Tag Archives: Project Copper

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.


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

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


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.

Project Copper

Anyone following the new swim spot reports recently or looking very closely at the tag cloud (and why would you, since you actually have a life) may have seen a tag called Project Copper on the site for the past couple of weeks.

It recently struck me, in one of those why-haven’t-I-done-this-before moments:

Why not swim all of Waterford’s Copper Coast in a series of connected but unsupported out and back swims.

Official map of the Copper Coast GeoPark

The EU Geopark website says the coast section of the Park is 25 kilometres. I haven’t worked out if it is longer by road or by sea!

Entering Copper Coast road sign

The Copper Coast is one of Ireland’s most unappreciated coastal stretches.

If, and it’s a reasonable assumption if you are reading this, you love the sea and the coasts, the Copper Coast is a fantastically varied and interesting location. Clean water, beaches, stacks, caves, cliffs, long walks, lots of wildlife, and peace and quiet without lots of people.

Officially the east end is located a couple of kilometres outside Tramore Town. For the purpose of this project, I’m considering Tramore Bay as my start. The idea came about after the Guillamene to Sheep Island swim, two weeks ago. The west end is outside Stradbally.

The strands which are used regularly are Garrarus, Kilfarassey, Annestown, Boatstrand, Kilmurrin, Bunmahon, Ballydowane, Ballyvooney and Stradbally, some of these are not at all well-known except by locals. These are the only low sports and gaps in the cliffs that run the entire stretch of coast. The cliffs can reach up to about 80 metres height in places and vary in composition from crumbly earth to pretty stable (but still soft)  limestone. My eldest son is the one with the geology education, maybe I should get him to write about them.

Hawkes Cliff

While people swim at those locations, and there’s plenty of fishing activity and kayaking along between Kilfarassey and Tramore, and surfing as I’ve pointed out at a few locations, from a swimming point of view, it would be interesting and challenging to swim all the connecting stretches of coast that have never been swum before, and do it in a way that would teach me (and therefore you) most about the coast.

But hey, I don’t have a boat or access to one. So I’m doing it all unsupported with no safety or escort boat. Perfect. More new loneswimming. Just me and the sea.

I set myself some criteria:

  • I must swim every metre. Given the fractal nature of coasts what I actually mean by this is that I can’t leave any gaps between two swims, so swims must overlap by at least 100 metres. I achieve this by planning out passing landmarks between sections.
  • I swim regardless of conditions, once the weather conditions meet a basic safety requirement.  This has meant up to Force 5, and no fog. So I can’t be waiting for the best conditions for a new location. Same applies to tide. Whatever tide on the day and no planning for best tidal current.
  • I have to swim on both sides of any significant sea-stack, skerry, reef or island and circle the largest ones.
  • Swims should be a minimum of four kilometres but no swim may last less than hour or three kilometres.
  • I must swim thought any tunnels or arches that connect two different stretches of water. In reality this means about a handful of tunnels of various sizes that I know of now. I don’t have to redo a whole swim if some tunnel isn’t accessible during it, but I must swim it as part of a swim that is of a duration of at least one hour. I’m trying to avoid doing any swim that short though.
  • Since it’s out and back, I’ll swim a minimum of twice the geographic distance. In actuality, I’ll swim more and I can overlap as much as I want.
Most of these are just notions to add more interest and some complexity, like the tunnels.
So here’s the larger area map, from Clonea to Tramore Bay The two centre yellow pins are the two ends of the Copper Coast, the other two are my usual locations of Clonea and the Guillamene. Where would I be without Google Earth? The high-resolution sections of the Waterford Coast have only been added this year, but the west end of the section is still low resolution.

Clonea to Tramore Bay, inc. Copper Coast

Because I like to metaphorically hedge my bets, I don’t talk about swim stuff too much before I attempt it. So I’m talking about this with a good portion of it already done, having already talked about two of the swims. More reports to come, more swimming to do.

p.s. All those Irish names. For those of you from overseas, who find them confusing I’ll do a brief précis another day soon.

From the Copper Coast Geopark website:

The Copper Coast Geopark is located on the South East coast of Ireland, in 
County Waterford. It extends between Tramore in the east, to Dungarvan in 
the west, and comprises 6 local communities: Fenor, Dunhill, Annestown, 
Boatstrand, Bunmahon and Stradbally.

These communities, with the support of the Geological Survey of Ireland, 
were involved with the Geopark since the beginning as they were looking at 
ways of developing sustainable geotourism in this rural area.

