Open water swimming au naturel, by James
Last year, I started a journey of swimming in open water. Cold open water. And discovered something wonderful and entirely unexpected – You don’t always need togs.
It started last July in a midlands lake in Leitrim, a secluded shoreline of warm water in Lough Scur near Keshcarrigan Co Leitrim and a bit of a personal dare. Off came the togs – and the freedom of skinny dipping, something I thought I had left behind in teenage years, returned with a cheeky smile. Living in the commuter belt, west of Dublin, all beaches within reach are 40 minutes drive away, whether I travel North or South side of the city.
Now, I tend to wake early and can often be out and back before the family rise. This has me at the beach for sunrise, and in many cases before most people are up and out. So solitary swims become normal but sunrises become special too, so even if my swimming hasn’t improved, my photography has.
I’m not a great swimmer, can do a few lengths in a pool, can string a few sets of lengths together to make a few hundred metres – if I take breaks. So determined to improve or challenge myself – I decided to try sea swimming and set out to find safe accessible beaches. And with the awakening naturist in me, I used the INA beach guide as start.
What I initially look for is water safety. Where I feel if my swim is not ready, I can come to shore easy. Then I look for body awareness safety – Do I feel comfortable stripping off to nude, or do I make others feel uncomfortable. Both are equally important, and if in doubt I default to comfort and appropriate. I’m out to enjoy, not to offend.
What follows is my impression of some great places to visit au naturel. You don’t even have to swim.
Baltray is outside my 40 minute drive, by a long way. However, it’s the first beach I spent over an hour wandering nude along the shoreline. Mid-morning and totally alone and at peace. Beautiful to walk and stroll. Shallow dunes to lie and sunbathe. On the day I visited, the tide was out far, thereby encouraging walking, the shallow water, though not inviting a swim, was a welcoming cool wading of feet. I think I saw 2 people over that hour and they at a distance.
Skerries and Rush
Back within my 40 minute radius, Skerries hosts 3 fine beaches, though for naturism I found little opportunity. However in Rush, 6 Kms south, I think I may have found my early morning swim spot. Often I would arrive at daybreak, with the harbour lights contrasting with the deep dark sky, giving way to the diamond light rising. And not a person about.
Rush also has 3 swim beaches, south beach looking over toward Lambay island – a great long wide stretch of shallow sand and water. A naturist dream for walking. A swimmer’s nightmare for finding depth enough to swim. North beach has the depth of water, but many walkers. Not as comfortable as privacy is part of my naturist ideal. The fishing port though – at dawn before anyone is awake with parking directly alongside the steps. When the tide is out, it’s not too far. Tide in, and swim between the harbour walls and rocks. A very safe controlled place to swim. To add, there is something delicious about sneaking a nude swim at that hour under the houses and lights. The onetime bemused look from a fisherman loading his boat summed it up – enjoy life.
I’ve skipped over some great swimming in Portmarnock and Sutton, as it is Howth where my next naturist idyll is found. Howth to me has everything. The cliff walk, the views over the City and South Dublin with its rolling hills backdrop and the lighthouses and harbour walls. With great restaurants and ice creams too.
Behind the Dart station lies Claremont beach. Access via a laneway and opens to the best ‘hidden in plain sight’ beach. This one is tidal, when the tide is out, its far out. But when it’s in, it’s a perfect metre and half deep. You can swim alongside the raised 400 metre walk with perfect access steps where you never feel out of depth, and safe have egress if needed. I like to walk to the end of the walk and strip off sitting on the sea wall. No sand between the toes, and a lovely spot to drink from the hot flask afterwards. This also gives me a great view if a textile walker is coming my way, and it gives walkers a 400 metre advance notice and view to know a naturist is drying off. After that, it’s both our free choice. It also gives the Dart occupants an amusing grin for those alert and still looking out the windows.
Around Howth head there are a few places to step gingerly down some very steep paths to enclosed coves. My 2 favourites are at the Bailey lighthouse and Red Rocks on the Sutton side. Perhaps a third spot of Doldrum bay/Jameson beach for a more secluded if overlooked bay – great for sun soaking, not so for the swimming due to rocks.
