Tag Archives: Dover

A guide to Dover for Swimmers – Part 3 – Bits ‘n Pieces

It seems every few months WordPress hiccups on the publishing and a post gets screwed up on publishing. This is the second post of this, apologies as usual to those receiving this twice.

This is the last post in the series, and is a mish-mash of random Dover and environs information that may be useful for travelling swimmers.

  • Pilot boats and Dover Marina and Parking

Many of the pilot boats are kept in the Dover Harbour but equally others are berthed in Dover and move to Dover for swims. You should make a n effort to visit the boat with your crew before your swim. Since Dover Marina is protected, you’ll need to get the access codes from your pilot.

Parking for the Marina is under the Clock Tower. During the day, like most of Dover it’s Pay and Display. If you are  going out on a Channel swim you need 24 hour parking which is available from the Dover Marina office.

Dawn behind Dover Marina Clock Tower

  • Channel grease

As I mentioned in the second post, Channel Grease, contrary to Lynne Cox’s book, is no longer available for purchase in Dover or Folkestone. You may be able to buy it in Varne Ridge, but it’s easiest to just make your own.

  • Maxim or other feedstuffs.

Neither Dover or Folkestone, nor Canterbury have anywhere where you can buy Maxim or similar, even in the Holland & Barrett or so-called Sports Nutrition retail outlets. You can order Maxim from Freda Streeter via Irene Wakeham on the Google Channel Swimmers chat Group, if you are a member, to collect on the beach, on Saturday or Sunday… So yes, again, just bring your own.

  • Electronic night lights.

Lights as with Maxim, can be ordered from Irene, but could also may be readily available from Irene on Saturday and Sunday mornings on the beach during Channel training without ordering, but that’s a risk to take, especially late in the season. May also be in stock in Varne Ridge for guests to purchase. Bring your … you got it by now?

  • Shakespeare Beach and Samphire Hoe.

Shakespeare Beach is the departure point of Captain Webb and many subsequent Channel swimmers. It begins just outside the South Harbour wall and runs down about a kilometre to  under the rising cliffs toward Folkestone. Shakey is a steep shingle beach like the harbour beach and is generally not used for swim training as it is exposed and popular with beach anglers during the day. Access to the beach can be difficult to find, but is past the Dover Port Building. Take the next turn after the Marina bridge when travelling toward Folkestone. There is (paid) parking outside the Port building and it is a very brief walk tot he beach.

Samphire Hoe is built of the spoil from the Channel Tunnel excavation and is a large wildlife area beneath the cliffs south of the town. Many swims start from Abbott’s Cliff on the south side of Samphire, a couple of kilometres from Dover. Access to Samphire Hoe is via a one-way tunnel (no pedestrian access) through the cliff off the London/Folkestone road. Parking there, like seemingly everywhere else, is paid. Access is only open from 7am to 9pm. In rough weather very large waves beach over the seawall and the area is considered unsafe in such conditions.

  • Restaurants
Dino's
Dino’s

Dover has a few places that are popular for Channel swimmers. For those going on a pasta binge there is Dino’s in Castle Street, La Scala opposite the Town Hall, and Il Rustico in the town centre on the other side of the pedestrian underpass. All are good. Dino’s is good and has a place in Channel history having been the great Des Renford’s favourite restaurant in the seventies. It is more subdued and requires a more respectful customer, but it’s worth it. There’s a photo of Des on the wall there amongst press clippings cover the decades of operation, and the now-elderly Italian chef is the same Chef who attracted Des as a repeat customer.

A cheaper and close to the beach location for traditional takeaway is the Castle Street Fish ‘n Chip shop, two doors up from Dino’s. Open times are short, lunchtime from 12 until 2pm and evening from 4pm to 9pm. Danny Walsh and I first noticed it 2008 when we saw a queue of locals outside, the best possible sign. The last two years the quality seems a bit more variable, but I rarely got to Dover without a visit.

