Loughareema, The Vanishing Lake.

This lake is straddled by the A2 road viaduct, though there was no obvious way by which the 2 sides were connected under the road when I swam, with a small space to park at the east end of the viaduct.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

The lake is included in the Geologist Association’s top 100 UK sites because it fills (in as little as a day) and empties rapidly (within a few days) leaving just a deep muddy hole.  Check this link to the Geology Survey Northern Ireland video on YouTube , or this one on the Geology Society web site, or search on-line where you will find pictures showing it empty and quite deep!

In many nearby locations it is apparent that there is a thick chalk bed over-layered with basalt and at the lake itself an additional layer of peat. Whilst the basalt itself is quite waterproof and made more so by the peat it seems the bottom of the lake has hole in it through which the water drains down into the porous chalk.

The road was not always raised on a viaduct and could be flooded for weeks on end. On one occasion in 1898 when it was flooded Colonel John Magee McNeille ordered his coachman to drive through the lake on the line of the road but the coach got off the road and the horses and occupants were lost and now their ghosts apparently haunt the lake.

None of this: ghosts or the chance the water would suddenly vanish, nor the incessant rain, was of course going to put me off swimming the entire circumference of the lake.

The water is dark with peat, very dark, like cola, but not as cold as maybe it might have been given the general lack of sunshine and incessant rain of the past week; necessary factors of course for there to even be a lake.  I set off beneath the island of cairns, each one tipped with a white glint of chalk only reinforcing the impression of dragons teeth.

Cars slow on the road, maybe to look at the lake, maybe to look at the swimmer as somehow I don’t think this sort of thing happens very frequently.  I pretend I am not in a goldfish bowl, but I am in a goldfish bowl there’s no escaping the fact.

There’s a patch of blue sky overhead and the scene brightens for a short while but the sunshine only sweeps the far hillside coming nowhere close and then the gloom lowers again.

Reeds brush my legs.  At this point I have no idea about the geology and history of the lake, maybe just as well, and I have no idea about how much vanishing goes on though the very top flowers of a foxglove just poking through the surface give me some sense of how flooded the lake must be.  The sheep look on disdainfully as I reach ‘the far side’ where one of the streams that feeds water runs in chattering noisily amongst mossy stones.  Extraordinarily I have already been swimming 20 minutes, it is further around than it looks (I find out later that it is over 1/2 a mile).

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

It is however a swim of 2 very unequal halves and the second half takes less than 15 minutes.  Finally I bump the stones back where I started to find Gerald keeping watch over my towel and the sheep at bay.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

It has been a rather wonderful moment that I cannot imagine I will be repeating.



Cushendun, the first taste of Ireland.

There is blue sky overhead smeared with a few streaks of wispy cloud and a slight breeze stirs the trees.  Across the road from the car park is a low wall with a gateway, a path across a narrow swathe of rough grass and a ramped access to a beach of fine, white, glittering sand, backed by buried railway sleepers contorted by waves and wind blown sand separating the beach from some small fragile dunes.  I have the beach to myself, almost.  Far to my left a solitary figure is stood beside a fishing rod lying in its rest.

However, as I change and then wade into the short surf of the clearest water I can recall swimming in for a very long while a breeze tugs at my hair and sopping wet clouds roll up over the pine trees.  Oh well I will be getting wet anyway and my towel and clothes are rolled into a plastic bag, it’ll be fine.

It must be close to high tide and for 10m out from the surf the seabed is a mix of sand and pebbles and then the limit of the effects of the summer waves is reached and quite literally like a line drawn in the sand the sea bed becomes a simple field of ribbed sand.  It stretches out ahead, left and right, out of sight and here that is a lot of sight.


The sky becomes greyer as I swim along the beach about 50m out in about 6 to 7m depth of crystal clear water looking down at the endless seabed.  A fine mist of drizzle begins to fill the air and the village fades a little.  The boom of thunder rolls around the bay and glancing at the beach I can see the sky inland is now dark and a little ominous.

The man on the beach is hurriedly collecting his gear together and sets off up the beach at a trot as the first juicy drops of rain pit the surface of the sea with small saucers of ripples.  The breeze across the surface of the sea is barely perceptible and yet the clouds are advancing swiftly and bring with them heavier rain and another growl of thunder though there is no flash of lightning.   The chance of being injured by a lightning strike is vanishingly small though I can understand why the fisherman with his 12 foot high carbon fibre lightning conductor may a run for his car, but you know what, I think I’ll take my chances.

The rain is quickly over and another dull boom of thunder almost out of earshot rolls in over the sea but the clouds it seems are here to stay.

At the far end of the beach from the town the sea bed becomes dotted with isolated rocks each home to a thatch of kelp fronds.  Then there are more rocks, but here the water suddenly becomes warmer and also brown like weak tea where a small stream disgorges its load of peat saturated water collected down off the moorland.  I am used to the River Dart being peaty in colour but this is properly dark brown so I swim back into the clear water which feels sharply cooler now.

Back at my towel the scene is still dull like early evening and the damp sand no longer glitters.  Far away on the slipway at the town someone is walking a dog, but otherwise I am just a solitary figure in the middle of almost 1/2 a mile of perfect beach.


Two days later and I am back at the beach only this time I swim end to end and back and the sea across the whole bay is peat stained to such a degree that the seabed is only dimly visible.  And not only is the water coming down the main river the colour of molasses but it is also bitingly chill, which is all rather disappointing.