Tag Archives: Waterford

A Further Shore – III – The Harbour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was this place?

Where was this place?

 

Previous parts

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden light through a Copper Coast arch
Golden light

 

Previous part

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

Winter reduces my range. I swim at the Guillamenes, along the cliffs and shore of Tramore Bay.  Maybe, just maybe, I might get down to Sandycove for a lap. Days pass when I see no-one, arriving, swimming and leaving without a soul.

Spring comes with almost imperceptibly warming water and air and increase in the number of people. The winds slacken, swim time gradually extends. The rest of the Copper Coast calls out to me, to return and see what the winter has wrought, to find new experiences and new memories.

Burke's Island & reefs, Kilfarassey
Burke’s Island & reefs, Kilfarassey

Kilfarassey and Burke’s Island are always my first Copper Coast spring swim away from Tramore Bay. My playground of the island and reefs sits just a short swim away at high tide, a full circumnavigation of all takes only forty-five minutes, with optional paths around the reefs to lengthen any swim.

There was no-one else around, the tide was dropping and the sky was blue with a few actual white puffy clouds, not the usual grey-bottomed bringers of Atlantic rain usually visible. The water wasn’t quite calm, a light easterly Force Two breeze ruffling the surface and adding a nip to the air as I walked the hundred metres from the car down the slipway, crossed the stream and beach and left my sandals burdened under rocks on the sand. I lined up the zero triangle and minute-hand on my watch to indicate departure time and waded in, then dove into an incoming mushy wave.

The water was about ten degrees Celsius, according to my built-in skin thermometer. The cold shock associated with such a temperature dissipated within a minute or so as I swam out toward the windward east side of the island, stretching out my arms and shoulders.  Within a dozen minutes I’d reached the nearest shark-fin-shaped reef, and instead of a longer circumnavigation around the outside reefs, I turned west across the back of the main island. The water was a clear cool mint and jade in the cross-shore breeze, submarine reefs reaching up, old friends from previous years welcoming me back.

Another few minutes and I passed the main island and reached the inside end of the channel that divides the easterly and westerly reefs.  I was at the east side of the largest reef, a north-south ridge some seventy five metres long and reaching in places up to ten metres above the surface. Populated by birds and guillemots, mostly by Black Shags, who have always vocally disapproved of my unaccustomed irregular appearances, they threw themselves from the reef into the air, wheeling and dive-bombing and screaming their indignation at my arrival in their offshore haven.

I was swimming to The Keyhole, my nickname for the first rock arch I’d ever swum through. It’s an east-west narrow-waisted arch in the ridge, only ten metres long at the water’s surface, with a bare dogleg between the ends. There’s not much of a roof,  cut away as it is to the sides. When conditions are right, the arch, which is too narrow for most kayakers, compresses the flow and a swimmer can shoot through like a fairground water ride.

The easterly breeze wasn’t enough to shoot through at speed but the clear water gave me hope of seeing an anemone clinging to the rocks under the low tide mark, so I decided to swim through without breathing, to extend my underwater investigation.

With head underwater, I cruised west  through the arch, feeling the water flow keep me clear of the harsh sides. The quality of the sub-surface light changed, surely a cloud filtering the light entering the water, transforming it to a rich golden hue.

Under the surface was so crisp, so clear. The sand of the bottom, the encrustations of thousands of generations of barnacles on the rocks, this reef their universe, our air their outer space. The kelps and weeds waved in the backward and forward tidal stream. Ochre, umber, sienna. Jade, olive, phtalo green. Marl and charcoal. A merman’s palette of literal water colours. No fish were visible in the clear water this day, but here was every child’s daydream of swimming in an aquarium’s watery castle. No plastic scuba or treasure diver was required to perfect this idealized underwater scene.

All for me, just here, just now. All this time to see so little and yet so much. Only a double-handful of strokes on one held breath from arch end to end.

You can’t eat scenery, they say in Ireland. I was a child when I first heard that and I still knew they were wrong. Not with your mouth. But you can eat it with your eyes and your mind and your imagination. You can use it to create your soul, to fill your self.

The Atlantic – II

This is the second part of a three-part series of a pictorial exploration of the Atlantic Ocean as I know it, primarily on Ireland’s south and south-east coasts. As with the last time, these images are best viewed individually at a larger size. All will be added at full resolution to my Flickr account.

Atlantic Pulse

Atlantic Pulse

 

II -  Interface IMG_4757 USM rad 3.0.resized
Atlantic Assault

 

Evening with Groundswell
Evening At High Tide

 

Force Three
Force Three

 

Beach Ripple
Rippling Onto A Beach

 

Storm
Atlantic Storm

 

Anvil of Rock
Anvil of Rock

 

Force Two
Force Two
Force Ten
Force Ten

Summer in Ireland – Mountain lake swimming 2

Recently, Alan Clack & I hiked up to Coumshingaun in the Comeragh Mountains, as part of his Channel taper in Ireland, and because we were looking for some cold water. The silence from Alan as we hiked upward was deafening. “What the hell are we doing”, I could imagine, and worse, going through his head.