  • Accommodation

You should be in Varne Ridge of course. But if you’ve left it too late, there’s a reputedly good and expensive Best Western right on the esplanade.

Hubert House
Hubert House

Up on the hill just off Castle Street, near The White Horse, is Hubert House, a Bed and Breakfast guesthouse that has long been popular with Channel swimmers and which has some of the record-setting charts on the walls. Rooms are variable in size, with the one I only stayed in once being tiny and hot. Not ideal for a prolonged stay but popular with repeat customers.

Amongst the many other accommodation venues used by swimmers is the Castle View B&B. Another much larger and general (no special accommodation for Channel swimming)  mobile home/ holiday park close to Dover in St. Margaret at Cliffe. Sandown Guest House in Dover is popular and recommended (see comments) and has self-catering accommodation and the owners regularly visit Shakespeare Beach to support guests who are swimming.

  • Self-catering shopping

Dover town centre itself is not good for shopping.

There’s a poor Co-Operative in the centre. There’s a large Tesco Extra outside town, and being able to find your way to it from the Town Centre through the one-way is a sign of a very seasoned Dover-goer. I’ve given up and think it exists in some kind of spatial Klein Bottle anomaly. The easy but longer way to travel the Canterbury Road until it appears on your left. It’s always slightly further than you think it will be. Getting back into Dover via the one-way system is much easier!

Folkestone has a large ASDA in the town centre below a multi-story car park and an Sainsburys between the Dover Road and the Harbour, that is easy to find and get to. It’s also only about five minutes drive from Varne so it’s most popular with Channel Swimmers doing a weekly food shop … every day.

  • Tourism

Channel swimming can lead to a lot of time on your hands. Dover’s pre-eminent attraction standing above the town is the 12th Century Dover Castle. It’s a large site and an excellent way to pass most of a day containing as it does the Secret World War Two Tunnels which were headquarters for the Dover evacuation and central to the Normandy Landings; remains of the Roman Lighthouse; the large surrounding enclosure and buildings which were used for various functions during WWII; the large central Tudor Castle and Keep; and a British Military history museum, which is you come from one of colonies may leave you with an entirely different impression than the glorification of military conquest and might. There’s a coffee shop also, so you don’t starve by being away from food for an hour. There are two ubiquitous gift shops, which contains not a single item of Channel swimming memorabilia. Dover Town Council and English Heritage which operates the Castle are at best dismissive of the not-insignificant income brought into the local economy by visiting swimmers and crew every year.

Dover Castle & Castle Street_MG_1633.resized

Dover and Folkestone town centres are grim but Folkestone is the better of the two. The nearest town of historical and shopping interest is the medieval town of Canterbury, birthplace of playwright Christopher Marlowe (Doctor Faustus). Canterbury is a very popular tourist location, especially during the summer weekends when parking and driving can be challenging. It’s about twenty-five minutes drive from Dover. The town centre retains much of the old layout and architecture. Most famous is the twelfth century Canterbury Cathedral, the original Anglican Mother Church and location of the murder of Thomas Beckett by Henry II to facilitate Henry’s remarriage. It’s a paid tour, but entry is free during Evensong.Driving Day-trips to France can be done by ferry, with booking the previous day the best option, with an online booking discount, or by Channel Tunnel. Either lead to Calais and Cap Gris Nez is within easy driving distance.

Travelling to France for a day trip is also popular. If you are in rented car you probably can’t bring it outside the UK. But if you can or you have your own car, then you can choose either the usual fast ferries, or the train through Channel Tunnel. Ferries go from Dover, with multiple crossing every hour. The closest/last Chunnel station is outside Folkestone. Ferries drop you in Calais, the Chunnel outside and a trip south-west to Cap Griz Nez only takes about 45 minutes drive, with a car park right at the Cap. The view down onto the Channel is very interesting for a swimmer with the strong currents often visible.

