Tag Archives: Copper Coast

A Further Shore – VI – The Further Shore

I can say I saw another sea, but you will not understand. I do not understand. That Sea was not the sea I know. The sea is sacred to me, but this Sea was more than sacred, it was hallowed.

Beyond was not Sea open to the horizon, but only kilometres, miles, a mere league or two, to a further shore.

I cannot say much about that shore. I am moderately farsighted, growing gradually worse with age, age that I now notice.

I stood there, skin tanned from sea swimming bared to the golden light and the sky. And I saw, I saw… I don’t know. I saw different colours of gold and green.  A blackgreen that is either the colour of the abyss or distant forests. Layers of blue purple and grey that must have been mountains beyond. And further beyond, yes, I know I saw a peak. Mighty, astonishing, partially enrobed in clouds, a peak from the Young Earth. But this description isn’t what I saw, any more than a map is  the location.

Battlements and bastions of rock. Shoulders piled up, higher and higher, minor spires throwing spindrift that being so far away must have been hurricane-sized. Close and far at the same time. Higher up, the summit itself was lost to sight, a subtle interplay of colours and cloud, blending with the golden light-filled sky.

I saw a golden Sea. A tall Mountain. A Sea and a Mountain such as none have described. So little to say.

At some point I bowed my head, conscious suddenly of my breathing. I inhaled deeply, looked at that Sea again. This time I saw motes. Motes leaving the further shore, motes on the Sea. Boats or ships. The town’s inhabitants? Returning from the further shore. I could not look at that Mountain again. To sail on that Sea was incomprehensible. To swim in it inconceivable.

I must have turned down the greensward toward the town. I was dazed. I  did not hurry and I was not afraid. As I left the greensward I looked right, surely to the South now. I saw the town and harbour were situated in a shallow bay which swept south, the coast dotted with pearly turquoise sand inlets.

I looked out and saw, just outside the bay, innumerable tiny islands, scattered like pearls on silk. It vaguely reminded me of Clew Bay as seen from high on Croagh Patrick but Clew Bay’s three hundred and sixty-five islands were a pale imitation of this vista. Eastwards the sky was a vivid deep blue, almost purple. The colour of late northern evening, though the light, the time of day felt earlier.

And then I saw the Ship of the Moon risen from the east. Not the Moon. Not our tarnished recalcitrant orb. I saw the Ship of the Moon. Not a frigate or barque or clipper but a bád mór. With a bluff prow, high gunnals, a raked transom and a single main mast and foresail. Sailing into the sky, lambent, coruscating and argent. The purest silver, a colour beyond white or platinum or mithril.

I do not recall returning through the town. I saw the Ship of the Moon, then I was once more standing on the pier by the water’s edge. I looked out and saw the nearest islands. A rounded small hill, grass topped rock. A series of reefs and ridges leading right, leading south. Overhead the Ship of the Moon threw a beam, a silver road between me and the reefs. Where the beam touched the reefs I saw a vertical opening: The Keyhole Arch. A silver road, the Moon Road, that led directly from my feet over the water to my arch.

I pulled on my swim cap, my goggles. I turned back, briefly and looked at the town and the hill. The town was sinking into shadow. The green summit of the hill still caught the golden light from beyond but it threw a shadow across the harbour. Then I heard the summons of a herring gull, that plaintive wail that snares all those who go down to the sea.

I set my cap and goggles, breathed deep and dove. Out, out I flew, into the air and then I sliced the water. No cold shock, I glided to the surface and swam. I swam that silver beam toward the reefs. No longer made of light I was still made of water. Just behind my feet was the line of shadow thrown by the hill, seeping out into the bay with me. I swam, a direct line and very quickly I was approaching the reefs. Under the water the white sandy bottom showed hulls and keels, shattered and worn.

The line of reef which held The Keyhole was metres from me. I knew its hourglass shape, the narrow pointed top. I looked behind. The town was no longer distinguishable in the shadow beneath the hill. The greensward was a hint of pure emerald against the light behind the hilltop. I glimpsed left, to the north. Boats were rounding the island’s curve. White boats, with bright sails, dancing on the water. Silhouettes moving on the decks.

When I passed through The Keyhole, all I noticed was that the shadows of the entrance enveloped me, the water beneath was not as clear as earlier and it was cool. Light silt swirled around and the bottom wasn’t visible. I exited as usual into the reef channel. Brown’s Island was to my left, blocking further view. The Sun was overhead to my right, bright mid-day, no shadows. South.

I swum left through the Channel, passed close to Burke’s Island, and saw the Copper Coast cliffs and the Kilfarassey beach ahead, six or seven hundred metres away.

On the sand, my sandals were still there under the rocks. I looked back, south, to Brown’s Island, left and east, right and west. I looked at my watch and it was twelve twenty five. As I walked to the car park, I felt the familiar post-swim chill reach out for me.

I looked east again. There was no Moon in the eastern sky.

I have swum back to the Keyhole Arch since. I have even taken others there but it merely leads through the reef as it always did previously.  Somehow, somewhere, somewhen, I swam through some fracture, some interstice. Some combination of tide and time and light and mind. I swam a straight line where there were only turns, or a straight line where there was only an invisible maze. I swam beyond the sea and entered a different Sea. The other side of the Sun, the far side of the sky, beyond the wind. I do not know.

I keep trying to find my way back. My directions are no longer cardinal and I am cast adrift, knowing my arms and shoulders are not measure of this world. I could not stay but I should never have left and I am bereft.

I still dream of the sea and the swell, but now I also dream of golden light and silver water, of dancing white boats with bright sails, and a tall Mountain on a further shore, past a hallowed Sea.

Ship of the MoonPrevious articles:

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

A Further Shore – III – The Harbour

A Further Shore – IV – The Town

A Further Shore – V- The Greensward

 

A Further Shore – V- The Greensward

Swimming is a lot of things to different people at different times, even to me. But what it isn’t, is a method of travel. We may travel long distances while swimming, we may even be swimming to a destination, but we are not traveling per se.  But somehow, I’d traveled.

The buildings stopped before I reached the top of the hill. There was no apparent difference in size or appointment between the lower down houses and those higher up.

I had not seen a single person nor heard any sounds of people. It was like everyone has just stepped out back, at the same moment.

Quite abruptly I passed the last house. How long had I walked through the town? This prompted another thought. What time was it? Checking the elapsed time of a swim is such an ingrained habit for me, yet I hadn’t looked at my watch since I’d passed behind Brown’s Island. I checked my watch. The watches start triangle was where I’d set it, at twenty-five minutes to twelve. The minute hand was a few minutes past twelve. Twenty eight minutes? Or an hour, two hours, three hours, and twenty-eight minutes? I looked around for the umpteenth time. Nothing changed. I looked at the watch again and now noticed the second hand. It wasn’t moving. Had my watch stopped?

Beyond the building was the hilltop. The crown was simply covered in a lush green lawn. The road stopped but a path was worn to the top. From up here I could see that the lower road which had led off right out of sight and disappeared had done so because the Sea reached inwards beyond that point.

I never considered stopping, the entire town seemed draped below this green crown like a mantle, with the summit the culmination of its layout. The gradient was now steep but consequently the distance upwards to the zenith was short. The steepness forced my eyes down in front and so the sudden lessening of the slope as I reached the summit was surprising.

The fifty steps up the cliff from the Guillamenes to the car park has regularly left me breathless, adapted as I am for swimming. I felt nothing similar here. The greensward opened out in a circle. There were no signs or seats or anything except grass. To my right in the distance though I could see the Sea. The lower road had curved away because there was no more land only a couple of kilometres beyond the town. I looked left and saw the grass summit descend in a gentle ridge. With the Sun ahead of me, that meant right was north and left down the ridge was south. The harbour and town were situated close to the north end of either a large island or a long peninsula leading from the south.

Ahead of me the hill fell away very gently. The slopes were covered in a patchwork of meadows, variegated vegetation delineating the boundaries, no hard fenced fields, the various colours indicating a variety of vegetation, from the vivid green of summer barley,  to dusty  ripening wheat and tall corn stalks, all different stages of growth apparent at the same time.

But ahead of me, beyond the meadows, to the West? The Sun was well down the sky. The photographer in me assessed the golden light and the shadow I threw behind me. It was a good way from setting, and a longer way from morning.

The quilted fields on the western slope ended at the Sea, which stretched left and right, sparkling into the hazy distance. I looked out over that Sea, argent and aureate. A Sea like none I’ve seen or swum. Molten metal and liquid air and lifeblood. Sacred like lifeblood. The light blazed at me again. The light blasted me. I closed my eyes, and the light did not diminish. Then, opening my eyes, I saw through the haze.

Previous articles

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

A Further Shore – III – The Harbour

A Further Shore – IV – The Town

A Further Shore – IV – The Town

Subconsciously, I’d pulled the goggles from my face, feeling the familiar discomfort around my eyes as the suction released. They dangled weightless from my fingers.

Above the seafront buildings rose a hill and a town. A road led through the near buildings to disappear into tiered houses that fronted a low hill. I was stunned. Tiny Annestown rested well back from the sea on a road up a hill, a village so small that it had neither a shop nor a pub nor a church and only a dozen houses. Bunmahon lay beyond a stream behind a beach. Stradbally was a kilometre from the shore, and anyway I knew all those villages. I just kept thinking; “I know this coast, I know this coast“. Those villages had tarmac roads, cars, electricity. Modern buildings. All I could think was to seek explanation, comparison, but I had none. My mind whirlpooled around the same vortex. “I know this coast”.

I stood there, a middle-aged slightly overweight man, on a sunny warm afternoon, wearing nothing but Speedoes which were already almost dried in the warm breeze.

It was quiet. Not silent. Peaceful. The breeze was barely audible on various surfaces. The Sea muted its gentle song behind me. My bare feet scraped the sand. I heard the guillemots croak. But I saw no-one. It felt empty. But not deserted. Everything was well maintained. It felt how the Guillamenes feels on mornings I am there by myself. Not abandoned, just that I arrive and swim and leave, without ever seeing anyone, or being seen.

You can feel a temporary emptiness, feel the lack of people, even when you can’t see all the possible locations where they may be. You’ve stepped into your own time and space in a location. Your house isn’t really empty, it’s just that everyone else is out. As I was here. Everyone was out, and I was here alone.

I didn’t look back at the Sea, but I moved forward. I ignored the building on the seafront and entered the lane leading up to the town.

By now I’d dried, but I wasn’t cold. No Afterdrop, no chill. But this was Spring wasn’t it? I should have chills, should need to be dressed. But actually I was warm. The Sun gently warmed my face and chest, feeling like a good Irish late July afternoon. The Sun not strong enough to burn. The swim cap started to feel tight and I took it off also, catching and snagging a few tiny hairs on the back of my neck in the now dry folds of the silicon.