The Copper Coast is an outdoor geology museum with a geological heritage 
that reflects a variety of environments under which the area has evolved over 
the last 460 million years. Sedimentary and volcanic rocks illustrate the 
closure of the Iapetus Ocean and subsequent volcanism; the collision of two 
continents leading to the creation of Ireland – as part of a desert dissected 
by large rivers; and, finally, the effects of glaciation during the Ice Age. 
Cross-sections of these are exposed along the spectacular cliffs and 
interpreted for the public at various points. For a brief introduction to these 
rocks, a stroll around the Geological Garden in Bunmahon will prove instructive.

Copper was mined extensively in the area during the 19th Century. The 
Geopark name is derived from this activity. The Copper Coast icon is the 
mine complex on a high point of the cliffs. Panels there explain how the 
system worked.

There is also a rich cultural heritage – Neolithic dolmens, Iron Age forts, 
pre- Christian inscribed stones, ruined medieval churches and a spectacular 
castle owned by one community group.

In recognition of its outstanding volcanic geology, as well as the very 
significant history of mainly 19th Century copper mining; the region was 
awarded the designations of “European Geopark” in 2001, and “UNESCO 
Global Geopark” in 2004.

A Geopark is an area with a geological heritage of European significance. Its 
significance is defined in terms of its scientific quality, rarity, aesthetic appeal 
and educational value.

Here’s a closeup picture of stones on Annestown beach. For no reason other than I like taking closeups of stones. It’s big enough to use as desktop wallpaper if you like. As are almost all pictures here on the site.

Stones on Annestown beach

Kilmurrin Cove to Tankardstown

Having explored Kilmurrin to Boatstrand, an obvious step was to swim underneath the 50 metre cliffs to the west of the cove, toward Bunmahon.

Currents trailing west from Cove Entrance, Captain's Rock peeking around the far headland with the far current just visible

The conditions were typically similar. Force Two onshore. Tide was lower though, only half in the cove.

Back of Captain's Rock, west, outside Kilmurrin

I left via the usual route on the left of the cove aiming to the left of Captain’s Rock, outside the cove. It felt like a long straight swim out.  After 15 minutes the cars above the beach were still visible, I had probably travelled only 500 metres. Ok, this meant I was right into another contrary current, the one I’d seen previously.

CastleCoileen, more currents visible from above

I changed direction, headed in a bit to under the cliffs and aimed for Drumboe rock, the next outcrop along. As I approached it, the ruin of the old Cornish Engine building and the rebuilt chimney stack, high up on the cliff, appeared. These were refurbished a few years backs as part of the Copper Coast Geoparks project.

The conditions here were particularly noticeable, maybe partly because of the isolation. But I’ve often looked down from the cliff top here, and the height strips away what may be happening below unless it’s very big.

Looking down from the cliffs

Once again, like the previous return to Kilmurrin, I was swimming in nasty conditions, not caused just by wind, but by topography. Swimming along the waves, I felt like I was in two to three metres waves and I was swimming across them, through troughs and up peaks.

Drumboe and Carrickadda rocks

I didn’t reach the coast under the mine until 45 minutes since I’d left, very slow. I have to say, it’s scary out there. The water has a different feeling that what I’d expected from my times looking down from the cliff. It’s very exposed, and like Dunabrattin, not for the faint hearted.  On the way back I was getting pushed in under CastleCoileen cliff and next in behind Captain’s Rock, before coming around with the Cove appearing in front. Once again I aimed for the centre of the cove. The large waves that I had been subject to on the other side of Captain’s Rock didn’t seem to however be behind me as I’d expected. Instead it was just choppy water, with a little push as I entered the Cove, and small breakers closing out onto the beach. Once again I picked up time on the return, 10 minutes this time.

Cornish Engine building and site

By staying close in, it’s a scary place to swim, that sense created by some of the higher cliffs along this coast, and the rough state of the water which is amplified once again by the sea floor topography and by the dark lowering sky and added to by strong currents. A short swim of about 90 minutes but not for anyone less than experienced open water swimmers, I think.

Kilmurrin to Cornish Engine at Tankardstown

Kilmurrin to Boatstrand

The first time I ever air-dropped a wave and stuck it was in Kilmurrin.

That’s surfer lingo. Something I’ve rarely used and sparingly. I refused to ever say gnarly, or stoked, for example. In Ireland, I always thought, we had sufficient command of expressive language and a predilection and culture for description such that surfer speak terms were mostly unnecessary.

The best and funniest surfer dude interview, by the way, just in case you’ve never seen it. Watch it. Steve, this one is from your front porch! Check out the remix on the playlist after it finishes also.