  • Pubs

The White Horse

The important pub in Dover for Channel swimmers is The White Horse. Some swimmers, particularly those living closer, don’t seem enamoured of it, but I really like the place, given its place in our shared culture and I have spent more a little amount of time there over the past five years. Successful Channel relays and more importantly Soloists may, on production of proof, sign the walls or ceiling. If you do this soon after your swim it’s far easier. Much time can be spent searching for your friends, and discussing their various swims and the legends of the Channel.

The Royal Oak up near Varne on the Capel-le-ferne road has recently started replicating this in a fashion, with whiteboards for swimmers to sign. Given its closeness with Varne there is a close connection between the two and those staying at Varne especially will sign The Royal Oak which just needs to commit to a more permanent record for swimmers to feel this is not a short-lived fad.

Colllins Yard is closest to the beach adjoining the Marina and also serves food. When it can actually manage to get service right. Repeated experience has shown its food is poor and service is worse.

I hope this series improves your first trip to Dover. Enjoy, maybe we’ll meet over there.

Related articles

A guide to Dover for Swimmers – Part 3 – Bits ‘n Pieces

This is the last post in the series, and is a mish-mash of random Dover and environs information that may be useful for travelling swimmers.

  • Pilot boats and Dover Marina and Parking

Many of the pilot boats are kept in the Dover Harbour but equally others are berthed in Dover and move to Dover for swims. You should make a n effort to visit the boat with your crew before your swim. Since Dover Marina is protected, you’ll need to get the access codes from your pilot.

Parking for the Marina is under the Clock Tower. During the day, like most of Dover it’s Pay and Display. If you are  going out on a Channel swim you need 24 hour parking which is available from the Dover Marina office.

Dawn behind Dover Marina Clock Tower
Dawn behind Dover Marina Clock Tower
  • Channel grease

As I mentioned in the second post, Channel Grease, contrary to Lynne Cox’s book, is no longer available for purchase in Dover or Folkestone. You may be able to buy it in Varne Ridge, but it’s easiest to just make your own.

  • Maxim or other feedstuffs.

Neither Dover or Folkestone, nor Canterbury have anywhere where you can buy Maxim or similar, even in the Holland & Barrett or so-called Sports Nutrition retail outlets. You can order Maxim from Freda Streeter via Irene Keel on the Google Channel Swimmers chat Group, if you are a member, to collect on the beach, on Saturday or Sunday… So yes, again, just bring your own.

  • Electronic night lights.

Lights as with Maxim, can be ordered from Irene, but could also may be readily available from Irene on Saturday and Sunday mornings on the beach during Channel training without ordering, but that’s a risk to take, especially late in the season. May also be in stock in Varne Ridge for guests to purchase. Bring your … you got it by now?

  • Shakespeare Beach and Samphire Hoe.

Shakespeare Beach is the departure point of Captain Webb and many subsequent Channel swimmers. It begins just outside the South Harbour wall and runs down about a kilometre to  under the rising cliffs toward Folkestone. Shakey is a steep shingle beach like the harbour beach and is generally not used for swim training as it is exposed and popular with beach anglers during the day. Access to the beach can be difficult to find, but is past the Dover Port Building. Take the next turn after the Marina bridge when travelling toward Folkestone. There is (paid) parking outside the Port building and it is a very brief walk tot he beach.

Samphire Hoe is built of the spoil from the Channel Tunnel excavation and is a large wildlife area beneath the cliffs south of the town. Many swims start from Abbott’s Cliff on the south side of Samphire, a couple of kilometres from Dover. Access to Samphire Hoe is via a one-way tunnel (no pedestrian access) through the cliff off the London/Folkestone road. Parking there, like seemingly everywhere else, is paid. Access is only open from 7am to 9pm. In rough weather very large waves beach over the seawall and the area is considered unsafe in such conditions.