One morning, arriving at 6.15 near the summit, walking down below and adjacent to the Bailey lighthouse, the togs came off again. And the waves breaking against the body took my mind off the fact that 30 metres above, the cliff path passed by. I was aware walkers would peer over, but sure, not only could they not see much, by the time I would ascend again, they’d be gone off. Forgetting that at that early hour there might not be any walkers. Yet to my surprise, as I was towelling dry, a woman arrived at shoreline. I was more concerned with not causing nude offence, yet, something in her nonchalance makes me suspect a hint of envy.
The wooden bridge over to Dollymount and the walk out to Réalt na Mara. Stop at any of the bathing shelters and at high tide the number of swimmers taking to the plunge is amazing. Confession, I haven’t swam nude here yet. I will and look forward to just going for it, amongst the textiles and all. I feel this may be a good mixed nude/textile bathing spot the way it should be. For the moment though, the surrealism of swimming in crystal clear waters under the watch of the Poolbeg (pigeon house) towers and the passing of ferries will sustain me. For all the textile swimmers when I was there, I did notice interestingly a separation of ladies using one shelter and men another.
Skipping the city centre, I explore the coast south. As an aside, in general, I find the north/south sides of Dublin differ in the width of beach. North is wider with shallower tides and sand underfoot. South is more stones and steep tidal lines.
I don’t find good locations until I pass Booterstown. From there on, the cluster of places to swim from Blackrock down to Killiney is amazing.
Sandycove beach and Forty-Foot pier has to be set amongst the nicest village, and if in later years I have the opportunity I would view here as a place to retire to. The swim is delicious, if subject to tides and passing ships waves. And yes, a sandy beach too. When I was in the Forty Foot, it was early morning, and the crowds were amazing. But they were a crowd, young and old mixed, though I didn’t see one naked person and didn’t offer to be the first. This surprised me as I had thought it was the ‘home’ of nude swimming. Perhaps I chose the wrong day.
Dalkey and Killiney
That said, around the coast is Dalkey and Killiney. With my 1st time to visit Whiterock, I have found my naturist home now, where I know I can attend on any day, be accepted for swimming au naturel and be in the company of like-minded enthusiasts.
On my 1st occasion in Whiterock, an elderly gentleman and his wife were just below the shelter, another man chatting to them. They were all clothed and my not knowing protocols in public, I braved the question – “do you mind if I swim naked?”. “No problem whatsoever – sure a lot of people do that here” was the reply. I’m still hesitant, but away I went a bit further before undressing. As I entered the water, the elder gentleman comes toward me, waving me off. But waving me off the spot where I was heading which has submerged rocks. I’m caught in limbo, 1st time around strangers whilst full nude, yet here he is offering sound advice whilst fully dressed. And such is White Rock to me. A great place where textile and nude blend perfectly with the southern sun warming us all. And myself becoming very comfortable in my skin.
One comment on White Rock is that during a high tide with heavy seas and onshore winds, the beach can get swamped right to the cliffs. The breaking waves can create surges underfoot – I follow this simple motto: If in doubt, stay out. That said, that is only under obvious heavy conditions. The majority of time – It’s perfect.
Though I am in my 2nd year of discovery in naturism. I have yet to reach my 1st anniversary. My routine now is, I head North to Rush for the breathtakingly beautiful sunrises with its privacy of morning swims. If its midday, I head South to White Rock for company of other naturists where I have since this year now spoken to total strangers whilst I or we are in full undress, relaxed and not a worry or cause of concern. As it should be. I still have to work out what to do with my hands when talking in the nude. Do I hold behind my back, fold my arms, scratch my ear…. Help – advice please.
I have yet to visit Vico baths, or Hawk cliff. But when passing any open water now, I still have an inner smile, when friends ask about my swimming and do I use a wetsuit. Friends, all I use now is my birthday suit. Someday, I’ll tell them.
Meantime, as I am exploring the coast, the offered vistas with its variety of beaches and my newly awakened naturism, dipping my toes in so to speak, I’ll paraphrase Roald Dahl in Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory ‘So many places, so little time’.
A note on water safety is that our Irish water is more often cold than warm. Of some beaches mentioned above, in the last year there have been fatalities. Some through the shock of cold, some through undercurrents. Be safe, be aware and come home dried by the sun on your skin, and a smile on your heart.