My head scanned left to right, right to left. I was on the main road. Occasional lanes snakes off between houses. At a fork, the right hand road seemed to leave the small town and lead along the coast until it quickly curved back left out of sight. I stayed on the main road up through the town.

I looked at the houses. Individual, well maintained, but overall similar, even differences in size or shape weren’t so broad. The houses were stone of various grey hues. Roofs of slate. Brightly-coloured doors, some full, some half doors. Some half-door tops stood ajar, but I did not consider entering. Square and rectangular wooden-shuttered windows on ground level. Two or even three-storeyed, the lower floors had narrow mullioned windows while the upper floors had circular windows, and many upper floors had hints of turrets. There were flowers in window pots and stone troughs along the roadside.

There were two predominant sounds. The breeze soughed across the slate, a slight susurration. Everywhere was the murmur of water. There were small fountains between houses, and dotted in the centre of the road, with surrounding pools and low walls. Embrasures led from the fountains and narrow runnels ran down stone coursings in the lanes, joining but never widening, only deepening. What happened when there was a rainstorm?  There were shallow open rain gutters in the stone on the road sides but the house were without downpipes. The streams gurgled, fed into and out of the fountains, casting a melody of gently-playing water over the town.

On some stone beside doors, over windows, in the street on slender obelisks, were graven character or letters or runes. There were no hard angles, instead they seemed organic, flowing. I couldn’t comprehend the origin. They weren’t the ancient pre-Celtic Ogham runes. Were they addresses or names or titles? There were no apparent commercial buildings. No signs hung outside. No windows to display wares or attract custom.

I continued on. The lane wound around and switch-backed upwards.

 

Previous Articles

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

A Further Shore – III – The Harbour

 

A Further Shore – III – The Harbour

Instead of a beach, shadows loomed over me and the water went from gold to black in sudden deep shade.

A wall of dressed stone met my fingertips and loomed two metres over me. It was a pier, stone mooring bollards along the edge. There was another pier twenty or thirty metres away to my left, like the coast had projected horizontal crenellations into the sea.

There are no stone piers on the Copper Coast. Even concrete slipways are rare on our exposed shore which lacks any suitable bays as harbours.  The Copper Coast rocks are primarily Old Red Sandstone and soft limestone. Why was I thinking about stone? I sought rationality, logic. The type of stone didn’t help. No, wait, the lee side of Tramore Pier behind the concrete is dressed stone. That’s a stone pier. But Tramore pier is how many kilometres away? Eight, nine? Away from where? I’ve swum the Copper Coast, every metre. I did not know this place and Tramore is just a single angled pier. Logic didn’t help.

There were steps near me built into the pier. In the shadows in the water the light became a type of dusk. Tarzan-style, head up, two strokes and I reached the stairs. I gingerly got a foot under me, then the second, and I stood and I climbed up. The pier edges were a charcoal grey, with the main mass a slightly lighter grey. Dark grey stone mooring bollards. The surface seemed almost swept clean except a dusting of bleached sand with faint mother-of-pearl sparkles. The rock was warm and the sand very fine under my bare feet. An ever-so-slight breeze had returned, a whisper that quickly dried my bare skin as I looked around me.from this vantage I could see other piers projecting out into sea.

A harbour. But no stacks of pots. No boats, no coils of gaudy nylon rope, no hauled out punts or moored tenders. No detritus of a working harbour.

The piers were fronted with low stone buildings, one or two stories, also stone, with slate roofs. All orderly, well maintained and pretty in the austere way of coastal communities, especially in the soft light.  No electricity poles. No diesel tanks, no mechanics.

This could not be. But it was. I was just a swimmer. You can’t accidentally swim to France or to somewhere you’ve never seen, never been. Arms are too weak against the Sea, despite our desire to prove otherwise.

We swim in part because it human-scales the world. Swimming makes the world both bigger and smaller. It becomes immense against the strength of our shoulders. But it becomes small and intimate and local, limited also by our shoulders. Driving a road a thousand times is not like walking it once. Sitting on the beach a thousand times is not like swimming out to the horizon once. We remember the scale of the world we’ve forgotten in the rest of our lives, we remember the absolute importance of the horizon.

What was this place?

Where was this place?

 

Previous parts

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

I’d swum a double handful of strokes on one breath, and seen so little and yet so much. Only water, rocks, kelp, light? You don’t understand.

Time to breath and navigate, I lifted my head. Golden sunlight dazzled me, washed over me. I know it had been months, the previous autumn since I’d last swum Kilfarassey, but surely the arch only dog-legged slightly? The mid-day Sun should have been to my left, instead it was ahead. I filled my lungs and swam on, out past the surrounding reefs for a few metres, until I could swing right, to the north, back toward the beach.

Out past the rocks I swam, so that I could see past Burke’s Island to the coast almost a kilometre away. The beach. Where was the beach and the cliffs? I kicked and sat up, threading water, my hands sculling as I peered right. Was the glare on the fogged and smeared goggles, which seemed so clear underwater now deceiving me? I couldn’t see the beach. Where’s the beach? I didn’t think anything. Involuntarily my head whipped around and as it did, mere fractions of a second, I saw the dark line of the coast ahead of me.

Wait. Wait. The Sun was ahead of me and the coast was ahead of me. What? That can’t. That can’t. This wasn’t just forgetting details from last summer. This Copper Coast is in my blood, no-one, no-one knows it like I do.

Don’t panic. Everything I know about the Sea kicked in. Everything learned, every time I risked a rock or a tunnel or a cave or a sketchy entrance or dangerous exit, every time in rough water, big water, unknown water, when I was by myself, testing myself, everything clamped down inside into “stay calm, you know this, stay calm“.

I felt it in my gut. My stomach twisted but I stayed calm. The reefs looked the same. The gaps were where I expected, the reefs all lined up in relation with each other. I looked behind. The Keyhole Arch was there, of course. The raucous guillemots still wheeled and the herring gulls still cried. But when I looked again, the coast was still in front, the  green of the fields and cliffs blackened and flattened by the back-light of the Sun overhead. This was not possible.

Nothing else happened. I looked around. I felt the clamp inside my gut, controlling me, my own internal governor. The light breeze had slackened and I noticed that the surface has glassed off to an oily silken sheen, inviting me forward. A swimmer’s version of bubble-wrap waiting to be popped, the water pleading to be pierced by my arms.

Swim, it’s what I do. Just swim in, figure it out later. I’d only been in the water twenty-five minutes or so, I’d passed two-thirds of the distance already. In the ten degree water, I wasn’t more than lightly chilled as I hadn’t stopped until now.  I couldn’t be severely hypothermic, I had none of the signs. Twelve to fifteen minutes swim, and a packet of jelly dinosaurs waiting in the glove compartment. The clamp relaxed just a fraction. Stay calm and swim.

I stroked ahead. Okay, swim in. Don’t think about it. Things happen in your head when you’re alone in the water. Things you don’t tell anyone. Things you will never tell anyone. Things they would never understand.

The water was glorious. I felt the edge, the finest sharpest molecular blade-edge of cold. That perfect feeling that cold water swimmers know, and can’t understand that others don’t appreciate. Like a fire on your skin, like when you have exhaled all your air, you can purse your lips and get that fraction more out. Like a drug or a mystery. Use everything and the cold gives you that tiny bit extra. Take a surgical scalpel, and draw the back of the blade down the inside of your forearm for a hint of that edge of cold.

Under the water the water was green suffused with argent, rich like ripe avocado. I was bathing in glory and brine, swimming in light as well as water. The light poured over me and basted my skin. I could taste the light in the water, in my mouth, like salty caramel. I could hear it. I could hear the golden light. Not with my ears, but with my proprioception. When I lifted my eyes to navigate, the light blasted my goggles and made gemstones of the world, sapphire, onyx, emerald and turquoise. The light cascaded and boiled into my lungs and filled me up. Every sense, new senses, filled with the golden light.

We swimmers know how low twenty metre tall cliffs look from just a kilometre away.  How a coast become flat, every part the same distance away, three-dimensionality lost. We know both how close and how far a kilometre is. A kilometre is a short swim but twice the distance required for a swimmer to become invisible to others on the shore.

The coast closed quickly as I swam. The light gave me a grace I’d never known. I didn’t just cut through the water or slip through the light. I became the water and the golden light. I was water and light swimming in water and light.

But when I reached the coast, when I could finally see under the glare, there were no cliffs. There was no beach.

Golden light through a Copper Coast arch
Golden light

 

Previous part

A Further Shore – I – The 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.

The Abyss

I made the image below for my American Channel swimming friend and one of the MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming co-authors  Elaine Howley.

I’ve seen a few articles on coping with open water swimming fears recently, and I though I’d take a contrary and more visual tack.

If you suffer from the open water heebeejeebies, try taking control and instead of trying to swim away from imaginary monsters, try summoning them, so you control them and become the master or mistress.

Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. – Nietzsche

Both the feet, and more importantly the eye, are my own … Or is it? Open Water swimming fear 2.resizedClick to embiggen. It’s make a nice desktop wallpaper.!

And here’s a video I hope you enjoy. I finally shot something good with David Dammerman’s camera, so thanks David!

I particularly recommend you enjoy what happens about 2:25 and the last few seconds.

Related articles

Open Water fears listed.

Review: Is this the ultimate open water swimmer’s beer?

Craft beers are the thing, right? Local, interesting, more flavour, more fun. One of humanity’s oldest craft’s giving the blandness of the global industrial homogenisation of food and taste a hopeful poke in the eye.

One of the better things of living in Ireland, because of the country’s still large agricultural sector, is our access to local fresh food of extremely high quality. (America, I’ve had your bacon. It’s a pale imitation of our rashers).

As a country with a proud and long tradition of making, and a not-so-proud tradition of consuming alcohol, we nevertheless suffered in the twentieth century a reduction Irish-made spirits and beers. A desperate attempt to maximise revenues coupled with a ban on selling into Commonwealth countries reduced the once proud Irish whiskey tradition to a few brands. Prior to World War II Irish whiskey was the actually the world’s most popular spirit, before being over taken by Scottish whisky. (Though Irish whiskey is once again the fastest growing).

The brewing industry in Ireland was also large and also contracted hugely over the Twentieth century though not quite as much as the distilleries. Bushmills Distillery remains the world’s oldest operating distillery, and of course Guinness stout is globally known.

Dungarvan Brewing Co

copper_bigLocal micro-breweries started to open in the 1990s, and in 2010 local brewing company The Dungarvan Brewing Company began operation. Unfortunately I didn’t discover their beers until last year, but once I did I sought out and tried them. For blog research purposes.

