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.

 

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The Brown River

Glendun is a valley cut deep into the hills by the small river that flows out to sea at Cushendun.  Even the last couple of days with the seemingly endless rain and with the river in flood it is hardly a torrent so it seems incredible that it has carved this valley through hundreds of meters thickness of durable basalt.

I spotted the little meadow with the series of cascades two days ago.  There is a bit of grass beside the road that has been pressed flat by someone stopping in a car and a tiny stile across the fence.  A small temporary path has been pressed in the long grass.  It leads down to the water and along the marshy bank to a piece of the bank that has been levelled with a pavement of stones under a twisted alder tree.  It is the perfect changing place right beside the largest pool.

Even with the extra flow of rain water the pool is however little more than waist deep and the stones on the river bed are treacherous with a thin layer of slime.

The next pool down is beneath a cascade where the water drops 3 or 4 feet in several flumes and curtains with water that is the colour of molasses.  Right beneath the falls the water spins and churns in a fizz of bubbles and it is about neck deep with limited scope for a swim so I kick about under Gerald’s watchful eyes.  Drifting downstream and I run aground on a fallen branch so it is back out on the bank and down to the next pool.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

The pool has an impressive weir at the top which creates and almost unbroken natural curtain of water but again the cut away at the foot of the cascade is disappointingly shallow and small.  There is one final pool with a small step of inflowing water but it is barely knee deep, though I lie in it briefly anyway for the satisfaction of having done it.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

As I walk out from under the trees heading back upstream the sun finds a gap in the clouds and there is nothing for it but to slip back into the deepest pool to see the water dark brown and backlit in all its glory and looking ever more like syrup.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

It was the following day when I swam again at Cushendun that I discovered the river had turned all the sea water in the bay dark orange too.