But some terms were invaluable to describe aspects of surfing or the sea. A heavy wave. Glassy. Jacking up. Closing outChannel. Not the Channel I usually refer to, but a way of getting through a break by using an outward flowing current.

Mike Parsons air drops

Air-dropping a wave and sticking it, meant the wave rose up so quickly and so steeply that the surfer trying to take off lost touch between the wave and the board, and dropped on the board though the air. Sticking it meant staying on the board and in control after landing, and surfing the wave.

My very old, and very battered, and to this day still never out of my car, the Stormrider Guide to Europe says of Kilmurrin: This is the last resort when storm surf is closing out everywhere. It has a big drop with little else. The wave breaks at the mouth of the cove – don’t venture out beyond it.


The cove has a single house. Someone I surfed with for years lived there and I got to know Kilmurrin Cove better than almost anyone except maybe one or two other people. I surfed in double-overhead left-handed surf, on a crazy vertical A-frame peak (the air-drop), on high-tide kamikaze breaking into 20 centimetres of water surf, on pristine glassy right-hand tubes. I cut opened my head on a skeg there and had to go to the emergency room, the classic surfer’s injury. I once caught a single wave there in Force 11 after ninety minutes of trying to make it 50 metres to get in position, in wind so awful it ripped the door of my car off its hinges after I exited, while the other two people who knew it as well as me refused to get in the water with me, calling it insanity. But still wanting to watch to see what happened. I knew this place and Bunmahon up the road better than my own garden. I guess I even thought of them as my garden.


Kilmurrin Cove & Dunabrattin Head

A few months ago a Twitter contact asked me about swimming from Kilmurrin to Boatstrand, the fishing harbour east along the coast, only a mile by road, on the other side of Dunabrattin Head. We tried to arrange it for last week but the weather and schedules didn’t co-operate.

Left to my own devices, I wasn’t as constrained by worrying about someone else’s safety and conditions.

Strong currents

I had a look at my OSI map. I figured there would be currents around Dunabrattin Head. And I knew from all that experience that there is a really strong rip across the mouth of the cove, running east, even if Stormrider hadn’t also mentioned it. Or if Waterford County Council hadn’t added a sign.

But the cove is only 50 metres across at the entrance, which is what makes it such an unusual surf location. That entrance focuses swell, and the sudden shallowing of bottom makes the wave rear up suddenly, like a watery beast and inside the cove widens to about 250 metres with the hillside around helping protect from wind, so waves can then refract across the cove.

Kilmurrin Cove

The only distortion in the photo are the joined waves in the foreground. It’s such a perfect little horseshoe that it looks like it was taken with a fisheye lens.

When I arrived it was Force Two onshore south-westerly, the prevailing conditions. There’s a channel on the left side of the cove that operates as a conveyor belt out to the entrance.

Dunbrattin Strand on the left

I turned left outside the cove and headed for inside Dunabrattin Head. It quickly became obvious that the easterly current was supplanted by a contrary westerly current and I was in it. As I approached the tiny beach on the west side of Dunabrattin, I adjusted outward to the head. And even more surprising, was that even though it was only Force Two the water was very rough. And occasionally underneath I could glimpse reefs suddenly coming toward me in the waves.

In all my time on this stretch of coast, I had never known Dunabrattin Head was a popular fishing spot. I suppose it wasn’t on my surf radar. But I could see people there as I approached. As I’d headed outward the current disappeared and I started to move at a normal pace.

Anglers on Dunabrattin Head



Close to the rocks I could see there must have been ten guys line angling. In my brief breathing glimpses, all seemed to have stopped to watch. Once again, I was certainly something they’d never seen before in that location.

I arced around the head toward Boatstrand harbour and the water calmed down significantly. There were quite a few skerries at this side. I stopped outside the pier wall in line with the small building I could see, which I assumed was a small ice house or office.

Boatstrand Harbour

Boatstrand is a small working fishing harbour, but I hadn’t been down to the harbour in maybe ten years, and then I was only thinking surf. It had taken me 45 minutes to get to here, a bit longer than I’d guessed, but no worries.

Skerries outside Boatstrand

Back around the head and passing the fishermen again, I realised I was bit slower coming back, so there was another current here. This time I didn’t follow the coastline but took a direct line across toward the cove entrance. And in this direction I could really see and feel how the topography amplified the south-westerly chop. Waves felt like they were being trapped between Dunabrattin Head and the short stretch between Kilmurrin and Dunabrattin, reflecting off the low ( 20/25 metre) cliffs. When surfing near a pier or promenade on high tide this occurrence is obvious. Reflected waves add to the size of the incoming waves, but increase the unpredictably. It felt like that, but quite a way out. It was both a slog and fight, the fight of utterly unpredictable water.