The various beers, different types of stouts and pale and Irish red ales  are named after local geographical features such as Comeragh Challenger, Mahon Falls, some after my swimming locations, Helvick Gold and Copper Coast, and the notorious Black Rock, the swim out to which has eluded me for a few years. Not because of the distance or the water, but because it’s in the middle of Dungarvan Bay navigation channel. All are excellent. Black Rock stout, Copper Coast red ale, and Helvick Gold blond ale are the three main beers, with the others being seasonal.

I particularly like Copper Coast, an Irish Red Ale, but maybe more than most people some of that pleasure derives from swallowing more of the Copper Coast. Something I’m sure I’ve already done more than others.

But one, like the Black Rock in the bay eluded me, the only one not named after a local feature: Their winter beer, Coffee and Oatmeal.

Just the name: Coffee and Oatmeal. Two essential ingredients of breakfast for any long swim. How could an open water swimmer not be intrigued?

I was trying to find it in off-licenses, before we finally just did what we should have done originally; I asked Clare. Clare Morrissey is the person who inveigled me into open water swimming, was on my Channel crew, and is an all-round experienced sportswoman; solo sailor, Channel relay swimmer, scuba diver and national level rower. Thus we finally settled down in The Moorings pub in Dungarvan with Clare to enjoy a pint of Coffee and Oatmeal.

Coffee and Oatmeal stout Dungarvan Brewing Company IMG_0861.resized
Stout on the bar, the glow of the wood, the babble of the craic, telling stories until my voice started to croak.

The first taste reminded me of the old Guinness pint bottle stout. Not the stout of cans with widgets, nor the extra cold stout of modern draught (draft for those of you overseas) or even small bottles. No, it’s like the single stout bottle my Grandfather used to drink a week, when I was sent up town “to do the messages“, and sent to procure a single bottle, in a small town where it was fine to sell alcohol to a ten year-old. The bottle “with the shoulders“, as it was described, or more commonly a large bottle.”I’ll have a large bottle please“, meant only one thing.  The bottle sometimes drank at home or at a wake. Not refrigerated. With a small head, and an intense taste, very different from draught Guinness stout, to which people will unfortunately compare any stout.

Dungarvan Brewing Company’s Coffee and Oatmeal has a slightly initially slightly gassy taste. It has bundles of taste and is huge in the mouth, with a big flavour. The gassiness passes and you taste the smooth richness of the oats. (By the way, the oats come from Flahavan’s, a local well-known Irish local company producing oatmeal for over 200 years). As you swallow the full oat taste is joined by  the coffee flavour, and then as you swallow you experience a slight chocolate aftertaste. It’s super. It’s a luxurious, even adult, stout, if that’s not an oxymoron, that harkens back to the great days of Irish stout brewing. It was this taste that summoned the reminiscences of my grandfather, an Irish version of Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu and his famous madelaines,

This is far beyond the generic stout that even Guinness now produce.

Stout. Oatmeal, Coffee. Chocolate. What more could a swimmer want?

Now you may say that it’s elusiveness is a negative. But that just means that like my beloved Copper Coast, it’s here for me to enjoy.

You’ll just have to visit.

 

The Atlantic – I

The Atlantic Ocean is in me.

For almost 20 years since it got its hook into me, I’ve been haunting, (in a moderate non-weird way), the Irish Atlantic coast, primarily the west, south and my own Copper Coast in the south-east.

For many years, in the depths of grim nights, I have stared into the dark and summoned the ocean as a blanket. I can float on groundswell as it pulses and lifts and lowers me. Experience the ground vibrations from huge breakers. Smell the plankton. Feel the wind tighten my face. Taste the salt. The Atlantic became as much part of me as I become a miniscule part  of it.

It’s a grey ocean. Grey, not gray, my American friends. The word was surely invented for the Atlantic. Not a dull description of colour, it’s a dimension, a world, a universe, The Soulstealer Sea. The Grey Atlantic, not the Blue Pacific. It’s a metal ocean. Steel and iron, verdigris if you are lucky. Hard.  Complete.

Welcome to my ocean.

{The photographs of the Atlantic in this three-part series are the best I’ve  taken, over a two and half year period, of various representational of elements of the Atlantic. It’s a personal, creative and a continuing journey. It is as important to me as taking the photographs to let them be seen. I feel like a photographer for once. All are better on full screen for a more, well, immersive experience.}

A Wave
A Wave
Winter Horizon I
Winter Horizon I
Winter Horizon II
Winter Horizon II
Sky & Sea
Vast
I - Swell.resized
Visitors from Far Away
The Sky In The Sea
The Sky In The Sea
Squall
Squall
A Reef
A Reef
The Storm Will Pass
Storms Always Pass
Local
Local
Evening Sea With Two Islands
Evening Sea With Two Islands

 

Force Nine
Force Nine

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.

Spring is swum

Real spring arrived most tentatively and late in Ireland this year, following the coldest early spring in 50 years. The water has been cold at its usual lowest point in late February, but recovery from the bottom took longer to occur than usual and many of the coldest days swimming have occurred after the normal coldest point of the year.

My swim times have stayed short, shorter than in a few years, swimmers have widely been commenting about the combination of cold water and cold air making weekend open water swims difficult and brief, not complaints often heard amongst Ireland’s experienced cold water swimmers.

But finally, only two weeks, the northerly air flow shifted away and temperatures moved about low single digits.

SandycovePanorama.resized

This prompted my first visit of the year to Sandycove. How did it get so late? Only a week previously the water temperature in Tramore Bay had still been only seven degrees, but the Sandycove visit provided a lovely ten degrees. Having been ill with a chest infection for a few weeks, I’d approached the swim with slight trepidation (the only time I’ve ever thought I might have a problem with a lap) but on measuring the warm water that concern disappeared and Owen, Dave Mulcahy and I each cruised around for a pleasant sunny lap, Owen being faster was first around and utilizing his new Finis GPS for a map of a standard high-tide island lap. Some chat was had afterwards, with Mike Harris and Ned Denison out for a visit also. Ned indicated that he wouldn’t be integrating my suggested Copper Coast swim into this year’s Cork Distance Camp, “as it doesn’t suit“, whatever that means. I’ll just have to get some of the swimmers over myself!

Saturday just gone was also a mild sunny day, with light fresh northerly breeze not being too cold and therefore ideal for jellyfish-hunting. This is what I call my early spring loops of Kilfarassey’s Burke’s Island. I abandon Kilfarassey’s playground except for beach walking during the winter months as its southerly aspect is too exposed for the depth of winter and I can look forward to returning to it with increasing anticipation as spring progresses. With a light offshore and a sunny sky, the island, whose nearest point is only about ten minutes away, looked inviting. The tide was low, just off a spring and the guard-line of reefs that separate the island from the mainland were showing.

Burke's Island
Burke’s Island, low tide, offshore

I was concerned that Waterford’s deeper and more exposed water, almost always colder and slower to respond than Cork’s, despite being only about 60 miles apart, would still be only seven to eight degrees, but it was also ten degrees in the sun-warmed beach-edge water of Kilfarrassey, I doubt the Guillamene’s deeper water would have so improved.

It’s a shallow entry, and as I waded in there was a horse being ridden out in the shallows, the rider looking askance at me. The island and a string of reefs protect the beach, but once past the half-way point of the island the water depth starts to drop and I swum counter-clockwise around the outermost reefs, stirring up all the sea-birds who are far out from the mainland and therefore unused to much human traffic excepting the occasional kayakers or local fisherman. As I passed the island the temperature gradually dropped, and I guess the water around the island was about nine degrees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The channels at the back of the reefs & island – my playground

Apart from the main island, there are actually lots of reefs and rocks and I swam into the main channel at the back of the island through many of these, my secret playground. The tide had now bottomed and heavy kelp was visible above the water. The first sea-anemones I’ve seen this year were visible on a couple of the deeper rocks and the water was crystal clear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd what would a day to Kilfarassey be without a swim through my favourite arch, which I’ve termed the keyhole, about 25 metres long and always fun even on a calm day, though narrowest at low tide.

Kilfarassey is the location where I see (and suffer) jellyfish the most, it’s exposed and deep enough with enough calm pockets, reefs, currents and caves to hold many of them in place, but there were no jellyfish this day. The first jellyfish scouting expedition returned without a single one encountered, but it won’t be long now before our annual battles begin.

The swim was only forty minutes. But forty minutes of cold, clear heaven. Forty minutes where for the first time in weeks I felt I was where I was supposed to be, the first place where I’d felt truly and utterly free for some time, when I remembered that I started this blog over three years ago by exhorting you all to seek freedom. I write about the safe way to swim, the educated way to swim and I write about the mechanics. But it is this sense of freedom that is so essential for my own psyche and so fundamental to my own reasons for swimming. In the water, outside the island, over half a mile from the mainland, that I am ineffably myself and in that place of so little control that I feel so much confidence.

My Swimming Life 2012. Almosts.

Continuing the series I started with the Swimming Locations of 2012, followed by Swimming 2012 Continuing the Pictorial Tour, this is the second post of “runners-up” for my favourite photos of the year. And a rename of the series, people seem to be enjoying, very gratifying for my moderate skills. There will be two more, of what I think are my best/favourite photos from 2012. You know what they say, just keep taking photos.

Dover shingle
Dover shingle

An unoriginal photo, but a nice contrast of colours and high tide of the Dover shingle I mentioned in the last post.

Owen at sunset over the Channel
Owen at sunset over the Channel

The Fermoy Fish is making quite a few appearances in this series. Looking over the Channel and Folkestone Harbour in the late evening. I think in 2012 Owen appreciated the magnitude of his Channel solo, when he became (and still is) Ireland’s youngest ever Channel swimmer. He’s also a very experienced crew person whom I can’t recommend highly enough. On the horizon is Dungeness Nuclear Power Station, rarely visible from Varne, where Lisa Cummins became the first (and only) person ever to land on her second lap of the Channel. Not even Kevin Murphy, who has done just about everything Channel-wise, has landed there.

River Suir
River Suir

I’ve taken quite a few photos of the local traditional design Knocknagow fishing boats, an easy local subject that just keeps giving. Clinker-built with a flat bottom, as the river is tidal up past Carrick-on-Suir with lots of mud flats. They often sit idle in the estuary in the winter, filling with rain, and often even sink, only to be refloated and repainted in the spring.

Skelligs
Skelligs

I have taken many iterations of this same photograph over the years, one of my other favourite places on Earth, the Skellig Island, last vestige of Europe, twelve miles off the Irish south-west coast, here framed by the twin chimneys of a ruined cottage in Finian’s Bay. I probably took 30 or 40 photos on the day I took this one. To add to all the others over the years.

