OS Map: Sheet 29
Grid ref: J387269
Type of swim: plunge pools
Bloody Bridge River flows down between Slieve Donard and Chimney Rock Mountain, meeting the sea south of Newcastle. After a long walk on a hot summer’s day – yes, we do have them, occasionally! – there is no better way to cool off than by throwing yourself into the river’s cold and crystal-clear plunge pools. When my children were little I took them scrambling up the river, jumping in the pools as we went. Sadly, they grew out of such activities. I didn’t.
The river has a hard rocky bottom so wear a pair of old trainers.
During the 1641 rebellion the bodies of prisoners were thrown from the bridge into the river, hence the name. The path that runs alongside the river is part of the old smugglers’ route, the Brandy Pad.
Park at the car park on the A2, about 4k south of Newcastle. At the south end of the car park, cross the road with care, go through the gates and follow the path that runs parallel to the river. There is a good plunge pool beneath the bridge at the start of the path, but the rocks surrounding it tend to be very slick; it is better to continue upstream to the other pools that are a few metres below the wooden footbridge.
OS Map: Sheet 4
Grid ref: C935426
Type of swim: river swimming
The River Bush flows into the sea at Runkerry Beach, Portballintare. There are prominent signs on the beach, warning of the dangers of swimming in the sea here. Why not swim in the river instead? Here you can enjoy a languid 500m swim down the River Bush, with Bushfoot Golf Course on your left and sand dunes on your right.
This stretch of the river is downstream of the famous Bushmills Distillery, so take care not to swallow the water, especially if you're going to be driving!
From Bushmills take the Ballaghmore Road, northwards to Portballintrae. At the mini roundabout, take the second exit (right) onto Beach Road. Continue, past the harbour, to the car park.
Descend the path towards the beach and river. Cross the river using the 'Three-Quarter Bridge' (don't worry, it goes all the way across). Follow the boardwalk alongside the river until you reach the railway bridge. Cross the river again here, using the footbridge, and descend the bank to the river. (Further upstream the river banks tend to be overgrown making access difficult.)
Assuming you swim downstream, you will have to exit, onto the bank on your left, a few metres before the 'Three-Quarter Bridge' as the water becomes very shallow here.
OS Map: Sheet 29
Grid ref: J342322
Type of swim: swimming/plunge pools
The stretch of the Shimna running through Tollymore Forest Park offers some of the most picturesque swimming in Northern Ireland.
Between the Hermitage, the folly built by the second Earl of Clanbrassil in the eighteenth century, and Foley’s Bridge there are several stretches of water long and deep enough for jumping and swimming. The best of these is at the Hermitage itself where you can swim continuously for about 50 metres.
Bring goggles; you will see trout, perhaps even a salmon!
Turn off the B180, near Bryansford, into Tollymore Forest Park. From the south-west corner of the main (lower) car park make your way down the Azalea Walk. When you meet the river turn right, upstream, towards the Hermitage or left, towards Foley’s Bridge.
OS Map: Sheet 12
Grid ref: H446761
Type of swim: river swimming
River meanders are large looping bends in a river’s course. They offer a unique swimming opportunity; where else can you go for a long swim without straying too far from your clothes? You can simply swim laps of the meander, getting out and crossing the neck – the narrow stretch of land where the two sides of the meander are closest - at the end of each lap.
This particular meander is about 800 metres long and the neck is a brief trek of about 50 metres. Bring footwear and consider wearing a wetsuit as you will encounter nettles, thistles and rushes when walking across the neck. The water itself may be fast-flowing with poor visibility and there is at least one large submerged boulder; for this reason, swim slowly and, perhaps, try to keep one arm out front throughout your swim.
When you enter the river from the car park you may be dismayed by the shallowness. Don’t worry; the water deepens quickly as you go downstream. Climb out on to the left bank, just before the river makes a sharp right turn, to traverse the neck. The re-entry point for the river is just left of a gate.
From Omagh town centre follow the signs for Gortin (B48). Just after passing the bus station, on your left, turn right at the major junction, towards Gortin. Continue on the B48 until you reach a mini roundabout. Take the first turn off on to the Strathroy Road. Stay on this road until you reach the small fishermen’s car park on your left. Park here. If you reach the church, you’ve gone too far.