Currents heading west toward Dunbrattin

As I approached the cove, I moved toward the centre of the entrance. I didn’t want to be close the rocks as I had on the way out, with the possibly of random waves appearing behind me and throwing me onto the barnacle encrusted reefs.

I was back by one hour twenty-five minutes, having picked up five minutes on the return. In all, I’d consider the stretch as pretty sketchy and potentially dangerous because of the amplifying corner effect, and the various currents in the area, which will are also shifting depending on conditions and tide.

Kilmurrin to Boatstrand and back

I took a look again from the cliff above the entrance. And there were the currents quite visible. But though those are the current warned of in Stormrider, they weren’t the current that added to the difficulty, indeed the current across the entrance becomes an opposing current., Oh, and since this bothers some people, there are regular seals in this area, probably based behind the skerries in Boatstrand, but very regular visitors in Kilmurrin and along this stretch of coast, I saw one just outside the harbour wall.

Fáilte go Dunabrattin agus Boatstrand

Project Copper – a new Lone Swim – Guillamene to Sheep Island

I had a plan for a swim last week, but I was let down again by my kayaking friend.

What to do, what to do?

Friday’s forecast was pretty good. Very light onshores. I wanted something new. So I decided it was the apposite day. I had a pretty decent breakfast and was ready to go.

When I arrived at the Guillamene the tide was an hour past high and the place was buzzing with people. There was even some sun in the sky but the wind was bit friskier than forecasted, enough to catch the irregular beams of sunlight and cast them about like spotlit rhinestones in a Christmas window, putting on a showy invitational display.

The Scarf current was plainly visible, this time stretching away toward the dunes.

I put on some suntan lotion and attached a D-clip to my togs. Jimmy from the Newtown & Guillamene club told that the local fishermen said the currents where I was going were too strong, according to the local fishermen. I told him I believed the fishermen were wrong.

Onto the D-clip I attached a metre-long string with a bottle with a sachet of Go-Sport carb added (I’m out of Maxim).

The Metalman

I looped away on my normal outward course toward the Metalman and Great Newtown Head. The water was choppy to the front. I was already about three minutes behind normal by the time I read the Head. I swam in below the head between the rocks and Seal Rock, a three metre gap that should only really be swam in Force 2 or less.

From there I swam across toward Illaunglas, passing the rock before it. I’d allocated about 20 minutes between each waypoint so I could track my progress.

I think of Illaunglas as Cormorant Rock. It’s actually a small black reef and the rock of the coast, which is white from the guano of the cormorants and herring gulls that are always there. As I passed they took to the air over me for almost 10 minutes.

Each of the three promontories between Newtown head and Garrarus are sites of neolithic forts.

On the coast all along here but particularly on either side of Cormorant rock are very large sea caves, facing almost directly south-east and south respectively, and therefore in the high August sunlight looking like black dark ocean gates to the Land of the Aes Sídhe, the underworld land of the Unseely Court and the Good Folk.

New territory between Illaunglas (furthest) and Garrarus

At about 45 minutes I was passed another unseen border and I was into water I’d never swum before. From the Guillamene it is all cliffs. There are some small beaches but they are inaccessible at the foot of the unstable cliffs. The last possible exist point is the foot of Newtown head under the Metalman, where it would be possible to climb the cliff and walk along the edge for twenty minutes back to the car park. Not exactly ideal if you are in togs. This swim was a commitment, a Lone Swim.

It continued to be choppy with the chop coming toward me from front and left.

From Illaunglas however I was passing one of my water borders from the outside, from the unknown water section into an area with which I was again familiar and which I think of as Wonderland.

The next twenty minutes took me toward Burke’s Rock on the outside of Garrarus, familiar water again.

Burke's Rock and Garrarus rocks, aka Wonderland, on a calm day from the cliffs, lots of currents and boat trails visible

With the tide dropping one of my plans to swim through what I call the Wonderland Hole wasn’t possible. I swam between the outside of the Garrarus rocks and inside Burke’s Rock with two fulmars keeping station above me.

From there I was heading across Garrarus bay. As I swam toward The Teeth, I could see three cars parked above the beach, I was back to a location where I could again exit the water, but with my car miles away, it wasn’t have been much use.

The Teeth with Sheep Island beyond on a low tide and choppy day

From Burke’s Rock, I swam between the reefs that I call The Teeth, because there are two lines of them and on a dropping tide you can’t take a direct line through but have to weave between.