Copper Coast sunset
Copper Coast sunset

Shooting directly into the setting sun above the ruins of the Cornish Engine House situated on the cliff top at Tankardstown, above the old deep copper mining shafts. To get the sun and ruins silhouette, I had to use a high ISO, so there’s a lot of noise (grain). It came out as I wanted, though this is another subject that I revisit.

Brooding Copper Coast clouds
Brooding Copper Coast clouds

Clouds are rarely worth taking. But some days seem dramatically perfect for aerial shots, with a calm sea beneath. Tramore bay in the autumn.

Racing the spray (healed,cropped,).resized_modified

From that summer storm post again, I was pleased with the candid fun nature of this photo.

Dover Light
Dover Light

Dover has three lighthouses within the harbour, one at each side of the harbour mouth, (the northern one seen in the blog banner), and this one is on the end of the Prince of Wales pier. The curved nature of the small lighthouse helps reduce the photographic no-no of converging perpendiculars usually associated with taking high building from ground level.

Folkestone Harbour dawn
Folkestone Harbour dawn

One thing I am (very slowly) learning about photography, is to the chase the light, particularly early morning and late evening. Harder in the northern latitude when the days can be up to 18 hours long and I don’t really like getting up very early.

ZC2
ZC2

I wrote on the marathonswimmers.org forum that I’d long wanted to get a good shot of ZC2 as it was one of my original ideas for the name of this website. I didn’t choose it as a name because it was too esoteric, too easy to mixup in casual conversation. ZC2 is a key waypoint for Channel solos. Being too far north/outside of it, as you sweep south-easterly on the ebb tide, means you will likely miss the Cap after the tide turns. I took this during Alan Clack’s Solo, he was within metres of it, whipping past it metres every second with the tide, passing on the inside. The day wasn’t perfect for my ultimate ZC2 shot, but it will suffice. A lot of the time I imagine a shot I want while no-where or no-when near the subject, then have to chase it.

Calais traffic
Calais traffic

We know and talk about the English Channel marine traffic. Many swimmers will have big ship or two pass within a couple of hundred metres. But as you look out from Varne or the Cap, that traffic volume isn’t readily obvious, distance and haze and light obscuring it. This photo was taken with a 200mm telezoom just before a late dawn on a November Sunday morning on the Varne cliffs, of the traffic outside Calais. I rarely find a use for the zoom, as my eldest, a much better photographer than I warned me, but when you need it, it’s invaluable.

Cap Gris Nez, dawn traffic-resized
Channel Dawn, Cap Gris Nez and the Separation Zone

Cap Gris Nez is directly across from Varne, often visible. Once again the telezoom before dawn shows the middle of the Strait and the far side traffic, directly in front of the Cap and the radar station on the Cap itself. Foreshortening diminishes the width of the Separation Zone, at its narrowest point in front of the Cap of about a mile width, and seen here graphically between the northeastward-bound and southwestward-bound ships.

Channel Dawn, the Seperation Zone
Channel Dawn, shadows and light

I have a great fondness/weakness for photos of shadows and light on the sea, caused by clouds and/or under-exposure. Just an occasional time, some of them work. In truth, I love almost any kind of photo of the sea.

You know, people buy cheap prints in TK Maxx and Home Furnishing stores to put on their walls and everyone has the same ones, the Brooklyn Bridge, a random beach, whatever. Contact me and you can get an original canvas print for yourself!

Swimming to the Emerald City
Swimming to the Emerald City

Swimming Manhattan. Dee took a photo of my and kayaker Brian swimming down the Hudson that I have a liking for, I’ll always think of it, (whimsically), as swimming toward the Emerald City.

Paraic's bench
Paraic’s bench

This is a bench erected at Varne Ridge, following an idea from Rob Bohane, by friends and  members of Sandycove Island swimming club, in memory of Páraic Casey.

A pictorial tour of my 2012 open water swimming locations

This post is now part the My Swimming Life, 2012 series.

I must start with the Guillamenes and Tramore Bay and Kilfarassey of course, my main swimming locations.  My usual range in Tramore Bay is between Newtown Head (under the pillars) to the beach, along the west side of the bay, most of the range seen in this first photo, with much less regular venturing across or out deep. (I also regularly leave the bay by passing around Great Newtown Head into Ronan’s Bay).

Tramore Bay
Tramore Bay, May 2012

Swimming range in Kilfarassey is mostly based around swimming out and around Brown’s island, Yellow Rock and the big arch. Once the water warms up I will up past Sheep Island.

Kilfarassey, August 2012
Kilfarassey to Sheep Island August 2012

Other locations on the Copper Coast: Bunmahon, Gararrus and Ballydowane. I didn’t, that I recall, swim at Kilmurrin, Ballyvooney or Stradbally this year. Funny how you just don’t make it to some places each year.

Tankardstown, past Bunmahon & to Tempevrick
Tankardstown, past Bunmahon (in behind the middle medium island) to Tempevrick
Ballydowane Cove across to St. John's island
Ballydowane Cove across to St. John’s island
Gararrus across to Sheep Island
Gararrus across to Sheep Island with Eagle Rock just visible behind

Clonea beach, but only a couple of times. I didn’t swim at Baile na Gall.

Clonea beach across Dungarvan Bay to Helvick Head, new Year's Day, 2013
Clonea beach across Dungarvan Bay, past Carricknamoan, to Helvick Head, New Year’s Day, 2013

Sandycove, Garrylucas, Ballycotton, Myrtleville and across Cork Harbour.

Sandycove panorama
Sandycove panorama, the first and fourth corners of the island to the Red House
Garrylucas, April 2012
Garrylucas, April 2012. Most boring photo of the year?
Ballycotton Lighthouse
Ballycotton Lighthouse
Myrtleville beach at dawn, Oct. 2012
Myrtleville beach at dawn, Oct. 2012
Roche's Point to Power Head
Roche’s Point to Power Head

Round Beginish Island, but I missed swimming at Derrynane, Finian’s Bay or Kells this year, which are usual Kerry locations for me most years.

Valentia Island and Sound panorama with Caherciveen bay and the small islands, July 2012
Valentia Island and Valentia Sound panorama, with Caherciveen bay and the small islands, July 2012

Kingsdale to Deal, Dover Harbour, and Cap Griz Nez.

Kingdale Beach
Evening on Kingdale Beach
Dover Harbour from Dover Castle, July 2012
Dover Harbour from Dover Castle, July 2012
Les Hennes to Cap Gris, July 2012, taken on one great day with good friends.
Wissant beach to Cap Gris nez, past the WWII bunkers, July 2012, taken on one great day with good friends.

Inishcarra, Coumshingaun and Bay Lough are the lakes I can recall swimming. First year not swimming in any of the Kerry lakes for a while.

Inishcarra reservoir
Inishcarra reservoir
Coumshingaun Lake panorama
Coumshingaun Lake panorama, Comeragh Mountains
Bay Lough
Bay Lough, Knockmealdown Mountians

And of course Coney Island’s Brighton Beach and Around Manhattan.

Brighton beach, Coney Island
Brighton beach, Coney Island
Lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan

All photos are of course my own.

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. :-)

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
Bollards

Summer Storm Force on the Copper Coast

There is no swimming in this post. I really wanted to get swim just for the fun of it, but there was no safe exit point except at the pier and I knew I’d cause mass panic there, probably resulting in Rescue 117 being called out again. Does this mean I am growing up? Surely not.

Storm season is a nice phrase. Like Earthquake weather. And like the reality of  earthquake weather, storm season in Ireland is 12 months long, (as it seems for the past five years anyway).

Still, a couple of times a year we get a really big blow that hits the south and south-east. It’s half way though August, the month most Irish people take their hollyers (annual vacation), and a big low depression out in the Western Approaches drove a howling short-duration south-easterly Storm Force 9 onto the south coast. A south-easterly always provides a spectacle on the Waterford coast. Two trees were lost on the Loneswimmer Estate, and the brand new replacement diving board at the Guillamenes was snapped off, a board so heavy it took 6 adult men to lift recently.

High tide was late afternoon, and the wind increased from mid-day, luckily not hitting the maximum Storm Force until a few hours after high tide had passed. Anyway this is just an introduction. Everyone loves storms pictures. I took a lot of photos (400!) at the Newtown and the Guillamenes, Tramore Pier, Ladies Beach, and both ends of the Prom and managed to whittle a few I liked from the lot. (I’ve held a couple other back for future use, including my favourite). Long time regulars might have noticed I starting reducing resolution earlier in the year, to save me uploading full resolution images which weren’t required, it saves me time and WordPress Server space, and  saves you trying to load a 200 MB panorama pic. (I still have to go back and tidy up some of those, housekeeping isn’t fun).

Newtown Cove was wild before high tide and despite the rising storm, the sky was blue and the day was warm.

The sea breaking down onto the Newtown Cove platform. The blue sky only lasted a few minutes later than this image and was disappearing by the time I walked back to the car park.

Outside the Cove it was pretty big, waves looked about five to six metres, with occasional set waves at maybe seven to nine metres.

With the howling onshore, this meant breaking waves with spray reaching up to about 80 feet high.

The Guillamenes platform was completely inaccessible as waves exploded over it, occasionally even breaking over the top of the changing alcove. It wasn’t safe to go down past the first couple of steps, and it certainly wasn’t dry.

No wonder the diving board snapped with the volume of water bearing down on it.  Normally the board would be removed before the worst of the storms hit.

The bay provided a nice canvas. Tramore is a shallow bay, it was this type of onshore storm that was responsible for the loss of the Merchant Marine vessel the Seahorse in the late 19th Century in the Bay, and led to the erection of the pillars on Newtown and Brownstown Heads at either side of the bay, pillars you are well used to seeing here, the indicators of my swimming home.

The bathymetry of Tramore Bay is a long sloping sandy bottom with sandbanks going out a long way, which cause waves to jack up and break far out in these conditions.  And of course the bigger a wave the farther it reaches down to touch bottom, the slowing of the bottom of the waves is what causes it to break from the top as the lip spills over.

By the time I reached the pier, there were rain showers and photography became a bit more difficult.

From Newtown Head, past the Guillamene and Comolene rocks, into about a hundred metres in front of the pier under the cliff, was the direct straight line from the incoming south-easterly waves. The bay is shallow in front of the pier and there also are reefs and heavy thick kelp beds to suck the energy from the waves before they hit the cliff under where I was standing. And I finally got a decent image of something I’ve long been trying to capture; direct line of an onshore storm.

Taking pictures of just the sea is bloody difficult. Like you always look heavier on camera, photos often strip the power, grandeur and pure scale from the sea. This image isn’t as showy a photo as big breaking waves, not as obvious as most of my shots here, but this is a sea-lover’s image, at least, this sea-lover anyway.The beaten-steel grey-green of the Atlantic, Mananán Mac Lir howling and driving his chariot led by his white horse, Aonbarr of the Flowing Mane.

