Tag Archives: Varne

A guide to Dover for swimmers – Part 2 – Varne Ridge Caravan Park

Varne Ridge Caravan Park is such a personal part of the Channel swimming experience for myself and so many others that it is impossible to contemplate a Dover visit without Varne (as it is called) being an integral part. Every Channel swimming or crewing trip of mine to date (and I’m losing count) has involved a stay in Varne, and on the other occasions when I’ve visited Dover, a stop at Varne to say hello to my adopted parents is a prerequisite and guarantee.

Varne Ridge Channel Swimming Caravan Park is situated on the White Cliffs south of Dover, in Capel-le-Ferne, about halfway between Dover and Folkestone and is owned and operated by David and Evelyn Frantzeskou. It is named after the Varne Sands which is a sand bank directly out in the Channel where the Varne Lightship, well-known to Channel Swimmers, is anchored.

Apart from some regular repeat customers, and as indicated on the sign, Varne Ridge caters exclusively for Channel swimmers and is available by prior booking only. It is so exceedingly and justifiably popular with Channel swimmers that you are best advised to book your stay at the same time as you are booking your Channel swim.

Varne has a collection of fixed mobile homes or varying sizes, a studio apartment, and a couple of houses on the same short stretch of road and a few berths for caravans for their regular visitors. Everything is situated in a small park behind the house where David and Evelyn live. There is also an external shower block and toilets, useful when you are sharing a home with lots of swimmers all wanting to use the shower at the same time.

Sitting as it does high on the cliffs above the Channel, directly across from Cap Gris Nez, the ultimate goal of Channel swimmers, Varne is subject to both the unusual almost-French amounts of Sun and yet also the excesses of the storms of the English Channel and the winds that you can imagine afflicit the top of a one hundred metre cliff. Your weather memories of Varne will likely be one or both of the two extremes, glorious sun looking at the Channel and wondering why you are not swimming, or howling wind and rain. Usually both.

What makes Varne so ideal for swimmers are a number of factors.

  • The primary reason: David and Evelyn.

David & Evelyn IMG_8381.resized.rotatedI am not the only swimmer in the world that treats both as surrogate parents. They are always solicitous and helpful, personal and personable. You feel they are looking after you. This alone is a reason to choose Varne over any other accommodation. I cannot imagine another hospitality venue in the world that endures the same extreme highs and lows that afflict any and every swim tide and does it week in and week out. Every tide window sees successful and unsuccessful swims and David and Evelyn are part of each and supportive of all. Every successful swimmer returning to Varne will be greeted by their national flag hoisted at the camp entrance. That’s not insignificant. If you’ve never had your own country flag raised for an achievement of yours previously, it’s quite special.

 

  • Clean self-catering

Eat like a Channel Swimmer, Swim like a Channel Eater. Channel swimmers eat a lot and all the time. It’s therefore so much easier and cheaper to do your own catering. Every visitor to Varne finds the accommodation will already have milk and tea and coffee and maybe some biscuits and cereal in place for the first essential cuppa. Each house or mobile home has all the essentials for the serial eating and cooking required of crews of swimmers and support. Many departing groups leave unopened food behind, and while things are always immaculately clean, if you arrive late night Dave & Ev usually will have sufficient supplies to tide you over any initial lack (pun intended).

  • Other swimmers

This is a huge attraction of the park. During Channel season the homes rotate swimmers and crews. You will get to know the other swimmers on your tide window, more if you are unlucky with weather, swimmers on other tides. Not everyone likes the idea of swimmers popping in and out so your privacy is your own to keep or adapt, as you see fit, and should you want to engage in yet more swimming talk, because your life doesn’t have enough of it, you will find and get to know swimmers from around the world. I’ve met swimmers there from North and South America, across Europe, the Middle-east, Africa, Oceania and the Far East. Not least is the possibility that depending on the year and time, there could be an entire squad of Irish there. This is a good thing, we bring the craic (and Evelyn is half-Irish also). Each house and mobile home also has a visitors book. Great pleasure is derived from reading these and seeing your friends or maybe even heroes and even signing your own.

  • Swim support

David and Evelyn provide a lot of the equipment needed for Channel swimming. Flasks, blankets, feed poles, whiteboards, grease, electronic lights and even feed material left behind by other teams, some like the food mixes are gratis if they are there, some for purchase (lights and Channel grease which is hard to find if you don’t make your own, and no longer available in Dover) and a large supply of swim boxes for boats. No need to buy things you will use once if you’ve travelled a long way. (Though you also shouldn’t rely on Varne happening to have sufficient swim feed material lying around, as I’ve seen happen).

  • Cost and comfort

Channel swimming, solo or relay, is not a cheap pursuit. Uptight swimmers may have no interest is visiting tourist attractions prior to a swim. Long days of web-browsing and kill time when not swimming are more comfortable when you can come and go as you please without the essential claustrophobia that hotels can provide. and provide hotel rooms for many people can become very expensive very easily.

  • The Varne Ridge Channel swimmer plaques

The walls on either side on the entrance of the park are covered by commemorative plaques for the swims of everyone who has stayed in Varne. New plaques are added every year after the end of season. These are far nicer and more photogenic than the White Horse signatures. Swimmers never get tired of looking at these, searching out friends and well-known swimmers.

Varne plagues IMAG0261-resized

  • The view

Passing Varne you can tell the swimmers. Dave and Ev own the patch on the land on the cliff side of the road and swimmers shuttle back and forward throughout the day, to sit on the benches and stare at the battlefield, getting lost in our thoughts. Following an idea by Rob Bohane, a new bench was placed in Varne by Sandycove Island swim club and friends last November in memory of our sadly and tragically departed Pariac Casey, lost to the Channel in 2012. Paraic had of course stayed in Varne as have all the Sandycove swimmers.

Channel Dawn; The Separation Zone. Cap Gris Nez is directly opposite Varne Ridge
Channel Dawn; The Separation Zone. Cap Gris Nez is directly opposite Varne Ridge
  • Varne is not in Dover

Once you’ve seen Dover, what might initially seem to be a problem, turns to be a positive. A car is essential for Varne, but you are less than ten minutes from Swimmer’s Beach.

I’m still waiting for David and Evelyn to pass on the operation of Varne to Dee and I, despite promises! I can imagine nothing better. Ah well…

I am not an unbiased reviewer of Varne Ridge. I love the place and am always happy to return. I cannot recommend Varne Ridge highly enough as an essential part of the Channel swimming experience.

Tell them Donal sent you.

Paraic's Bench

 

 

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.