Coast Diary – June 25th

One last reminder that submissions in writing or by email re: Newtown Woods should reach Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022. Submissions should be clearly marked with “Submission Part 8 Newtown Hill” in the subject line.

Now back to the beach. Sort of. Years ago, when I was working in a hotel Amsterdam, one of the male cleaners took a shine to me. He conveyed this burgeoning obsession in a sheaf of handwritten pages of foolscap that, among other things, compared me to Jesus Christ. At the time I thought he was crazy but these days I seriously wonder if he was on to something because these days I seem to be a magnet for every nut job, ignoramus, and asshole on the planet. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the beach.


I walked down to Garrarus in the evening, the little beach about half an hour away. I didn’t go down onto the sand. Instead I went up on the cliff and stared morosely at the water which was like a millpond in the sunset. It was still relatively busy. I haven’t been swimming since January partly because of how annoyed busy beaches make me, but there and then, I decided this week I would tackle my misanthropy to the ground and plunge back in…


The weather is hot and, after spending some time out on the cliffs looking for basking sharks,(none) and watching the cormorants, shags, kittiwakes, pigeons and gulls – their fuzzy grey chicks tottering about – I walked down to Garrarus. The beach was quiet but by the time I got out of the water, a family of five were bringing their kayaks and boards down the beach and planting them near the water. To give them (me) space I moved up the beach to the large flat rock near the steps. But true to my christ-like magnetism, they followed me and set up camp within five feet. In the spirit of my new magnaminity, I just shifted my towel slightly, put on my shades and hat, turned off my hearing aids and gazed into the distance. I stayed that way until a handsome (well he thought so) muscular man, a long distant swimmer, emerged god-like from the water nearby and began to stare in my direction – god knows why. I am thankfully past my sell by date according to the patriarchy. A few decades ago this might have been exciting but a life time of experience of men and their carry-on behind me, it merely makes it really, really annoying so, before I gained an extra disciple I left. But it was a start.


Encouraged by my newly sprouting tolerance, I went back to the beach with my book. To my horror I realised, too late, that it was midsummer’s eve which meant there were a lot of people about including a band of teens camping and, worse, a circle of drumming meditators. The teens were fine actually and switching off the hearing aids dealt with the drumming, which was quieter than last year. Maybe they heard ‘someone’ giving out about it…There was a scatter of people about near the cliffs, which is where the regular swimmers sit so as not crowd the tiny low tide swim spot. I stopped at a respectful distance and planted my towel. ‘I can do this.’ I thought. Even the couple and their child, hogging the waters edge earned my forgiveness. They looked too large to be able to walk any distance without having heart attacks anyway. As I hobbled over the stones to the sea, two women with swimming gear came down the beach with a big black dog off the leash. This is a pet (ahem) hate of mine but I decided it was none of my business and hurried to take a quick dip in order to leave the water to them. Once in the sea however, I turned around to see the dog squatting near my towel. Rather than scold it, it’s two owners took his toilet to be a sign that they should park themselves right there too. It was at this point my obviously over-stretched magnaminity suddenly gave out and, despite the nearby child floating globularly on the water, I yelled…

For Fucks Sake!

I dashed (hobbled) out of the water and up the beach yelling things about manners and dogs off the lead but the women just looked as bemused as do all those dog owners who can’t comprehend that they aren’t the centre of everyone’s universe. I suppose I was lucky they weren’t the other sort of dog owner – the ones who attack hard on the heels of their mutts. I grabbed my stuff and took it around the cliff to the unfashionable but empty part of the beach. It was a longer hobble away from the swim spot but it was worth it not to end up trying to read my book at bollock-level to a big shitty dog and listen to two wittering idiots. Back in the water the globby child tried to catch my eye. She obviously wanted a sweary friend. She wasn’t going to get one.


Despite the previous evenings beach-bitching I headed to Garrarus once more. Leaving my house I spotted a sparrowhawk being chased by a tumble of swallows. There was a small, swallow shape clutched in its talons. Swooping across a garden it rose up and over a field and, flapping hard, disappeared into the distance. Thinking of how savage the world is for the little birds cast a shadow over my walk to Garrarus and I arrived expecting the worst but I was dumbfounded to find that I had the beach to myself. This emptiness continued for the bones of half an hour. It has been so many years since this happened that I began to think the world had ended, that aliens had invaded and decimated the population. And I found I didn’t care. If everyone was dead, like the little swallow, I would still have a glorious swim and, under the gimlet eye of the local heron, I did. Perhaps this was reward from the universe for my perserverance.