I shot some brief video above the pier, but with nowhere in the deep cliff-edge grass to anchor the small tripod and the wind buffeting me, I had to keep it short. I took also some video on the waterproof camera, but I haven’t reviewed it yet.

I moved into town, but got no good images at Ladies Beach. I’d gone through most of the lens wipes in my camera bag trying to keep the lens clear.

The town end of the Promenade and seawall is always popular during onshore storms, waves breaking on the wall, and you can get close enough for reasonable photography because there’s a nice dry spot right at the end of the prom. This time I didn’t spend too much time on the usual photos from here, and focused on some other stuff, life a father and son running and laughing and racing the spray over the wall. And the spray itself. I got really lucky on this one.

I went around the prom and onto the beach beyond the Surf Centre for a contrary view with the town providing the backdrop. I still miss the yellow and red of the lifeguard centre, the white roof is characterless.

I wish I’d been able to wish Hook yesterday, it must have been fun out there.

I really wish I were a better photographer, but I’ll keep trying. About 15 good images from 400 is an improvement on my previous rate of 1%. I have high resolutions of these images, if anyone want to purchase any by the way.

If anyone cares, someone(s) nominated loneswimmer.com for four categories in the Irish blog awards.

The categories for which I’ve been nominated are;

  • Getting Cold And Wet While Covered in Sheep Grease
  • MAMIL (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra)
  • Special Category for Inventive Use of Baby Dolphin Juice
  • Doing Stupid Things While Devilishly Handsome But Also Cold And Wet And Still Wearing Sheep Grease And Lycra

I’m told the award for the last one is a rubber statuette.

Maybe. Categories are never what they should be. LoneSwimmer.com will pass 150,000 views within a week and that’s not including the direct subscribers. I’ve got you readers, you keep putting up with this nonsense, ergo … je suis tres contente. Thanks again to you all.

Lots of thrift.resized

The Copper Coast: a Thrifty shore

Powerstown head from the Guillamenes

Sea Thrift that is, Armaria maritima, also known as sea pinks.

First thrift of 2012

Ireland’s Copper Coast has a lot of it, growing all along the coast on the cliff edges, in rock crevices and stony ground where nothing else grows.

Growing on otherwise clear stony rockfall

It’s a perennial which has a high drought and salt tolerance, in fact it seems to do best in the driest, most exposed locations, especially along cliff edges.

Faded Thrift on clifftop above Kilfarassey

Older plants will grow larger clumps of leaves and roots.

On top of a rock spire at entry to Gararrus

It’s apparently highly copper tolerant, and flourishes along the Copper Coast, and in fact if the Copper Coast were to have an icon flower it would have to be the thrift, which displays a subtle range of colour from pink to mauve and purple from plant to plant.

Its season is early summer, so the coast is rampant with it at the moment, one of the signs of summer for a south-east open water swimmer, water reaching 10 degrees Celsius, and passing the thrift on the steps down to the Guillamene.

When I think of it, and therefore the photographs I take, are as I most commonly see it, silhouetted against the sea or the sky, framing events in the sea, or faded but still present during the winter, and always standing against the onshore Atlantic winds.

Thrift & Sheep Island, sea, sky and flowers.

When you can appreciate thrift in such extraordinary scenery, why would you want to trap it in a domestic garden?

Thrift against sea and canoes at Kilfarassey

It seems I’ve taken a lot of pictures of thrift (there are 98 tagged in my library so far and many more I still want to take, so you can image it was difficult to choose just a few), from early season buds, to summer blooms and late season stragglers to dead winter flowers.

Winter Guillamenes thrift

Apparently … I love sea thrift.

Donal swimming in front of Brown's Island, Kilfarassey

Project Copper – reflections and debrief

You Are Now Leaving The Copper Coast - Safe Home

Reflections on Project Copper.

I’ve swam about 54,000 metres to cover the 25 kilometre coast, which were swum as a series of out and back swims, so every metre of coast was swam twice.

With the experience I’ve gained of the various currents on this stretch of coast, I now know there are longer swims that could be done unsupported, and still allow a decent safety margin (by my standards anyway). But I had to do it the way I did in order to learn that.

I’ve passed what must be literally hundreds of caves along the whole coast, many small, some big, a few huge, some rarely exposed to the sea, and many, usually the biggest, only visible from swimming out at sea. I’ve swam around every large rock on the coast and found the names of places and rocks I’ve always wondered about. Apparent synchronicity is usually an emergent feature of deeper interest.

I’ve walked miles of occasionally precarious cliffs photographing places I’d swam or planned to swim and I’ve climbed over hedges, walls and hopped many an electric fence and ditch, visited historical sites, and walked across what’s left of a few neolithic promontory forts. I’ve taken hundreds of photos for your edification and enjoyment (and have shown you the best ones) and written thousands of words, which has often taken longer than the actual swimming.

Sea Ivory above Garrarus

I’ve seen emerald samphire and orange crocosmia, blue grass and vivid red poppies and verdant ferns, actinic sea-holly festooned with beautiful metallic six-spot burnet moths, and heathers and daisies and daisy-like flowers, grey sea-ivory and a few faded remaining sea-thrift all along the cliffs and come to appreciate even humble lichen, Verrucarria maura, and particularly Xanthoria parietina, which adds so much colour to this coast.

Fulmar

I’ve seen almost every kind of local bird including Cormorants, Guillemots, Shags, Swifts and Swallows, Herring and Greater Black-Backed gulls. I think I saw some Kittiwakes, a few Gannets, lots of Fulmars, occasional Terns and Sanderlings and other small birds I don’t recognise nor can separate. Herons, two Kestrels, a curlew and two groups of my new favourites, shy cliff-top Choughs and I was dive-bombed by fifty of so gulls off Gull island at the eastern edge of the coast, and I swam right off Google Earth’s current high-resolution map range.

Choughs on the cliff edge

I’ve seen, of course, all the local jellyfish, sprats, crabs large and small, and an occasional larger fish emerge from the green, usually only visible on northerly winds and around reefs, bass and mackerel hunting on the reefs and I’ve seen starfish and anemones and a seal, though less fish that you might expect, since I suppose they think of me as a particularly splashy seal.

I’ve talked with kayakers, lifeguards, fishermen (haven’t met any fisherwomen), divers, surfers, spearfishers, Paula from the Copper Coast Geopark office, (who introduced me to a great new book on the Waterford Coast which helped me identify various plants and fauna and place names), Ryan the 4th year UCC Geology Major who had a headache from all the different rocks in tiny Ballvooney cove, tourists and locals, children and adults and dogs.

I swam in calm and rough, chop, wind and groundswell, sun, rain and cloud, onshore and offshore and no wind and all tides. I’ve been scared and exhilarated and excited and delighted and entertained. I’ve swum through tunnels big and small, and sea-arches, around islands of every size on this coast, and into and across caves, coves, estuaries and bays.

I’ve started to think about geology more, and recognise both the transient and permanent natures of our coasts more than I ever did as a surfer, and seen the damage the Copper Coast is suffering from coastal erosion (up to 2 metres per year, in some places).

I haven’t seen a stretch of coast that doesn’t have some item of rubbish on it. I had the wits frightened out me by a large plastic bag floating (neutrally-buoyant) upside-down in the sea, and I contributed to the pollution by losing my own nalgene bottle on one swim.

Sea Holly

I actually finished Project Copper a week ago, but it takes time to write all this up. I didn’t set out to do a swim every day. One day was lost due to fog, another due to Carol’s Ballycotton swim.

Doing it in this incremental fashion gave me all these experiences and awareness and knowledge that a normal marathon swim wouldn’t have unveiled, and it’s been a pleasure to share as much of them as I could with you all.

I’ve seen all the colours of open water swimming. I’ve confirmed my long-held belief that Waterford‘s Copper Coast is one of the most beautiful and under-rated stretches of coast in Ireland.

Ronan's Bay and Illaunglas from Great Newtown Head - large panorama

What did I learn? You can find adventure anywhere. You don’t have to swim the English Channel or cross the Antarctic or spend a fortune. There are plenty of Firsts out there if you want to seek them out.

Go to the sea. It’s waiting, always, always waiting for you.

Swimming in front of Brown's Island, Kilfarassey

The Project Copper Idea. Criteria and range.

The ten swim expeditions

  • Guillamene to Sheep Island: Exposed. No exit from Guillamene to Garrarus. Westerly current. Higher marine traffic. About 9.5 kilometres.
  • Kilmurrin to Boatstrand. Various strong and often contrary currents. Water can be very rough when not rough elsewhere on coast. Interim exit possible only on west side of Dunabrattin head. About 4 kilometres.
  • Kilmurrin to Tankardstown. Strong westerly currents. Water can be rough when not rough elsewhere on coast. Exposed, no exit, scary. About 4 kilometres.
  • Bunmahon to Tankardstown. Can be rips on Bunmahon beach. About 4 kilometres. Interim exit possible at Stage Cove.
  • Annestown to Kilfarassey. Along long beach, easy exit from water almost entire length but a long walk along beach which is cut off on high tide. Watch for hidden reefs along surf line. About 5+ kilometres.
  • Annestown to Boatstrand. Can pick up and amplify swell when nowhere else does at Boatstrand end. Safe exits. Lots of pots and lines and some fishing boats and possible seals near Boatstrand fishing harbour. About 6+ kilometres.
  • Kilfarassey. Above mid tide only. Lots of hidden reefs. Easterly current between Sheep Island and Brown’s Island. Surging waves on beach above mid tide. About 6+ kilometres. Possible exits on about 70% of length.
  • Bunmahon to Ballydowane Cove. Exposed and hidden from rest of coast. Westerly currents. Hidden reefs. About 5+ kilometres. Possible exits but no way to walk back, except first kilometer on low tide.
  • Ballydowane to Ballyvooney. Westerly currents at Ballyvooney end, easterly current at Ballydowane end, reaching St. John’s Island . No exits. About 6 kilometres.
  • Ballyvooney to Stradbally. Very strong westerly current between Gull island and Stradbally. No exits. About 4.7 kilometres.
All swims marked on the same (large) map below.

The Project Copper Map - completed
Kelp

Ballyvooney to Stradbally – the last Project Copper swim

Ballyvooney Cove and danger sign

Ballyvooney Cove is on the smaller coast road between Stradbally and Bunmahon and is not well known. It has heavy shingle and is difficult to walk on above mid-tide, like some of the others along this coast like Annestown. It’s only a couple of hundred metres across and the same to the flanking rocks.

