October Wild Swim – Seapark
Regular readers will know that I’ve challenged myself to wild swim, every month for a year. So far it’s been good fun, warm sunny beaches on Northern Ireland’s north coast, cool and clean lakes in Co. Leitrim or with a crowd, bouldering at Bloody Bridge in the dramatic Mourne Mountains. It’s October now and fun, warm sunny afternoons seem to be a distant memory. This Wild Swim at Seapark on Belfast Lough was tough to be honest, it’s freezing. I didn’t want to go for a “Microadventure”. But I’ve committed to this challenge now so I had too.
Building up the courage on the North Down Coastal Path
We chose Seapark because this weekend, it will host its annual Hallowe’en firework display. We arrived at Seapark at around 2.30 in the afternoon and the play park was full of children (potential people who may know me as I work in nearby Bangor). This is also the starting point of the North Down Coastal Path which runs for 16 miles from Holywood to Portavoe, via Bangor and other areas of beauty. So it was actually quite busy and why wouldn’t it be!? Yes, it was chilly today but it was calm, dry and sunny. Not the usual swimming conditions I’ve gotten used to but it could definitely be worse!
We had a small picnic by the sea. The beach was full of dog walkers and children exploring the beach and rock pools. We had several run ins with off-leash dogs. Two wee dogs approached and tried to get at Patricia’s pesto pasta and my chunks of apple and cheddar (great ‘no cook’ picnic ideas by the way) and I couldn’t shoe them off because I didn’t want to touch these unknown dogs without being able to wash my hands! The second run in was much happier, this class big collie came and lay down beside us and rolled his tennis ball towards us. By this stage we had finished our picnic so I was happy to play along. I threw the ball for him and he went speeding after it. He was a good boy, yes he was. But the ball was soaking and Patricia was disgusted that I wiped my hand on her leg.
Right, to the swimming. I was putting it off because I really didn’t want to get in. We were here now though. I got changed awkwardly in the back of my tiny car. Primarily because I didn’t want any of my pupils to see me.
Wondering if anyone would notice if I didn’t swim in October…
A chilly walk down to the water’s edge awaited us, the sand was quite sharp with shells and I did notice a couple of bits of broken glass. I guess that’s the risk associated with swimming on quite a popular seafront. Just as I was tentatively walking into the water a giant KLM plane flew directly over head, only a couple of hundred metres above on its way to land at the George Best City Airport.
Walking out, the water was pretty murky. Belfast Lough is very silty and this showed, I couldn’t see my feet even though I hadn’t yet passed my knees. With my feet going numb, I waded out and I kept wading. It didn’t seem to be getting any deeper. When I got above my knees I started swimming. I swam out into the lough, perpendicular to the coast and when I was about 70m out my arms hit sand. It was even more shallow out here. I struggled until I was about 100m out but still the water was no deeper than 50cm.
Trying to deal with the shallow water
This shallow water coupled with the play park and decent car parking would probably make Seapark a pretty good microadventure destination if you’re getting out with children.
I swam up and down about a 50m length of the beach. I didn’t feel too cold in my feet anymore (maybe hypothermia was setting in)! A few huge cargo ships were heading by, this is hardly surprising as I wasn’t too far from where I swam back in August, as part of this Microadventure Challenge, at Helen’s Bay. Back in balmy August, we also noticed a lot of cargo traffic.
One of the big ships on its way into Belfast in the distance
I was losing patience with hitting the ground and I didn’t want to venture too far from shore, least I end up accidentally swimming from Seapark to Whiteabbey, across Belfast Lough. Walkers were starting to point and stare too so I decided it was time to get out.
I didn’t set off meaning to compare beaches or swimming spots but sometimes it’s hard not to. Saying that, I don’t know if I’d swim at Seapark again, not with Helen’s Bay only around the corner. The glass I spotted on the beach put me on edge from the very start even though it was only a little. Helen’s Bay has lovely fine sand and Seapark is much shellier (that’s a word…) and sore on the feet. I don’t mind a quick change in public if it’s quiet enough but this busy seafront with it’s bustling play park was kind of awkward for getting in and out of the wetsuit, couple that with the fact that I might see people I know here added to my apprehension. I actually did spot a teacher I know out for a midterm walk along the beach when I was heading back to the car! The shallow water was also an absolute pickle, it made it difficult to actually swim but I could see the draw if you were paddling with young ones. Plus maybe it also helped keep the water temperature up.
Sore and cold feet on the shelly Seapark sand
This Wild Swim Microadventure actually wasn’t as horrible as I thought it was going to be. It was chilly but the weather was perfectly autumnal and I could not have hoped for better on the 30th of October.
Proof that I actually enjoyed it