coast swim number nine. Yes, I know I’ve haven’t put numbers on them until this but I only foresaw one swim after this to finish.

I first visited Ballydowane as a small child with my family, and never knew the name nor location, until I visited it over 25 years later, looking for surf and recognised it instantly, the high red surrounding cliffs, the small bay and the narrow boreen down to it, that had remained present from childhood dreams. It’s another gorgeous little cove where apparently there’s something called a ripple current according to the sign. :-)

Old Red Sandstone cliffs at Ballydowane

Years later, after the surf hunting, at the start of my second year of open water swimming, Dee and I visited there on Sunday morning for my first non-wetsuit swim of the year in spring. It’s from that visit (and one other) that I still recall the physical fear that I felt before getting in the freezing water.

It was also a rough day and on trying to immerse myself, a wave washed over me, and took the decision out of my hands. I recall like it was yesterday, swimming across the cove, the burning and acid-like sensations over my whole body, until I went numb. On exiting the water, exhilarated and frozen, after 15 minutes, I discovered Dee and Luis hadn’t been able to see me due to the waves, and thought I was gone, drowned. At which point I made the situation worse by starting to hrr-hrr (laugh) through frozen jaws. Mr. Sensitivity.

I know the outside of the cove can have a current across it, but not strong enough to stop progress and from the swim from Bunmahon where I’d encountered the start of one, I assumed it flowed west, though I would be heading out across the far side anyway.

It was an hour or two after high tide. Bare northerly offshore breeze, so the water was completely clear and flat with a partly sunny sky. Out past the rocks on the right, this stretch of coast doesn’t jut outwards, instead it’s more concave, therefore I didn’t expect too many difficult currents.

The cliffs at this end of the Copper Coast are more attractive, there seems to be a slightly different range of colours and shapes but I though it might only be because it’s all new water so I’m far more conscious of it.

However on looking at a simple geological map of Waterford, it transpires that yes indeed, the rocks change east of Ballyvoyle Head from older Ordovician (volcanic, shale and sedimentary rocks) to younger Devonian (sandstones and siltstones).

I’d checked the OSI map, and it seemed from it that there are six promontories between Ballydowane and Ballyvooney, if I was to make it that far, which was by no means certain. But of course from the water, it seemed like nine of ten. It was thirty minutes before I could easily see Gull Island, the largest one of that name on the Copper Coast, (there are a few) on the far side of Ballyvooney.

Toward Ballyvooney & Gull Island in the distance

Having passed what seemed many more than six promontories, I didn’t reach the outside of Ballyvooney Cove until 55 minutes, once again a cutoff time, since I also knew that I would need more time when I returned to Ballydowane.

St. John's Island

After I turned, instead of curving back around the coast as I had on the outward trip, I swam directly across toward St. John’s Island and the thin vertical needle of the unnamed rock beside it, and I was able to hold a nice straight line by keeping the sky behind the rock spire.

I passed the turn into Ballydowane and swam across the cove, slowing down as I encountered the adverse current. I needed to overlap the finishing point of the previous day, to meet my own criteria that I’ve swam every metres of the coast.

I turned into the side of St. John’s island, where I stopped previously, then swam around the island to the east side on the other side of a reef, where, I realised, the island was virtually hollow, a huge cave being scooped out of its side. My goal was to see if I could swim around this so-called island so I swam around and behind another long reef extending outward and into the area between the island and the edge of the cove, only to discover a jumble of rocks. Only at the highest spring tide does it really become an island, and even then it’s unlikely to be navigable by a swimmer. So I swam back around the reef to have a look at the cave weaving though the reefs across the entrance.

The tunnel through St. John's Island

And I realised that it wasn’t just a small cave resulting from a collapse of the sandstone but a cave and tunnel leading through the island. The combined tunnel and cave was 50 to 75 metres long and a total joy. This was no narrow tunnel, but it opened inside to a wider cavern with echoes from the pneumatic sound of water being compressed into nooks and crannies and the washing around of the water. It was bright, because the eastern-side entrance was wide enough to allow in sufficient light from the sunshine which reflected around the rocks and it was utterly magical. Only weeks ago the only caves I’d ever swam into were the few beneath Great Newtown head, but by now I’ve swum through a range of caves, arches and tunnels, leading to this stunning location.

Swim route around and through St. John's Island

Exiting the tunnel I realised why I hadn’t seen it. There’s a reef completely hiding the entrance for the low-level view of a swimmer, and since it faces west, it can’t be seen from the cove. It’s probable canoeists know about it, no-one beyond that. And now you know and I can’t recommend visiting it highly enough.

From there into the beach and done, another 6 k. A hike up the cliff to see if I could get a photo of the coast and by going out to the edge of the one of the promontories I was able to photograph the tunnel .

Project Copper. Almost done.