To the south-west is Gull Island, the largest of that name along this coast, and the cliffs rise steadily from the relatively low height around the cove to highest and most vertical on the Copper Coast. The only break between Ballyvooney and the north-eastern end of Clonea’s beach and Ballyvoyle is the narrow and shallow cove at Stradbally, cut out by the river Tay. Stradbally Cove is invisible from the east until you are right outside it. Further on is Ballyvoyle Head which is pretty inaccessible from land and is the headland which juts out furthest in the sea on the entire Copper Coast.

Project Copper Last Swim - I wish I was smiling in this picture, I was enjoying myself after all

It is the last swim of Project Copper, and the shortest distance.

With the coast curving around (westerly) toward Stradbally before curving out (south-westerly) toward Ballyvoyle Head, I hoped that the curve would mean I wouldn’t be exposed to too many currents. However, I would be swimming out of range of Goggle Earth’s high-resolution images, and back into an area covered only by the very low resolution images I’d previously had for everywhere on the Waterford Coast, useless for swim planning or even accurate distance measurement, until this year, when the high-resolution images were added.

Gull Island

Hoping I’d have time to play with, and remembering the previous swim, that I hadn’t made it the whole way to Ballyvooney, I’d have to finish this swim by swimming back into the range of the previous swim, I swam directly for the outside of Gull Island, but didn’t make the far outside of it for twenty minutes. Oh-oh, might be another current.

Gull Island closeup

At the island, unsurprisingly given its name, there were good numbers of seabirds, all the usual suspects, who took to the air en-mass to wheel around, cry and dive for closer inspection. At least 50 birds must have taken wing, probably the largest number of seabirds I’ve disturbed.

After passing outside the island I continued diagonally in toward the coast, aiming for the next headland, guessing Stradbally would be past it. I was watching the section of high cliff for a minute or two before realising, I shouldn’t have been noticing it so much, so that meant I wasn’t making progress. After five minutes I was sure that I was making no forward progress, and not knowing from which direction the current may be coming, I started to zip-zag. First I tried outwards and still not making headway, before finally starting to move again as I tried headed toward the cliffs.

Stradbally Cove beach

I turned the very interesting headland around Stradbally at 50 minutes, 10 minutes longer than my estimate, and spent another ten minutes swimming into the cove, turning, swimming around a few stacks outside the Cove and heading back to Ballyvooney. I covered in about five minutes the distance it had taken me twenty on the way outwards, by far the strongest current I’ve encountered on this entire stretch of coast, a sting in the tail of Project Copper. Returning, this time I passed inside Gull Island , then swimming across the Cove again to overlap my previous swim, and then into the cove for a difficult climb out on the shingle, in a time of about an hour and thirty, longer than anticipated.

Shale cliffs

I met Ryan, a 4th year UCC geology, and asked him a few geology questions beyond the basics I’ve picked up over the years, before I swam. Ryan had chosen Ballyvooney for hist 4th year project and had been on site for over a month and still had a lot of work to do, due to the complexity  of geological features in the tiny cove.

Black & white worn rocks at tide line

And walking around it shingle and beneath the low cliffs, the riot of colour just in rocks alone was beyond any other location I’d seen, and I’d seen a lot of colour already.

Yellow rocks

Ryan had gone (I’d suggested a visited to the Old Red Sandstone est of Ballydowane Cove after he said he preferred sedimentary rocks, maybe he went) so I couldn’t ask him about the particularly striking small section of pale and golden-yellow rock, with a few sparse growths of seaweed attached.

I took a lovely image of some shale with embedded quartz, which, like those picture of beach stones and pebbles that I like, also makes a great desktop wallpaper on full size.

 

 

Project Copper is over. I’ve swum the entire Copper Coast, unsupported. I’ll do an overview separately.

Shale desktop

Ballyvooney Bridge

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.

The sea, the colours ...

Kilfarassey – a swimmer’s paradise

In 2010 while Channel training I did the majority of my Waterford training at Clonea, trying to eek out some fractional comfort from the average extra 0.25 degree Celsius water temperatures, after spending the previous few years mainly swimming at the Guillamene, where I returned again last winter and this spring and early summer.

Kilfarassey signposts

But by mid summer I was looking for another location and this time as I explored it more, I grew enamoured of Kilfarassey as a swimming location and it was influential, along with the Guillamene to Sheep Island swim, as the genesis of the Project Copper idea. I was looking forward to talking about Kilfarassey particularly. Prepare yourself for effusive gushing and lots of photographs. In fact it was hard to reduce the number of images I wanted to use here.

Kilfarassey beach & Brown's Island & Sheep Island panorama

The beach is about 6 kilometres from Tramore by sea, as I now know more accurately from the first swim of Project Copper.

Beach cut off by tide sign

At high tide most of the surrounding beach is cut off from the small car park but at a mid to low tide it’s possible to get around the headlands and walk from the west end of Kilfarassey beach to Garrarus car park, three kilometres away.

Brown's Island & rocks from cliff

Right in front of the car park is Brown’s Island, which looks like a single island from the road but is actually a collection of rocks and the larger island in a line.


Brown's Island and rocks
Western end of Kilfarassey beach

To the west end of the beach is a very large sea arch, passable from about half-tide, or lower if you are swimming, since it’s protected by reefs on the east side, but through which you can still swim. This arch could fit three or four swimmers side-by-side and is as high or higher than a room and about 50 metres long.

Western arch and Yellow Rock sea-stack

All along the beach are reefs peeking out are various tides but at high tide giving the impression of fairly empty water.

 

 

 

 

 

There are two particularly tall and imposing sea-stacks, one at either end of the beach, the one at the west end called Yellow Rock.

The western arch end is only about ten or twelve minutes swim from the car park, the east end is further, about twenty minutes or twenty-five minutes away.

Sheep Island & Orthanc and eastern end of Kilfarassey

At the eastern end , around an outcrop of cliff, is the rocky section down to the next promontory and Sheep island outside it. The promontory itself looks like an island with a sandy gap between it and the cliffs.

Promontory inside Sheep Island

Sheep Island is separated by a narrow gap of only a couple of metres. And there is a long narrow tunnel about 75 to 100 metres wide through the back of the promontory. There is a very big sea stack just west of Sheep Island, which I’ve dubbed Orthanc for myself, onto which you can climb on a very calm day with a nice jumping location on the south-west side, from about 4 metres up. There are reefs all over the place down here, and the outside of Sheep Island picks up a stiff easterly current, but even on a rough day, I’ve been able to swim in the narrow gap separating Sheep Island from the promontory.

Long tunnel closeup

Once beyond Sheep Island to the east you are into Gararrus Bay, with the island I’ve previously dubbed The Watchtower just on the other side of Sheep island, on the Gararrus side.

Eastern promontory arch with Dee for scale at low tide

There are huge arches through the promontory inside Sheep Island, which can just be swum at high tide and are portaged by canoeists.

Brown's Island from east side

On prevailing onshore winds the area is of course rough. I’ve swum out to Brown’s Island, it takes about 10 minutes to get to the near side on a calm day and you can add five minutes for a rough day, and another ten to circle around to behind all the rocks on the far side.

Reefs seen through old cliff wall

Once out at the island, there are plenty of opportunities for swimming between the rocks, in fact it feels like there are two arms of reefs reaching out from beyond the the main island that you can swim between, and the largest of the reefs also has another narrow, one-person-wide tunnel through it. The reefs are light coloured rock beneath the water and on a sunny day are fascinating with the variation of colour and shape and kelp and fish. There’s something that I love about looking at the steep reefs while that drop off suddenly underwater, it’s like flying around mountains.

The sea, the colours ...

The only downsides of Kilfarassey are its exposure to onshore prevailing winds, and the fact that at low tide too much reef is exposed, restricting the area that can be swum. On a bright day the area is spectacular from the cliffs, although this also applies to the entire Copper Coast.

Tipperary colours, blue & gold

There are all the usual Mid-Waterford coast sea birds in the area along with choughs and plenty of cliff to walk on both east and west sides of the car park.

Chough in flight

The erosion of the cliffs can also be easily seen, there are regular overhangs where all that is left is the final bed of topsoil with plant root systems holding it in place, so keep your distance from the edge.

All the colours and more

Kilfarassey has become a swimmer’s paradise for me. I wanted to wait until I’ve done a lot of swimming there before I “unveiled” it here, as it’s not like I’ve discovered it, though I guess like the rest of the coast no-one has anywhere near the same amount of experience swimming it as me.

They say green and blue should never be seen together. They're wrong.
Cormorant and Fulmar on The Watchtower

The entire coast is hugely popular with canoeists and kayakers for the variation in geography, and it’s been many the time that I’ve been getting in the water this year after passing Mick O’Meara’s seapaddling.com‘s van. Mick is a veteran of a round-Ireland canoeing expedition, who arranges trips and training all the way along the coast and the gallery on his site shows a lot more of the arches and tunnels, since he can actually carry a camera with him. I’ve actually talked to more canoeists this year since I started moving up and down the coast more, but have yet to talk to Mick at sea. Mick, I’m the guy in the orange hat!

Faded Thrift through cliff wall

In fact one day I swam around the back of the Brown’s Island rocks, and there, standing precariously on one of the small rocks, was a guy in a high-vis lifevest. He had his kayak (not canoe) hoisted onto the rock and he was barely balanced there. I don’t know which of us was more surprised. I stopped to talk. But it turned out that he was Polish, and didn’t seem to have great English. I asked if he was okay, which made me laugh afterwards, he had a boat, I had a pair of goggles and we were a kilometre from the coast, what could I do?

Divers at low tide

On this picture I didn’t even know there were divers out there until I saw the photograph.

I picked one particular swim for this post, and, given how long this post already is, I’ll only give brief synopsis.

Kilfarassey swim map

West from the car park, around Yellow Rock, through the arch, back around the promontory, across to Brown’s Island and outside reef, weave through the reefs and swim through the small tunnel in the second rock, swim around the big island, then strike out across to Sheep Island, passing Orthanc on your left, a swim that feels a bit longer as you are swimming into an adverse current, swim back out around the outside of Sheep island, again weave through the reefs and swim in the narrow gap separating Sheep Island to the big promontory, swim the inside of Orthanc, up along the beach, back out around the next reefs  and into the main beach. There are plenty of variations.

Oh, there’s one other problem with Kilfarassey. I’ve been swimming it solo, when I want to share with friends. Describing it is like being Steven Black, Mike Harris, Liz or Finbarr fifteen years ago trying to explain Sandycove before it became the world-famous swimming location it is now. Kilfarassey is fantastic, and right now it feels like I’m the only swimmer that knows it.

Hope you enjoyed this post. If you feel like exploring Kilfarassey, drop me a line.