  • Restaurants
Dino's
Dino’s

Dover has a few places that are popular for Channel swimmers. For those going on a pasta binge there is Dino’s in Castle Street, La Scala opposite the Town Hall, and Il Rustico in the town centre on the other side of the pedestrian underpass. All are good. Dino’s is good and has a place in Channel history having been the great Des Renford’s favourite restaurant in the seventies. It is more subdued and requires a more respectful customer, but it’s worth it. There’s a photo of Des on the wall there amongst press clippings cover the decades of operation, and the now-elderly Italian chef is the same Chef who attracted Des as a repeat customer.

A cheaper and close to the beach location for traditional takeaway is the Castle Street Fish ‘n Chip shop, two doors up from Dino’s. Open times are short, lunchtime from 12 until 2pm and evening from 4pm to 9pm. Danny Walsh and I first noticed it 2008 when we saw a queue of locals outside, the best possible sign. The last two years the quality seems a bit more variable, but I rarely got to Dover without a visit.

  • Accommodation

You should be in Varne Ridge of course. But if you’ve left it too late, there’s a reputedly good and expensive Best Western right on the esplanade.

Hubert House
Hubert House

Up on the hill just off Castle Street, near The White Horse, is Hubert House, a Bed and Breakfast guesthouse that has long been popular with Channel swimmers and which has some of the record-setting charts on the walls. Rooms are variable in size, with the one I only stayed in once being tiny and hot. Not ideal for a prolonged stay but popular with repeat customers.

Amongst the many other accommodation venues used by swimmer are the Castle View B&B, another much larger and general (no special accomodation for Channel swimming)  mobile home/ holiday park close to Dover in St. Margaret at Cliffe.

  • Self-catering shopping

Dover town centre itself is not good for shopping.

There’s a poor Co-Operative in the centre. There’s a large Tesco Extra outside town, and being able to find your way to it from the Town Centre through the one-way is a sign of a very seasoned Dover-goer. I’ve given up and think it exists in some kind of spatial Klein Bottle anomaly. The easy but longer way to travel the Canterbury Road until it appears on your left. It’s always slightly further than you think it will be. Getting back into Dover via the one-way system is much easier!

Folkestone has a large ASDA in the town centre below a multi-story car park and an Sainsburys between the Dover Road and the Harbour, that is easy to find and get to. It’s also only about five minutes drive from Varne so it’s most popular with Channel Swimmers doing a weekly food shop … every day.

  • Tourism

Channel swimming can lead to a lot of time on your hands.

Dover Castle & Castle Street_MG_1633.resized
Dover Castle from Castle Street

Dover’s pre-eminent attraction standing above the town is the 12th Century Dover Castle. It’s a large site and an excellent way to pass most of a day containing as it does the Secret World War Two Tunnels which were headquarters for the Dover evacuation and central to the Normandy Landings; remains of the Roman Lighthouse; the large surrounding enclosure and buildings which were used for various functions during WWII; the large central Tudor Castle and Keep; and a British Military history museum, which is you come from one of colonies may leave you with an entirely different impression than the glorification of military conquest and might. There’s a coffee shop also, so you don’t starve by being away from food for an hour. There are two ubiquitous gift shops, which contains not a single item of Channel swimming memorabilia. Dover Town Council and English Heritage which operates the Castle are at best dismissive of the not-insignificant income brought into the local economy by visiting swimmers and crew every year.

Dover and Folkestone town centres are grim but Folkestone is the better of the two. The nearest town of historical and shopping interest is the medieval town of Canterbury, birthplace of playwright Christopher Marlowe (Doctor Faustus). Canterbury is a very popular tourist location, especially during the summer weekends when parking and driving can be challenging. It’s about twenty-five minutes drive from Dover. The town centre retains much of the old layout and architecture. Most famous is the twelfth century Canterbury Cathedral, the original Anglican Mother Church and location of the murder of Thomas Beckett by Henry II to facilitate Henry’s remarriage. It’s a paid tour, but entry is free during Evensong.Driving Day-trips to France can be done by ferry, with booking the previous day the best option, with an online booking discount, or by Channel Tunnel. Either lead to Calais and Cap Gris Nez is within easy driving distance.