Thursday & Friday

On Thursday the weather started to change and I wasn’t sure about a swim. I wasn’t feeling so good either. By nightfall my throat had closed up and I was coughing. The universe giveth and the universe taketh away. Perhaps it was too much cold water too late in the day or the stress of spending a week trying to be someone I am not. Or perhaps I was right and people are best avoided. No more people for me. I have learned my lesson. For the next seven days anyway.

Coast Diary – February 12th

It’s thirty years this month since the Toulouse Experiment but you won’t have heard of it. It was the early ’90s when three of us, on another samey night out in Waterford, decided to buy one-way tickets to France. Plans for escape are not unusual on boozy Tuesdays in February but, to my continuing shock, we actually went ahead with it and within a week we were off. We went to Paris for a few days, slept on someone’s floor and had adventures – we had a gun pointed at us, one of us went missing – then planned to fly on to Toulouse (the missing one had turned up). My two flibberty-gibbet friends managed to miss the flight even though they were right beside me in the airport, so I landed in Toulouse alone, without a word of French. I survived and stayed on there for four months, mostly drinking wine. What has this to do with the coast? Not much except that one of those flibberty-gibbet gals turned up last Sunday on a visit home from Switzerland and suggested we go for a swim. Though Switzerland is land-locked, she’s a coastal gal and she has been dipping a few times a week in Lake Geneva. I would like to try that one day but I think I will always prefer the salt and the tumbly waves.

We went to Garrarus and, though it was windy, grey and rough, the tide was low enough that we could safely dip in Johnny’s Pool, a part of the beach which at certain times is protected from the worst waves. I don’t know exactly who Johnny was except that he was one of the numerous regular sea swimmers at Garrarus and he has since passed away. There have been all weather sea swimmers here for a long time.

I started year-round swimming with a group of women about 15 years ago. Back then, when most aspiring, upper-middle-class women declared proudly that they would only swim in the Seychelles in mid-summer in a hot tub, those sea-swimming women were practically thought of as witches. However, since lockdown, every Tom, Dick and Harriet is in the water. There’s a saying swimmers here use – ‘The sea is like soup!” – they’ll say, meaning its bloody baltic! Now its more like thick stew, full of people. I didn’t even bother going for the usual Christmas swim as I imagined it would be like the Ganges with dryrobes®and prosecco.

I have to admit here that I received a dryrobe®as a present a couple of years back and was over the moon. Up to then I had been using an elasticated towel (also very handy). However within a few weeks of receiving the dryrobe®, they had become a cultural byword for ‘idiot poseur’, with people wearing them around the town as they shopped, to indicate they had been swimming. So while it’s too practical not too use, I always don it with a slightly apologetic air that suggests that though I am not of the same vintage as the Johnny of Johnny’s Pool, I am definitely not one of those Johnny-come-latelys.

So last Sunday was my Christmas swim – finally! – with my flibberty-gibbet pal who I hadn’t seen in a long time, though she did manage to reach Toulouse that time, as did the other one, before they both headed straight back to the more interesting Paris. The slower south suited me better. She is still a flibberty-gibbet, as am I. We had tea and chocolate. And it was lovely.

Sunday Archive: Sea Witches


The Autumn is beginning to make itself known, the beaches are emptying and water babies everywhere are able to feel a bit special again. Many people think swimming in the sea all year around is nuts but I think not doing it is nuts. You will never feel bad after a swim (unless you drown I suppose but then you won’t be alive to feel bad about it) and it is good for the soul, for the head and the body.

An acquaintance mentioned a group of year round swimmers to me once not realising I was part of the group.

“There are these crazy ladies who got in the sea in all weathers, “ she said, her eyes round with awe. Then she lowered her voice…

“I have heard that even though many of them have been doing it for years they haven’t aged a day since they started! It’s like they are witches.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said, ” there are no such thing as witches.”

And I walked away cackling…