Bunmahon to Tankardstown

I thought I’d already posted this swim, as in the swim report for Bunmahon to Ballydowane, I alluded to previously discussed knowledge of Bunmahon from years visiting it and as the surf spot that I know best, even better than Kilmurrin. I must have spent hundreds of hours surfing here. As a swimming location it can be dangerous on swell, producing a powerful undertow at a higher tide, and it’s taken the lives of a couple of people over the years. This swim was a companion specifically to the Kilmurrin to Tankardstown swim, to complete the same stretch of coast.

The small beach break belies its unprepossessing appearance by producing a series of shifting, fast, steep and occasionally very big waves and as such is much-loved by local surfers. Even on swell though it’s pretty mushy and mundane at low tide with the power best unveiled on a rising tide.

West end of Bumahon at low tide

It was raining and low tide when I arrived, utterly uninviting, with a solitary person walking a dog, a couple of kids in wetsuits with foamies, and the two lifeguards, Bernie and Kate, sheltering in the prefabricated metal lifeguard hut. Only in Ireland would we make beach lifeguard huts metal. After I’d explained what I was doing, I started from the west end of the beach where the locals and regulars park, even though it has only a small amount of the space of the main car park. The main car park is for tourists!

Bunmahon beach low tide

I swam away east, swimming along the beach through the mushy channel area, the tide being low meant there were none of the channels or rips that often occur in the centre of the beach apparent. I passed the Mahon river mouth and swam out of the small bay after about 12 minutes. I passed though a section of rocks, with the almost unknown slipway and difficult to access of Stage Cove up at the high tide line.

Stage Cove slipway

I wondered if I was going to run into the current and difficult conditions that typified the Kilmurrin to Tankardstown swim from the opposite direction, though even though there was a similar onshore wind, I believed I might be lucky with the low tide, and so it was, as I passed across the tiny Stage Cove and into the area below the cliffs, moving past the rock of Cassaunagreena, now exposed by the low tide. The cliffs coming from this side sloped more slowly up the height of the Engine House and old main mine shafts, all of 240 metres deep, well below sea-level.

Cassaunnagreana Rock

And then I had a slow-ish swim to pass under the Cornish Engine house until I was past, in line with Drumboe rock under CastleCoileen, and therefore sure that I’d overlapped the swim that ended around there on the Kilmurrin to Tankardstown, in much worse conditions.

The water conditions were nowhere near as bad as they were on a higher tide, with all the reefs now exposed, even though it was a cloudy and dull day, with the rain still falling.

Drumboe rock at low tide in the rain, reefs exposed

Because of the low tide of course, I was further out, and that also reduced the sensation of the menacing overhang of the cliffs. I’d reached turning point in a mere 40-ish minutes. The swim back was uneventful, a few turns around reefs  and to swim around the reef and rocks outside the Mahon estuary, and slowing as I swam up the beach, losing a few minutes on the return but finishing in about one hour and twenty-five minutes.

Old Mine Shaft Warning Sign and crab apples

Bunmahon to Kilmurrin is one of the most interesting sections of the Copper Coast, with the Cornish Engine House as the centre-piece, the surroundings nicely landscaped, new walking paths and guides all over the area. There are a lot of old mine shafts along this section but all have been safely cordoned off and sign-posted, some of the old signs in place for a long time.

Old Bunmahon mining industry area sign click for detail

Understand this and you will understand Ireland

Bunmahon to Ballydowane Cove

Bunmahon lifeguard flag

I had some nervousness about this swim for a few reasons. Having previously discussed my familiarity with Bunmahon, I’ve written about the dangers on the beach. These don’t worry me because it’s a very localised danger, for inexperienced or non-swimmers, that covers an area of a few dozen metres squared.

But I recalled a couple of times surfing there in clean large groundswell, when a strong south-westerly current developed pulling outward and around the headland at the west end of the beach and it was a current from which it took a look of paddling work to extract myself.

So I was apprehensive that there may be a continuous current running west and I’d be swimming back against it. My plan was to start to Bunmahon though and go westwards. I could have started at Ballydowane and come eastwards, but again I knew even less about the currents outside Ballydowane. So I decided the devil you know (or at least suspect) is always better.

When I got there it was about low tide or slightly after so for this area that meant I’d be running into a slightly increased tidal current, and, I’d be swimming a location of which the only knowledge I had, was my OSI map and Google Earth. Like all these swims, sailing maps are useless because it’s too close to rocks. The coast stretches south-westerly for most of the planned swim, changing to westerly then north-westerly ending in Ballydowane cove.

So I had to be more analytical about this swim, from a theoretical angle.

I decided I would swim try to get to the edge of Ballydowane cove as my target before tuning. It was hard to estimate possibilities. I decided to assume I’d start with a tail current, if it wasn’t present. The coast out there was complex, not the straight length of Annestown to Kilfarassey, nor the under cliff nature of Tankardstown. More like Dunabrattin Head but without a similar “wave-catching” setup. But potentially the current was also likely run in the opposite outgoing direction by the point at which I hoped to reach before turning, and to speed up, caused by John’s Island, into Ballydowane Cove.

Currents are more like to appear the flow is interrupted or compressed so islands or headland are usually the areas of concern. Also there were smaller landward smaller stacks and almost-headlands, and plenty of reefs. All I knew were the triangular rocks of — from seeing them from the cliff top from a few miles away, which was useless since I could only estimate which ones there were from the map but even know the shape of something is can be useful. Big triangular rock somewhere between Bunmahon and Ballydowane, but had to be one of the one that after the first third of the swim. Having maps doesn’t solve all problems since I wouldn’t have them with me in the water. Though I suppose I could have brought it in a ziploc bag. And maps are useless for vertical shapes, or remembering which headland was which until I’d swam passed them.

Currents visible outside St. John's Island & Templebrick

If the currents were a real problem, though, I had at least some exit points between reefs where I could potentially walk a hundred metres or so, and there were a couple of these. Also, since it was low tide starting going more into a rising tide, keeping inside the outside points might reduce potential flow, (though sometimes the exact opposite can happen). But then again I didn’t know how much area might be exposed by the low tide and force me out.

So what I ended with from my gedankenexperiment was a range of possibilities, of things that could happen that I might have to deal with, and therefore I wouldn’t be surprised.

Last things, given these possibilities: let the Bunmahon beach lifeguards (Bernie & Kate, hi ladies!), know I was heading out (I’d met them earlier in the week). And bring a bottle. I decided to forego a carb addition, I was estimating approximately anything from one hour thirty minutes (unlike) to two hours thirty (slightly more like, but think probably around two hours to two hours and fifteen minutes. Water would be sufficient but the sun was out again and I would be better to have it, so I put my trusty remaining OTG bottle, survivor of the Channel, and much else, on a string and d-clipped to my togs again.

Outward around the coast was straight forward, keeping away from reefs. About fifteen minutes saw the far east end of Bunmahon beach disappear and I passed lovely names Slippery Island, which with the tide out and its craggy sides was neither. And around then the triangular island  of Templebrick that I know from the cliff top appeared. But it wasn’t really triangular from here. It was the shape of the dorsal fin of a porpoise, curving up out and back and underneath and there were two of them, large and small and black in shadow of the east side with the sun shining from the south-west ahead.

Templebrick Islands outside Bunmahon. If you swim around the back quite close, that rock arches out over you.

Swimming on a bright day is great, but on the coast it also brings deep apparently impenetrable shadow until you are close enough to see into it.

I passed outside the two islands, as they turned out to be. Passing, and having passed, the two islands I checked and double checked for currents. The first check however was initiated by something unusual, a large splash within a metre of my right arm. It seemed maybe one of the birds had dived right near me, but nothing came up near me, though I’ve often seen that Guillemots will usually emerge a distance from where they entered. On that check there was no noticeable current, thought on the second only a few minutes later, I’d picked up a slight tail current. But it didn’t seem too strong to come back against. So I decided to continue.

If you understand this, you understand Ireland ...

The track was now changing to westerly with the tall bulk of St. John’s island outside Ballydowane slightly north-west of me and I seemed to close the distance fairly quickly one of the scenarios I’d thought possible.

Poppies & daisies over Bunmahon

The colours of the coast here were spectacular in the southern sun, with deep golden lichens, the vegetation on the cliff varied and even the faded sea grasses growing in the salt wind and poor soil still had the vibrancy of summer verdure. There was a small estuary, where the lower cliffs dropped to shambles of broken rock and an invitational path inland that I later saw was marked on the OSI map as Coomeenmacarren.

On the map it’s a negligible but beautiful Irish word, the Coomeen-, indicative of its hollow topography, not jumping out at you until you see it physically, and separating Coomeenmacarren from the back of St. John’s Island is a short couple of hundred metres of vertical red sandstone cliff and fronted by a deep red sand beach, eroded from the cliff, glowing in the sunlight like almost consumed embers, which only say warmth, and not danger.

St. John's Island from Ballydowane

I reached outside the looming bulk St. John’s and into the edge of Ballydowane Cove, my watch indicating fifty-five minutes had passed and it was time to turn rather than swim into the beach and back. I took some water and started back.

I didn’t watch the time closely as I felt relaxed with no great difficulty and decided to go inside the Templebrick islands, stopping once again at another location where all the Phalacrocoracidae seemed to congregate, each looking like they were imagining having their picture taken for their album of 80’s New Romantic covers, Cormorant and the Guillemots, so that they were all trying to strike the most dramatic pose just in case Annie Leibovitz happened by with a Hassleblad. There’s something endlessly interesting about these birds.

Passing behind the island turned out to be difficult and the way through and over the kelp and reefs was circuitous before I emerged at the far side. For here I continued for about six or eight minutes to the inside of the next reef which required a reroute to outside. I decided to have a drink, pulled the string that had been trailing me and … my bottle was gone. Only the large lid remained, large enough that it had been catching water and straighten in the string enough that it seemed the bottle was there. It must have been on those shallow reefs and kelp on the back of Templebrick. I could turn back, maybe ten minutes, who know how long looking when anyway, the bottle would probably still be either moving or stuck on reef or trapped in kelp that I might not see.

No. This was fitting. Let it go. Farewell sweet bottle, yellow bottle, favourite bottle, God of bottles, the perfect bottle, that bottle that has survived the English Channel when its sibling was lost in the boat accident. The bottle than only last week I’d written a draft post on and which would now be its obituary. And yet, was it not fitting that this Nalgene OTG bottle was lost at sea? Is that not the very existential crux of everything a sports bottle or an adventurer is? Somewhere out there, is the bottom half of yellow bottle with #1 and DONAL written on it and affixed with transparent duct tape (an invention which should have been awarded a Nobel prize, yes, I know inventions don’t get Nobel prizes, duct tape should be the first). Should you ever find that bottle, well, use it well. I’ve kept the lid, someday it will feed me again.