Coumshingaun is another corrie, but one, (according to geology sources), of the best examples in Europe. I have no idea what makes it supposedly better. Apart from being stunningly beautiful.

The best way to approach is from the left ridge and from slightly above, a little bit of extra climbing that is then rewarded by a fairly level approach from above the lake’s picturesque outlet stream. The lake and the surrounding cliffs gradually coming in spectacular view.

The cliffs around the lake reach to 360 metres (1200 feet) high, the lake is about 800 metres long from the outlet stream to under the cliffs. The tiny white specks are sheep, seemingly capable of any climbing feat.

We circled the lake, to right under the cliffs, the steps of the cliff wall meaning probably the  top third was invisible from underneath and continued around back to where we started with Alan staying in for another 10 minutes for some further cold water acclimatisation while I dried and grabbed the camera.

It was my second visit in a week and the water was a fresh 12 to 13 degrees Celsius and perfectly clear unlike Bay Lough’s peaty black water. The lake floor gradually drops away instead of disappearing immediately and precipitously like Bay Lough. All around the edge underwater are huge boulders that the mountain has sloughed. And having previously swum across the centre, it doesn’t seem as dark as Bay Lough. Of course, you need to be at the lake before early afternoon as even in late summer the sun drops beyond the mountain and the lake falls into shadow, in the winter it only catches early morning light.

As Alan and I passed climbed on the ridge and into view of the lake on the ascent, the wind suddenly rose with our exposure, and I caught a glimpse of a water-spout, a shi gaoithe, (“water devil”) collapse over the exit of the outlet stream, the first time I’ve ever seen one, dying too quickly to be caught on camera.

Click for larger resolution

Done and dried, but chilly in the wind, we headed back down, passing above the lower small pool, leaving Coumshingaun behind, the clear day providing a vista of Ireland’s rolling countryside, the counties of Waterford, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Carlow all visible.

Related articles

 

Hook & reefs.resized

A visit to Hook Head

Hook Head is one of our favourite places in Ireland. I’ve been lucky enough to finally get a new halfway decent camera so I wanted to take a visit to the Hook for some long-hoped-for photos for the site. A long flat low bare almost treeless peninsula in the south-east, at the other side of the Suir-Nore-Barrow estuary, it stretches out into the Celtic Sea and at the end is Hook Lighthouse, reputedly the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. (You’ll have noticed by now that I have a thing for lighthouses). Unlike most lighthouses, there are actually public tours and inside the modern tower are the older walls of the 13th century tower

Estuary up toward Waterford from above Passage East

The fastest way to the Hook from Waterford is on the car ferry at Passage East, the trip across the estuary takes about 4 minutes.

Passage ferry

Just outside Duncannon is an old lighthouse for the inner estuary.

Duncannon Lighthouse (1774)

Halfway down the est side of the estuary is town of Duncannon which was used as a military Fort to protect the entry to the estuary.

Duncannon Windsurfer (taken on greyer day)

Duncannon beach is very popular with wind and kite surfers.

Duncannon Fort & Hook Lighthouse in the distance
Hook reefs

 

The currents round the Hook are pretty vicious and it catches a lot of very rough water, howling winds and big unsurfable waves. It’s also a great spot for whale watching.

Before the Hook on the west side is an old small fishing slip, with only mere nubs of rusted iron stakes left in the rocks, which is a nice walk where few of the visitors go.

There are some interesting blowholes in the rocks, with a northerly offshore wind and flat water that day, they weren’t providing any entertainment but I took some a very short video there previously.

The dogs like the area.

Scout on the reefs on the reefs
Lighthouse & buildings from the gate

The (probably apocryphal) story told locally is that that the phrase “by hook or by crook” derives from Hook Head, referring to Ireland’s historical bete-noir Oliver Cromwell who stated his intention to invade by Hook Head or by Crook Head, which is on the opposite side of the estuary.

Lighthouse from the road

The old residential buildings are used for a café and gift shop and children’s art gallery. The café serves the largest chunks of cheddar in their Ploughman’s Lunch!

Lighthouse from below the road
Hook lighthouse

Unsurprisingly for somewhere with a lighthouse, the area is surrounded by exposed reefs.

The dogs would happily stay playing around.

Time to go you say?

The first monastery (St. Dubhan’s) was built on the peninsula in the 5th Century AD and there are still remains of a later Church on the same site. In Irish the Hook peninsula is actually named after this Church.

Dubhan's Church

There’s a great view of the whole estuary, and the western bank including  Crook Head, Dunmore east, Creaghan Head, Woodstown and Passage East.

Waterford to Passage East to Dunmore & Crook Head (size has been reduced so it loads quickly)

When we got home Toby would have stayed in the car. He loves the car.

Thinking of a visit? The Hook Lighthouse webcam is my favourite webcam.

Hook Head webcam.

Related articles:

HookHeritage website.

Lighthouses of the North Atlantic – loneswimmer.com

Sailing from Crosshaven to Dungarvan – loneswimmer.com

Tall Ships Waterford 2011 – loneswimmer.com