Travelling to France for a day trip is also popular. If you are in rented car you probably can’t bring it outside the UK. But if you can or you have your own car, then you can choose either the usual fast ferries, or the train through Channel Tunnel. Ferries go from Dover, with multiple crossing every hour. The closest/last Chunnel station is outside Folkestone. Ferries drop you in Calais, the Chunnel outside and a trip south-west to Cap Griz Nez only takes about 45 minutes drive, with a car park right at the Cap. The view down onto the Channel is very interesting for a swimmer with the strong currents often visible.

  • Pubs
The White Horse
The White Horse

The important pub in Dover for Channel swimmers is The White Horse. Some swimmers, particularly those living closer, don’t seem enamoured of it, but I really like the place, given its place in our shared culture and I have spent more a little amount of time there over the past five years. Successful Channel relays and more importantly Soloists may, on production of proof, sign the walls or ceiling. If you do this soon after your swim it’s far easier. Much time can be spent searching for your friends, and discussing their various swims and the legends of the Channel.

The Royal Oak up near Varne on the Capel-le-ferne road has recently started replicating this in a fashion, with whiteboards for swimmers to sign. Given its closeness with Varne there is a close connection between the two and those staying at Varne especially will sign The Royal Oak which just needs to commit to a more permanent record for swimmers to feel this is not a short-lived fad.

Colllins Yard is closest to the beach adjoining the Marina and also serves food. When it can actually manage to get service right. Repeated experience has shown its food is poor and service is worse.

A guide to Dover for swimmers – Part 1 – Dover Harbour

Dover shingle
Dover shingle

Like my previous guide to swimming in Sandycove, there are people who live in Dover and swim there (far) more regularly than I. But also like that post, in the absence of any of the people from either place writing about the respective locations, my articles will hopefully suffice and provide some useful information for some of you.

Dover is, and likely always will be the centre of the open water swimming world, as it was the starting point for Captain Webb’s first crossing and is still to this day the launching point for the world’s most famous swim. As such it fills the place that Katmandu and Chamonix do for climbers, or Wellington for Antarctic explorers. These are locations where like-minded individuals can bump in each other in the street, on the beach or mountains, or in the pub.

Dover is a port town, the port town in British history, and is a mix of history and modern transient commerce and social deprivation. It is also the place of swimmers and for many visiting Dover may have a Channel solo or relay booked and be down for a training swim or a reconnaissance or of course their actual swim window, or just want to swim in such a famous location.

This will be a three-part post; Part One about swimming in Dover and Part Two will about Varne Ridge Caravan Park, and the Part Three will be general information about Dover and the region that might be helpful for those visiting.

The swimmers in Dover_MG_1663.resized
The Swimmers art work on Dover esplanade

The picturesque white Edwardian building along the esplanade belie the visual aspects of most of the rest of Dover, and in the sunlight the area is very pretty and well maintained. The area is paid parking seven days a week from 9am to 6pm with parking ticket dispensers situated regularly along both side of the road.

Dover esplanade south -resized

Swimming in Dover Harbour is generally done by Channel swimmers, aspirants and crew from Swimmer’s Beach on the north-east end of the beach, which is the left end of the beach facing out to sea, bounded by the first concrete breakwater.

First time visitors may often feel intimidated and change at the Bus Shelter twenty-five metres up on the esplanade, however it is fine to just jump into the group and have a chat, as that is what many of the group are also doing. With weekly tide windows many of the people visiting will also only be there a short while, and the conversations and casual meetings and chats on Swimmer’s beach are for me anyway, the very high point of Dover. You never know whom you will meet, whether it’s King of the Channel Kevin Murphy, Big Love Nick CS&PF President Adams or Jackie Cobell, or someone from Ireland…

Irish (Sandycove) Channel swimmers at swimmers beach: Rob Bohane, Ciaran Byrne, Craig Morrison and Mr Supercrew the other Ciaran (O'Connor).
Irish (Sandycove) Channel swimmers at swimmers beach: Rob Bohane, Ciaran Byrne, Craig Morrison and Mr Supercrew the other Ciaran (O’Connor). There’s nowhere to put your bags while swimming.

