The Blackwater is catching!

I’ve always been passionate about “the Irish Rhine”, Munster’s Great River, the Blackwater. I’m proud to know it so intimately, having swum every inch of it between Ballyhooly and the sea (the bottom 70 km of its 170 km course). The Blackwater Valley is truly stunning: with breathtaking scenery around every corner, and peace. Exploring it at a swimmer’s pace is a great way of appreciating, and from a unique angle. It’s a shame that, until recently, I was one of very few people to have experienced this, so I’m delighted that members of Blackwater Triathlon Club have started pushing out their distances in the water and are making good use of the beautiful river on our doorstep! Over the last two weekends, they started catching the bug…

Cregg/Castlehyde to Fermoy Rowing Club

The first swim, from just upstream of Castlehyde House to Fermoy Rowing Club, a distance of about 4 km, was last Monday morning. Dave Mulcahy, Declan O’Keeffe and I had been doing this swim once a year for the last few years, but this was the first time that a decent-sized group took on the challenge…

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Setting off in dribs and drabs from the riverbank just upstream from Castlehyde.

The swim was a great opportunity for many to challenge themselves with their longest swim to date, which it was for most of the 15 swimmers who completed it. It was also a good opportunity for my boyfriend, Wagner, to get to grips with kayaking for a bigger group of swimmers, which it turns out mightn’t be as tough as listening to them talking about swimming!

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Wagner getting used to the kayak…and listening to swimmers talking about swimming!

The swim was thoroughly enjoyed by all who took part, so much so that the possibility of an organised event is on the cards for next year, though maybe starting just below the fast water…

Blackwater Sub-aqua Club to Clondullane

The second swim took place last Sunday. It was a little longer, at 5 km, but seven dedicated swimmers took up the challenge (that number would likely have been higher had Cork not been playing Waterford in hurling at the same time). We had plenty of safety back-up for this swim, with Wagner kayaking again, as well as Declan’s daughter Anna and one other also kayaking, and Iain MacCallum accompanying us in a boat. Again, all completed the swim and are looking forward to doing it again!

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Assembling on the Blackwater Sub-aqua Club slipway, just downstream of the town.

What’s next?

Now that appetites have been wet for longer swims in the river, we may be able to get a group to try out the 7 km from Cappoquin to Villierstown, in the tidal reach of the Blackwater. From there, who knows, let’s hope that it’s just the start of great long-distance swimming culture on our great river!

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Serpentine Swimming

One of my favourite swims from last year was an early morning dip in the Serpentine Lake in London’s Hyde Park, also the venue for the marathon swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games.  Thanks to my friend, Nick Adams, I was able to swim in the lake with the Serpentine Swimming Club at 8:00 am on Tuesday, 29 May.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The Lido Café is situated right next to the Serpentine SC clubhouse and is a great place to grab tea/coffee and some breakfast after an early morning swim…

During the summer, the Serpentine Lido is open to the public. This means that, during the day, you must pay an entry fee to swim in the lake and you are also restricted to a very small and crowded area. If you want to do a proper swim, you must swim with the club early in the morning. Thankfully, Nick and the others were kind enough to let me swim with them on this particular morning.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

An early morning view of the Serpentine Bridge from the lake.

One of the great things about swimming in the Serpentine is that, although you are in the centre of one of the world’s great cities, you feel as though you are in the middle of the countryside. I’m generally not a fan of cities, so big parks like Hyde Park make them seem much more tolerable places!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Again, you’d never guess that this was a seen from central London. The Serpentine is a great place to escape the sights and sounds of the city.

What these photographs don’t give you a sense of is the sound at the lake that morning. As I was on my way there, there were numerous military bands and mounted brigades rehearsing for a very big occasion that weekend – the Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II. This was one of the great events of the summer and marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Queen’s coronation. Queen Elizabeth II is now the second longest reigning British monarch and I had the great honour of meeting her and her husband, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in Cork on the momentous occasion of the first state visit by a UK head of state to the Republic of Ireland.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The line of buoys that you can see in front of the large tree encloses the Serpentine Lido.

It was great to have the freedom to wonder outside of the buoys demarcating the Lido and have the feeling of proper open water swimming rather being constrained to a very small stretch of shaded, shallow water.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

One building on the London skyline serves as a reminder that you’re not actually in the middle of the countryside.

Another advantage to swimming early in the morning, of course, is that there aren’t too many people about the place and you swim without worrying too much about having a collision. I always feel a great sense of satisfaction when swimming early in the morning, especially in the open water…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Just another view…

One more thing that made my Serpentine swim extra enjoyable was the water temperature, a very toasty 18ºC. This was far warmer than anything that I had experienced at home that summer. The lake was warm as London had just had a spell of very warm and dry weather, but still some of the swimmers at the Olympics complained of the cold!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Flowery hats still seem to be popular amongst recreational swimmers. I don’t think that we’ll be seeing them in the Olympics anytime soon, though.

There are lots of different kinds of swimmers at the Serpentine: some just go for their daily dip while other are training for marathon swim, some wear wetsuits and some prefer to swim in their skin. Everyone still seems to get on though, which is very encouraging.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

A family of mute swans at the edge of the lake. They seemed quite time compared to our swans on the Blackwater, who can be quite vicious if you get too close!

One nice thing about ornamental lakes such as the Serpentine is that many birds like ducks, swans and divers are encouraged to stay around the lake and make it look less sterile and urban. The Lough, in Cork City, is a good example of this!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Exiting the lake in good spirits and set up for the day in the city…

All of the above photographs were taken by myself with my Pentax Optio WG-1 waterproof camera. I’ve used this camera on many swims now and it has been holding up pretty well and producing some good shots, though it must be said that the video quality isn’t the best. I’m more interested in the stills anyway so am very happy with this camera.