Chilly dip at the seafront with Bray’s year-round swim­mers

DAVID MED­CALF SET OFF FOR THE BEACH IN BRAY WITH HIS TOWEL AND TRUNKS TO TAKE A BIT OF BRAC­ING EX­ER­CISE WITH THE WOMEN WHO EN­JOY A SWIM EVERY MORN­ING, COME RAIN OR SHINE

Bray People - - FRONT PAGE -

THERE is cold. And there is very cold. And then there is omigod, that’s re­ally freez­ing, get me out of here be­fore my heart seizes up! That was the re­ac­tion of your re­porter when he joined the ladies who launch them­selves into the waves each morn­ing in Bray.

Surely peo­ple in their right minds do no sub­mit them­selves to the per­ish­ing win­ter wa­ters of the Ir­ish Sea on a daily ba­sis?

Oh, yes they do. Just turn up any morn­ing at the north end of the seafront close to the boul­ders of the break­wa­ter to wit­ness them in ac­tion. And, if you do ar­rive there some day, then please con­sider bring­ing your swim­suit, be­cause they will be glad to in­duct new mem­bers into their ranks.

Just be sure to have nice big fluffy towel so that you may dry off as quickly as pos­si­ble af­ter sub­mer­sion in the heav­ing grey tide flecked with sea­weed. At this time of year, it re­ally is omigod cold and not for the faint hearted, though some days the wa­ter is prob­a­bly warmer than the air…

The sound of the sea is in­escapable all along the seafront, of course, as the waves rat­tle the stones of the strand even in the calmest of weather.

Most folk who come here for recre­ation pre­fer to stay dry, safe above the tide mark, as they walk the dog, go for a jog or sim­ply take a stroll.

Those who choose to strip and dip are a mi­nor­ity but, though few in num­ber, they are re­lent­less be­liev­ers in the health giv­ing ben­e­fits of such ex­er­cise.

The women in ac­tion the morn­ing that the pic­tures on this page were taken are all ma­ture enough to know their own minds.

Their friends may well view their be­haviour in this re­gard as slightly ec­cen­tric but they come across as en­tirely sane peo­ple in love with life.

And they are unan­i­mous that sea bathing, even for just a minute or two, is a real tonic for the body and for the mind whether or not there is a brrr in the month.

Re­port­ing on such an oc­ca­sion is dif­fi­cult, if only be­cause there re­ally is nowhere handy to store a note­book se­curely in a pair of Speedos.

It is also in­evitable that shiv­er­ing fin­gers will ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fi­culty grasp­ing a pen­cil af­ter turn­ing ghostly yel­low in the cold and wet.

Just who said ex­actly what to the vis­i­tor has al­most cer­tainly been mud­dled on ac­count of the poor work­ing con­di­tions ex­pe­ri­enced by your jour­nal­ist.

Nev­er­the­less, he wishes it to be known that, no mat­ter how cold the wa­ter, no mat­ter how painful the stones he had to walk across, no mat­ter how cut­ting the south east breeze, the warmth of the re­cep­tion he was given dis­pelled the chill.

The swim­mers are drawn to a tiny red and yel­low hut, more like an off-cut from a lorry con­tainer, than an ac­tual build­ing. It sits on its con­crete base amidst desert of stones, at least 20 me­tres from the high tides mark.

For most of the swim­mers, those 20 me­tres are a more test­ing chal­lenge than the wa­ter, no mat­ter how low the tem­per­a­ture or mis­er­able the weather.

They learn quickly to ease the pain of the walk from hut to sea with slip­pers as they find that the choice of shoe is much more im­por­tant than pick­ing the right togs. Jew­ellery is op­tional.

‘Mind the dog poo,’ is the ad­vice to the vis­i­tor. The swim­mers per­form an oc­ca­sional clean-up of the lit­ter that ac­cu­mu­lates at this less fash­ion­able sec­tion of Bray’s great lat­eral sea­side park. They are qui­etly proud of their ded­i­ca­tion to the cause and firmly con­vinced that swim­ming is good for body and mind.

Mar­garet: ‘It gives you en­ergy for the rest of the day.’ She has re­spect for the power of the sea: ‘Most of the time it is lovely here but it changes by the minute.’ These free-spir­ited in­di­vid­u­als are not given to lay­ing down the law but one rule is strictly ob­served: no one goes into the sea alone. There is al­ways some­one around to raise the alarm or come to the res­cue – just in case.