During the summer season from early May until about mid September, solo and relay swimmers train every Saturday and Sunday morning from Swimmer’s Beach. Swim training is carried out under the watchful eyes of Channel General Freda Streeter and her crew of lieutenants Barrie the Shingle Stomper, Irene and Michelle.

Swimmer training in Dover DSCF3042 cropped-resizedChannel training is open to all swimmers of either persuasion, i.e. CS&PF or CSA, but does require a small fee for the season which will cover all the Maxim you can swallow and solo swimmers usually start at 9am while relay swimmers start at 10am. Occasional swimmers who wish to join the group still must pay a small fee.

If you don’t want to show up for the early morning training you can of course swim at any time and Swimmer’s beach is still the usual starting point.

Dover ferry_MG_1671-resized
Ferries also enter through the harbour wall as well as entries to the north and south.

There are three very important things to note about Dover beach:

  • The large tidal range of the Channel
  • The steep beach is shingle not sand
  • The entire harbour in NOT open to swimmers

Dover Sandals IMG_0105_modified

Dover can and swimmers slipway DSCF4104-resizedCombine the first two factors and you will be entering the water at any point on a steep beach. At very low tide there is a sand bottom and climbing the shingle is a very uncomfortable or even painful experience at any time of the tide and sandals are essential, along with someone to throw them down to you or collect them. This is a lesson that once learned is rarely forgotten. There is a concrete and stone slipway to the right of Swimmers Beach which can also be used for entry and exit, but instead of rocky is extremely slippery and there is a railing that runs across the end that is often submerged, so great care should be taken when entering that way.

One of my favourite things about swimming in Dover, is the underwater sound of the stone shingle shifting and slipping.

Swim range marking on (north/left) Ferry Pier
Parallel white swim range marking on (north/left) Ferry Pier

Over the years tensions about possible hazards and safety issues between Dover Authorities and swimmers was reduced by the introduction of an allowed range for swimmers in the Harbour. This outer limit of this range is marked by a pair of parallel white lines on the ferry and Prince of Wales piers. These can be seen from land but from either side of the harbour. There are two different signs indicating range but they don’t entirely agree as one is older.

Outside swim range markings on the Prince of Wales pier
Parallel outside swim range markings on the Prince of Wales pier. The clock-tower is out of view to the right from this angle.

The easiest way when heading to the north (left) end of the harbour is to aim for the corner between the esplanade and the pier. At the south (right) end the Harbour Clock-tower roughly marks the range and is easy to see except in late afternoon when you can just swim toward the Sun. The safe way to link these points is swim a fixed distance from the shore as it curves around from North-east to South-west.

Most of Dover Harbour from Dover Castle
Most of Dover Harbour from Dover Castle

The water in Dover Harbour is generally murky.  On occasion it can be impossible to see your hands, or even your upper arms. It is also very salty which can certainly require some adjustment and having some liquids ready after swimming is essential.

There is no fixed direction as swimmers can approach the beach from either direction. Swimmers usually swim the full range from pier to pier and care should be given to sight forward regularly to avoid head-on collisions. There are also marking poles (cans) along the beach section which protrude above high tide that should be avoided at the bottom end of beach retaining groins running down the shingle into the water.

The shingle beach, groins, cans, clocktower & pier.
The shingle beach, groins, cans, clock tower & pier at low  tide.

Despite the long piers and outer harbour wall protecting the harbour, because of the size of the entire harbour, strong winds can buffet the beach and result in unswimmable conditions. South-westerly winds cam cause the notorious (to anyone who has swim them) washing machine conditions at the north (ferry) side of the harbour and significant reflected waves result from both the ferry pier and the esplanade resulting in interesting swimming.