Note to self: Next time put your email or website on the bottle also, you bloody idiot.

And then an uneventful finish now against another slight adverse current. The return in fact took me almost twenty minutes longer than the outward, finishing in over two hours and five minutes. Another leg of Project Copper done. An interesting but somewhat scary leg again, this time because of the isolation, there are no roads near the cliff-tops, no houses, nowhere you can be seen from and nothing you can see except the headlands of Ballyvoyle and Dunabrattin miles and miles away along the coast on either side, no fishing traffic and not many kayakers. This is quieter end of the Copper Coast, the coast I’ve set out to conquer, in my own way.

Bunmahon to outside Ballydowane Cove

way.

Annestown to Kilfarassey

Back at Annestown within a couple of days, when I doubt I’d been here for a year.

Annestown beach with groundswell, Dunabrattin Head in the distance

I’ve described Annestown from a surfing point of view in the Annestown to Boatstrand post. When I arrived, it was a bit different. There was some actual groundswell (not very large), the sky was blue and the day was warm. Hooyah.

(I’d originally written that sentence as “when I showed up”, which made it seem like it was an event, which made me laugh when I re-read it).

Danger - Unprotected Cliff Path

The tide was dropping and near low tide. This could mean only one thing. And a walk up to the cliff edge only confirmed it.

Surfers on the reef on a small clean swell

Surfers on the reef.

Obviously surprised by the timing and sudden brief swell there were only four out, with a couple on the way. How many times have I climbed the cliff myself to look down at the reef over the years?

I’ve often been out there myself surfing, wondering and talked vaguely about the long beach disappearing east, if there were more surf-able reefs further on? I’d heard there might be. But one of the surfer’s sayings is never leave a good break looking for a better one. And this could be a very good break. And I recall what it was like to sit there, with Brown’s Island on one side, a seemingly endless beach on the other, cliffs in front and waiting for swell, and how everything seemed so big.

My friend Bill, who grew up surfing in San Diego in the 60s, once told me that he’d never had to paddle more than about a minute to get to waves. Part of that is the small California tidal range, maybe other reasons. On a different subject, maybe some day, if he agrees, I’ll publish my story about some of Bill’s adventures here. I wrote some of them up last year, he’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and he’s got stories that will chill you.

It’s completely normal for surfers in Ireland to have to paddle five minutes to break, maybe more, Crab Island, a world-famous and pretty dangerous surf location in Clare can take up to 20 minutes depending on conditions. But even as a surfer a 20 minute paddle on a board is a long time. You don’t really do that voluntarily. Not like you do as a lone swimmer.

The low tide had drained the gap between the coast and Brown’s Island. So I walked across the new sand, meeting local surfer and ex-pat Aussie Brett, whom I hadn’t seen in years, probably the best longborder in the country, before stumbling and falling across the rocks. I gave up and crawled into finger deep water and dragged myself through the kelp and across the rocks, and within a long 20 metres I was into clear water.

Brett on the reef

Taking a direct line along the coast I swam along the line of the swell, and came to the Reef within minutes. It was odd, swimming through the surfers, bringing back a host of memories. I didn’t stop to talk, just swam though the bunch, precisely on the line of the pre-breaking wave. I wondered what my reaction would have been back then if some lunatic with a swimming cap and nothing else swam through the pack, heading into the distance. I’m pretty sure I would have thought that as a surfer I knew more, that the poor swimmer was obviously either 1:) an idiot, 2:) ignorant of the sea, 3:) demented, 4:) all of the above.

I swam toward the promontory, passing various unsurfable reefs, the straight cliffs high and bright in the southerly sun, reminiscent of Dover and the White Cliffs.

Brown's Island to West Kilfarassey Promontory with Burke's Island

I reached the promontory at around forty minutes. The water past Hawke’s Cliff at this end wasn’t as nice, though the wind hadn’t changed. Once again it was probably the effect of the swell being pushed and compressed into the area between the beach and the promontory, and since it needed somewhere to go, it pushed back out in channels, and reflections.

The sea arch at Kilfarassey under the western promontory, in the centre of the image

One look at the large sea arch, one of the largest on the local coast, I knew it wasn’t safe to swim though on the swell, so I swam around the promontory and over the large sea stack, with Kilfarassey beach directly in front of me, less than ten minutes away before turning back and swimming under the promontory to inspect the entrance on the opposite side of the promontory, but the reefs at the entry were exposed, leaving only a narrow entry, ad the arch too unsafe in the swell even from this side. No matter, I’ve swum through it before.

Annestown and Hawkes Cliffs

So back around the promontory and back down along the beach beneath the cliffs, the conditions improving and the water calming once I passed about halfway down the long straight stretch. halfway down I swung outward to pass two reefs on the other side, with the swell dropping quite quickly, as it usually does, unlike chop.

Once again I swam through the surfers, but as I approached Brown’s Island I could see the tunnel was exposed and dry, so I turned outward, to swim around Black Rock. How many Black Rocks and Gull islands are there around Ireland’s coast I wonder, or even around the world?

East (back) side of Brown's Island and Black Rock

The current from a few days previously was against me, but the distance was short, and once on the outside, I stopped to appreciate the view and bird population on the outside, with this being one of the few places which had Cormorants, Guillemots and Shags all together along with the usual Herring and Lesser Black-Backed gulls.

From there it was a five-minute swim into the beach with the dropping swell, where I body surfed a few waves and used the last wave to lift me up and put my on feet in knee-deep water. Another slightly over five kilometres new swim.

Annestown to Kilfarassey

Annestown to Boatstrand

So why not come at Boatstrand from the opposite direction? I asked myself. And then I answered. Why, no reason. No reason at all. of course, since yesterday’s post, you now know why.

Annestown is another part of this coast I know better from surfing. I’ve never even really seen a reason to swim here. It’s a nice little straight beach, outside Annestown village.

Annestown beach & village
Annestown Beach plaque

Annestown beach is fairly shallow. From a surfing point, it’s boring, the wave doesn’t have much power. Except in very large conditions, when the beach can actually hold a big wave and allow it to break. That’s pretty rare though. And being a beach break, getting out through the waves then becomes a problem, Unless you know the secret, not a channel in this case, but paddling behind some rocks in a narrow passage that allows you to get out behind the breakers.

Brown's Island at low tide

To the left of the beach is Brown’s Island, outside which becomes another few smaller islands when the tide is past half in, separated by narrow channels.

Brown's Island gap

At low tide there’s a sand (previously rock) gap between Brown’s and a two kilometre long beach on the other side, otherwise the far side is cut off, though there is a precarious cliff top walk as there is along most of this coast. Though I have no real idea, I’m suspicious of the sand in the gap. It seems too flat and uniform, so I’m guessing it was trucked in. I’ve seen this beach since before I was even surfing. I can remember when it was mostly sand on the main stretch. About 10 years ago a big winter storm covered it in rocks. It seems unlikely the gap would get covered in a nice level layer of sand. And there’s now an entry for vehicles through the rocks onto the lower beach.

Far side of Annestown and Annestown reef stretching to Hawke's Cliff and Kilfarassey

Also over on the other is The Incredible Wave, the “official” name for what local surfers call Annestown reef, a great and challenging reef break, the only one of its kind on the entire stretch of coast, and therefore a complete zone of bedlam, aggression and nastiness when it’s breaking. My surfing story from there? A guy having his eyeball popped out by a drop-in, (one of the worst sins in surfing), something I’d forgotten until I wrote this.

Get to the swimming! Okay. The area between Annestown and Dunabrattin Head is actually called Dunabrattin Bay, probably of how because the Head and the islands off Annestown reach out, rather than it being a true bay.

Dunabrattin Head & Bay (large image)

I started about an hour and a half after low tide. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. Is that the most mundane sentence ever repeatedly written? I’m happy to write it, since it doesn’t happen enough here. The wind was Force Two westerly, so I decided to head toward Boatstrand. I went out around the rocks I knew were in the middle of beach and headed diagonally toward the far rocks, passing inside Carrighdurrish Rock then threaded through the rest, passing in side the larger Corcoran’s Island stack, exiting the section and passing into the stretch of coast called Speedy’s by local surfers, passing the steps to Speedy’s at thirty minutes, and passing well inside the Carriginnyamos reefs. I entered the water before Knockane strand called, also by local surfers, Rock Bottom, after the next slight promontory. Rock Bottom is only known to the experienced local surfers. It’s hard to access requiring a clamber down the cliff, not popular when carrying a fragile surfboard. And it has a reputation of moving a lot of water in it, plenty of submerged reefs and being quite dangerous.

Annestown to Boatstrand & Dunabrattin Head across Dunabrattin Bay
Calm Sunny low tide Boatstrand Harbour a few days later

I reached the pier at Boatstrand and barely swam into harbour entrance before swimming out a hundred metres to Carrigaseach completely unregarded by the folks enjoying their afternoon on the inside strand.. The water had gotten quite flat in the last two hundred metres before Boatstrand harbour, being sheltered from the westerly wind by Dunabrattin Head. No seals around the rocks, I headed directly back this time,aiming for Corcoran’s Island as the yellow lichen on the pillar caught the sun and acted as beacon amongst the dark grey rock.

Rock Bottom and Speedys from Boatstrand

Passing Rock Bottom further out this time, I was surprised how large the swell grew for a couple of hundred metres. It was rolling through at about two metres! And I inadvertently swallowed a mouthful, which hasn’t happened in a long time. I stopped to coughing and maybe throw up , but I didn’t.

I felt like I was returning quicker, but as I reached Corcoran’s Rock, I was at most two minutes ahead.

I stopped for a quick position check and decision, and there, only an arm length away was a Herring gull, just hovering in the breeze and looking at me with its small dark expressionless eyes. I’m used to being followed or even occasionally dive bombed by sea-birds, but this was the closest one has ever come.

Current behind Brown's Island

At this point I decided on extending the swim slightly and head across well outside of Annestown to swim around the out-most rock. I stopped in line with the outside and could see there was a strong current pushing me east. No surprise, I’d seen it in binoculars from the cliff top before I started. Once past I turned in along the rock, then turned east again to swim though the first gap, and was now back on the western Annestown side. I passed the secret passage mentioned above, not actually secret obviously, just a narrow passage, and then, passing Brown’s Island, I saw the tide was right to swim through the tunnel  that goes through the island, which can’t be done at low or high tide, and got back the east side, and with the incoming tide now having covered the gap, I swam finally through the gap separating Brown’s Island from the coast.

The tunnel though Brown's Island

The tide had risen enough to be at the bottom of the steep rocky higher part of the beach and the exit was really difficult. One hour fifty-five minutes, a nice swim, just under six kilometres.