An­nette: ‘How long we stay in de­pends on peo­ple’s con­sti­tu­tion.’ Clearly it does not count as a swim un­less you duck your head un­der the sur­face and per­form a stroke or two. Some are quick dip­pers happy to wade in, splash around briefly and then head back drip­ping to the shore. Oth­ers are de­ter­mined to take some gen­uine ex­er­cise and head breas­troking off in the gen­eral di­rec­tion of Bray Head. The trick is to swim par­al­lel to the shore, with­out tak­ing the risk of be­ing swept out in the gen­eral di­rec­tion of the Isle of Man by tricky cur­rents. The ex­er­cise is aban­doned com­pletely dur­ing storms but to­day the swell is gen­tle. The at­ten­dance at 11 a.m. is shy of dou­ble fig­ures. They re­port that they were able to work up a good ap­petite for the turkey on Christ­mas Day but New Year’s was a gale racked washout. They reckon the rit­ual is ob­served around 300 days out of the 365. The num­bers show­ing up rise at week­ends when younger en­thu­si­asts are free to turn out be­cause they are not at work. There is a na­tional long dis­tance swim­ming or­gan­i­sa­tion but the Wed­nes­day ladies all stress that they are an in­for­mal group not given to join­ing groups. Nev­er­the­less, they and their male coun­ter­parts have been known to club to­gether and raise funds for good causes such as Pur­ple House cancer sup­port.

In sum­mer, they may hang around be­side their hut and have a pic­nic, sit­ting on the stones to en­joy a chat but at this time of year, the com­forts and hot bev­er­ages of a café on the Quins­bor­ough Road are too al­lur­ing to ig­nore.

Au­drey: ‘We are not here for lack of swim­ming pools in Bray.’ The town boasts two per­fectly good swim­ming pools, the Royal and the Shore­line, but they do not make the out­door rit­ual re­dun­dant: ‘ This is a to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. You just feel a mil­lion dol­lars af­ter­wards.’

Af­ter­wards. Af­ter­wards is the key word. Af­ter the swim, the skin glows and the air tastes like cham­pagne and the whole body glows. Af­ter­wards.

Au­drey Collins is the main mover be­hind the out­door swim and be­lieves that the glow ex­tends beyond the psy­cho­log­i­cal to a se­ries of health ben­e­fits, low­er­ing blood pres­sure and ton­ing up the skin, not to men­tion deal­ing with the symp­toms of the com­mon cold.

‘It is al­ways cold get­ting in but warm com­ing out,’ she says – and it is true. She in­sists

that such ex­er­cise re­leases en­dor­phins which com­bat de­pres­sion: ‘If you have any wor­ries, the swim drives them away.’ She also points out that sea­wa­ter con­tains io­dine which is good for the thy­roid and all man­ner vi­tal min­er­als.

She cer­tainly seems to have taken the ben­e­fit. Au­drey is 62 years of age and re­veals that she has been swim­ming since she was four. She was just one among a gen­er­a­tion who learnt their strokes from Peggy Steele at the other end of the seafront at the now derelict Cove pool.

HALF a cen­tury later, she is now a prop­erly qual­i­fied life­guard. Au­drey looks back at days when, for six old pence, you could spend a sum­mer’s day at the Cove lap­ping up the sun­shine and play­ing with friends. She left Bray to study in Lim­er­ick but, when she re­turned, she was of­ten tempted back into the open sea which is the town’s great nat­u­ral re­source.

It was around four years ago that she called a friend to join her for a morn­ing splash around which be­came a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence. It turned out that they were not alone in their en­thu­si­asm and the idea of the daily dip has snow­balled since.

Au­drey Collins has been a fierce cam­paigner for chang­ing fa­cil­i­ties to en­cour­age the pas­time, ever since the day she came out of the wa­ter to find that her knick­ers had been washed away. She learned her way around the rel­e­vant lo­cal coun­cil of­fices and in­tro­duced her­self to the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

‘ They all know me. I pestered every­one – it was a mat­ter of stalk­ing them.’ The lob­by­ing has not ended with the pro­vi­sion of the hut, for which they are very grate­ful. The swim­mers now want a se­cond hut and a pub­lic toi­let. Show­ers would be nice too, they all agree.

They are part of an im­pres­sive lo­cal swim­ming tra­di­tion which has pro­duced some se­ri­ous ath­letes. For­mer Olympian Gary O’Toole is from Bray, as is wa­ter polo cham­pion. They are also part of an out­door move­ment which ex­tends to other towns and har­bours along the Wick­low coast.

Back on dry, or at least dry-ish, land the women pile into the hut and the noise level goes up as every­one en­joys a good nat­ter.

Mar­garet: ‘ The Forty Foot in Dun Laoghaire is beau­ti­ful but I found I was swim­ming on my own there. It’s the ca­ma­raderie here that ap­peals and you feel warm for the rest of the day. It is very good for the cir­cu­la­tion.’

Fiona: ‘I go for the swim and not just the dip. You need to go every day.’

Anne: ‘I have been swim­ming in the sea for thirty years – it’s the en­ergy you feel com­ing out.’

An­nette: ‘It is in­vig­o­rat­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing.’

RIGHT: David Med­calf with Mar­garet, Fiona, Ail­ish, Au­drey, An­nette and Anne. BE­LOW: Au­drey Collins.

Ail­ish makes her way out of the wa­ter.

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