Outside of swimming range delineated by red line
Outside of swimming range delineated by red line – click for larger

The harbour is also used for rowing and dingy sailing and training. The only time I’ve seen a jet ski enter it was rapidly removed by Dover Harbour Police, though I am unsure of the regulations surrounding powercraft, I believe they are not allowed within the wider recreational area. (Dover is also the only port in the UK with its own dedicated police force, separate from the local police force).

The Captain Webb memorial is north of Swimmer’s Beach on the far side of the road , instead of logically in front of the sea.

During the summer months the Sport Complex at the far end of the beach from Swimmer’s Beach is open for showers and lockers for swimmers, (but I don’t know the cost or time limitations as I’ve never used it).

Steep stone banks-resized
The steep shingle at Swimmer’s Beach

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.

roz cropped

New CS&PF website launches today – “Welcome to our world”

The Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation, one for the only two ratifying organisations for English Channel swimming launches its new website later today, at 6pm GMT (11 am EST, 2 am AUS). (If you follow the link before then, you won’t get the new website).

CS&PF President Nick Adams, himself a multiple Channel soloist, two-way Solo and more relays than he can remember, and Triple Crown swimmer, and a migration team have helped to bring to life this new website which will inherit the place held by the venerable but dated channelswimming.net.

There’s a very nice new CS&PF logo, I look forward to seeing it on some Soloist swim caps in the future. It stresses the necessary and absolute partnership between  swimmer and pilot. (El Presidente Nick has promised me a beer, I wonder if I could a get a new swim cap instead or just that guest post I keep mentioning … what the hell, why not both? :-) ).

There a few things I especially like, such as putting Captain Webb‘s (possibly apocryphal) comment right up front. It’s a motto that means an awful lot for some of us, (like myself). The more difficult your Channel swim, the more you will embrace it, (you’ll have seen it around here before).

The front page, in what are perfect choices, has photographs of Roz Hardiman and Freda Streeter. For anyone who’s visited Swimmer’s Beach in Dover, especially when the locals are around, Roz will be familiar. She is a legend in Dover, a successful Soloist, who swam without the use of her legs, AND as Kevin Murphy pointed out, without any compensating aid.

And Freda of course is integral to the whole world of English Channel swimming. One sentence or paragraph is hardly sufficient, but there are probably as many Freda anecdotes as there are Channel swimmers.

But there’s more than just bling. The site has everything you need for your first encounter with the ridiculous, insane and obsessive world of English Channel swimming. The pilot and their boats and contact details, training and nutrition advice, the CS&PF Committee and contact details for those also, the venerated 136 year old Channel Swimming rules, (which are the worldwide standard for marathon swimmers), the 2011 swim lists, a couple of Swimmer’s Stories, with more to come (Nick is badgering me for mine, but I haven’t even put it on my own site), updated current Sandettie Lightship weather reading (over on my links also) and more. It’s a veritable cornucopia of delight. And with updated news and event, reason for the old hands and Channel Alumni to visit as well as the Aspirants and the dreamers.

And what is very important, is the unfortunate list of the Channel swimming fatalities. Too many people approach the Channel with overconfidence or lack of necessary humility and fear  (something that greatly annoys many Channel swimmers). Those six people gave their lives in pursuit of the dream and it is correct they should be honoured.

As it says, buried deep in a page, Welcome to our world.

English Channel swimming has a new home on the ‘net.

Come on in, Channel swimming will change your life.

EDIT: Yes,I know. Nick is not happy with the hosting company.

Nothing_Great_Is_Easy

First of the Global Tribe of marathon swimmers

There is a shared heritage of our international tribe and this is the man who started it all in 1875. In Dover this statue stands on the prom in front of the ugly flats, facing the sea, about 200 metes beyond Swimmer’s Beach towards the ferry port. Marathon swimming is a heritage and history of triumph and disaster, storms and sun, dark nights and dull days, bright sunshine and howling winds, waiting and hoping and success and even death, hopes and dreams, cold and tired, pilots, crew, friends, family and swimmers.