From there I swam across on a slightly curving inward course toward Sheep Island. Sheep Island marks the end of Kilfarassey beach and was my intended destination.

I wasn’t the whole way across. It was one hour and thirty minutes, which I’d set as my turning-back time. I stopped and thought about it. Then I decided and I continued on.

Sheep Island on the outside from Garrarus

1 hour 40 minutes. Just inside the smaller island I call The Watchtower. Yes, I’ve been giving swim names to a lot of the features along this coast.

The Watchtower

I took my carb drink, gulping about half of the 750ml. Then I started back. This time I decided to go outside of Burke’s Rock. The chop was now slightly behind me. It drove me a bit too far inward approaching Illaunglas and I had to swim outward to pass Cormorant Rock, many birds once again taking wing and skimming down close to investigate as I passed. One hundred metres or so I took half the remaining carb and headed for Newtown Head once again being driven inside the head. At two hours twenty-five I took the remaining carb drink, swam inside Seal Rock again with the chop behind me, but knowing that approaching it from this side if I took the left side of the short passage it would be deeper and safer. I passed within fingertip distance of the rocks and then looped deliberately outward for the final leg with the chop now finally behind me. The last twenty five minutes were tiring.

I reached the Guillamene three hours and ten minutes since I’d started. Nine kilometers total. I’d picked up ten minutes only on the return, indicating I’d hit something that slowed me. After I used Google Earth to figure it out , I realised that the whole expedition took longer than I’d expected, since the distance was only about 9k. Obviously I’d lost more time on the outward after passing Newtown Head, and I picked up less on the return than expected.

Guillamene to Sheep island and back

A good, and new, unsupported swim, with a sufficient amount of scary for me. Just to note, though I was swimming part of the coast I hadn’t swam before, I’d actually, as I’d obviously taken the above photos from the cliff tops and also knew the area of the turning point from swimming it.

I’ve often swum for longer than 3 hours by myself, but I’ve been working from a location that I return to during the swim such as Sandycove, Clonea or the Guillamene. I’ve swum further unsupported in less time (Tramore bay over and back). But this was the longest time unsupported without returning to a base. And in new water.

It’s similar to a Speckled Door over and back swim in Sandycove. The same lack of exits along the coast, and a swim which you wouldn’t normally do by yourself.

My swimming range in Tramore Bay

After years of swimming T-Bay, I’ve gotten to know it reasonably well. A few years back I drew up a map of the pertinent features, from a swimming point of view. That map is a bit out of date, I’ve made a few discoveries since then, but I just keep it in my head now. Anyway, having swum into and out of, new parts of the bay this year, I did a quick map of my swimming “range” in Google Earth.

It’s pretty extensive. The area within the red lines are the areas I’ve swum in. It doesn’t include areas down the coast that I’ve swum to from the Guillamene. I’ve tried to roughly gauge the area from many swims, though the vast majority are similar swims, between the Metalman and the pier.

The two big additions this year are the spiky area pointing down and the spiky area out to the upper right.

The area across the bay to Brownstown is from a few over and back solo swims and plenty to about half way, and a couple of one ways back from Brownstown.

The spike out the upper right was an attempt to do Mo Snámh Mór Fada (over to Brownstown Head and back, unaccompanied)  a few weeks back that didn’t go well. There was an onshore Force Two again. I’d never done an over and back in those conditions but wanted to try it, since I’ve done a couple of half way and back swims this year.

After about 50 minutes of swimming to Brownstown Head, but feeling I was not going as well as usual, I checked my triangulation off Brownstown, Newtown, the Metalman and the pier and I discovered I’d been pushed further into the bay, maybe one to one and a half kilometres off course, something that wasn’t obvious when I was only sighting forward. I’d been driven to the far inside of the bay and the beach. To make it to Brownstown would therefore have been too long. The return to the Guillamene was tough as I was then heading more back into the wind and waves. It took almost two hours in total, not hugely far off my best over and back time, but I estimate it could have taken at least anther hour, though I think in fact it would have taken another hour and a half. I very rarely abort a swim. it was interesting, I learned more from it.

The spike to the bottom right was 4 to 6 weeks ago when I felt the need to get away from land altogether. It was a southerly onshore Force 2 wind on the way out, and was interesting. I’ve been out there once again since then.

Otherwise the only things of interest are that I regularly swim quite far out from the side of the bay when swimming in and out of the pier to Metalman.

A great photo Dee took yesterday. At full size, you can see four current trails from each leg and arm. It was rougher when I was returning.

Donal swimming past Newtown leaving current trails