Captain Matthew Webb -

It was Captain Webb who dreamed of the Channel AND achieved it … who (possibly or even apocryphally) gave us, English Channel swimmers at least, our motto: Nothing Great Is Easy.

 (not on the Dover memorial)

But it is everyone who tries, and fails or succeeds, who creates our history. We are, like most other tribes whose members are members by choice, a niche group. We exist, in our way, on the fringes, and most people don’t know we’re here. But Captain Webb will always be Primus of us all. I won’t claim Inter Pares for most of us, though when you can stand and talk face to face with greats like Kevin Murphy, Nick Adams, Freda Streeter etc and your friends from around the world, you can enjoy the mutual respect and feeling of belonging that all tribes of choice bring. Thanks Captain.

* I reviewed the biography of Captain Webb a long time ago.

First woman to ever swim an English Channel Double before doing a Solo, Lisa Cummins. With the Captain.

The sound of Dover, Port of Kings

Dover Harbour (really big photo)

Senses sharp. Sub-surface there’s a susurus of sliding shingle. Smooth stones slip and shift and spill while a southerly soughs softly.

The sun shines, and ships slip in and out, sailing to and from the Separation Zone, spiral smoke from stacks screws skywards. Seagulls skim and swoop.

Solitary sandals on the steep shore of Swimmer’s Beach signal serious swimmers, stroking or sprinting, safeguarded from the serious strait by the shield of the seawall.

Sights and sounds of the stronghold of Swimmer’s Beach, Dover, Port of Kings, home of swimmers.

Watching Dover and the English Channel

You don’t have to be planning a swim to get used to watching the Dover weather.

Maybe you have friends over there. Maybe you’re thinking about the distance future. Maybe you’re just a Channel junkie.

First there’s the Shipping Forecast for the immediate future. Of course, you’ll also want to understand it.This what the pilots use. Only time spent in Dover will really demonstrate how even this can be wrong or at least the timing can be out by 12 hours.

You’d probably also want a longer range wind forecast.

Maybe you want to know what it’s like out in the Channel right now, just to convince yourself the pilot made the right decision, so you check the Sandettie. Or if you think you’ve made the wrong decision, you might want to watch AIS. Not to mention the SPOT tracker for the pilot boats.

In Dover, it’s all about the weather.

Time to remind you all of this again.

Back from Dover and a lot to write about when I get a chance.

It was…interesting, often in the Chinese way. Highs and lows, as always with Dover. More friends old and new (Marcel Degreef, Jane Murphy, the Israeli relay team, Caroline Chisholm, Paul Massey, Howard K., Bobo). Success and failure.

I’ve become increasingly convinced that a soap drama set with Varne would entertain the swimmers of the world. We wouldn’t even need a script, just the things that happen every week for the Channel season. I’ve suggested to David that Brad Pitt play him.

What are your suggestions for Evelyn? Plenty of you have been there.

It’s up to Gábor to write up his own story, I’ll be doing a version as some of you know about my other plan.

Anyway, the season still isn’t over, Alan is back to Dover this morning. He hasn’t decided about going public this time, so I won’t give any details for now. Caroline Chisholm is still hoping for a final slot after a loooong wait. Her last chance for this year is on the final unbookable tide in the third week of October. She’s also offered to crew for Alan Smith, so if you are following her blog or Twitter, she’s one of the good ones.

Dover weather window forecast for 24 hours on Sunday

No luck contacting Danny yesterday and this morning, but Dover wind looks to have a window for Sunday night and Monday right now. Southwest swinging occasionally west, (not the best, as we know), 5 to 10 knots, gusts in the evening getting stronger overnight into Tuesday. If it holds at that, and they get offered, it’s certainly doable and they’d both take it I imagine.

High Tide is 6 metres and is 1.30am Monday morning, same as Liam, just after the current forecast predicts the wind dropping, so that’s ok also, and the sky is forecast clear.