A lake swim in the “heart” of Wicklow / Baignade en lac au “coeur” de Wicklow

lough-ouler-wicklow-mountains-ireland

It was the wildest of wild swims.

On Sunday we hiked to Lough Ouler, deep in the Wicklow Mountains, and swam in its cobalt-blue waters.

This adventure, which combines two of my 5 ideas to beat the back-to-school blues, took shape only a week prior, after a lovely family swim at our local pool.

“How about hiking to Lough Ouler and going for a swim, before the water gets too cold? Weather permitting, of course!”

Brian was immediately sold to the idea of a lake swim in the Wicklow Mountains. After all, Lough Ouler is the reason we got into wild swimming in the first place. Two years ago, we hiked up Tonelagee, the third highest mountain in Wicklow, to admire with our own eyes this beautiful heart-shaped lake.

The hurried pounding of my exultant heart in my chest;
The warm touch of Brian’s hand in mine;
Beneath our feet, the glistening sapphire heart of Lough Ouler.

Yep, you read that right – there is a lake shaped like a heart right on our doorstep. On our doorstep, and yet so remote.


Ce fut la plus sauvage des baignades sauvages.

Ce dimanche, nous sommes montés à Lough Ouler, au cœur des monts de Wicklow, pour nous baigner dans les eaux bleu cobalt du lac.

Cette aventure, qui combine deux des mes idées pour combattre le blues de la rentrée, avait pris forme une semaine auparavant, après une séance familiale à la piscine municipale.

“Et si nous allions nous baigner à Lough Ouler, avant que l’eau se refroidisse trop ? Si le temps le permet, bien sûr !”

Brian adopta immédiatement cette idée d’aller se baigner dans un lac de montagne de Wicklow. Après tout, c’est à cause de Lough Ouler que nous nous sommes jetés à pieds joints dans la baignade sauvage. Il y a deux ans, nous avions gravi Tonelagee, le troisième sommet de Wicklow, pour voir de nos yeux ce splendide lac en forme de cœur. 

Sous nos pieds, deux randonneurs avaient piqué une tête dans les flots bleus.

Le tambourinement excité de mon cœur dans ma poitrine ;
La chaleur de la main de Brian dans la mienne ;
A nos pieds, le cœur de saphir scintillant de Lough Ouler.

Vous avez bien lu : il y a un lac en forme de cœur tout près de chez nous. Tout près et pourtant si lointain.

heart-shapedlough-ouler-wicklow-mountains-ireland

Lough Ouler is a corrie lake bound on one side by the cliffs of Tonelagee’s eastern side, while the run-off stream flows from the point of the “heart” through heather and bog all the way to the Glenmacnass River.

As the goal was a lake swim, we followed the directions on Outdoor Swimming Ireland and started off from an unofficial wayside car park in the Sally Gap, upstream from the Glenmacnass Waterfall.

Wild is my favourite colour.

After fording the Glenmacnass River, the hike itself wasn’t that long or steep. Waterproof footwear is a must though, as the trail goes over soft, marshy ground, between spongy clumps of reeds and prickly heather bushes.

Reaching the top of the trail, Lough Ouler suddenly appeared, its clear waters shimmering brightly in the early afternoon sun. Crossing Lough Brook, we walked along the shore on the left, all the way to what looked like a small beach at the foot of Tonelagee.

A large rock jutted out into the lake like a jetty. The acorns immediately ran to the end of it. This was to be our basecamp for the day.


Lough Ouler est un lac glaciaire fermé d’un côté par la face est abrupte de Tonelagee, tandis qu’à l’opposé, un ruisseau s’écoule par la “pointe” du cœur, à travers bruyères et tourbe, pour se jeter dans la rivière Glenmacnass.

Comme nous avions prévu de nous baigner, nous avons suivi l’itinéraire indiqué sur le site Outdoor Swimming Ireland et démarré d’un parking de fortune en bord de route, en amont de la cascade de Glenmacnass.

Nature est ma couleur préférée.

Après avoir franchi à gué la rivière Glenmacnass, la randonnée elle-même s’avéra aisée : ni trop longue, ni trop pentue. Des chaussures imperméables y sont toutefois indispensables, car le sentier passe sur terrain tourbeux, entre mottes de joncs et touffes de bruyère.

A l’arrivée au sommet, Lough Ouler apparut soudain, ses eaux cristallines scintillant vivement sous le soleil de début d’après-midi. Traversant le ruisseau Lough Brook, nous l’avons contourné par la gauche, jusqu’à ce qui ressemblait à une petite plage, au pied de Tonelagee.

Un promontoire rocheux s’avançait dans les eaux froissées du lac. Les graines de chêne coururent à son extrémité : notre campement pour la journée était trouvé.

glenmacnass-river-hiking-wicklow-mountains-ireland

After fording the Glenmacnass River / Après avoir traversé à gué la rivière Glenmacnass.

Reaching the bottom of heart-shaped Lough Ouler /
Arrivant à la pointe du “coeur” de Lough Ouler.

Lough Brook, running off from Lough Ouler /
Le ruisseau Lough Brook s’écoule de Lough Ouler.

lake-swim-wicklow-ireland

Our basecamp for the day – a rock jutting out into Lough Ouler /
Notre campement pour la journée : un promontoire rocheux s’avançant dans Lough Ouler.

The weather was holding up, with large clouds drifting quickly across the sky between bright sunny spells. But the wind was relentless, with no shelter whatsoever.

I have since found out that Tonelagee (Tóin le Gaoith in Irish) means “back-side to the wind” – how very appropriate!

A lake swim in testing conditions

Before I could change my mind, I took off my clothes and carefully waded in. Immediately, my feet sank ankle-deep into the soft sand. Brian, then Mermaid, soon followed me in. Jedi went in thigh-deep, before giving up.

The water was cold, but not shockingly so. In fact, the air and water temperatures were probably similar. Windchill was the problem.

The wind ceaselessly whipped across the surface of the lake. Needlessly waiting for a bout of calm, I took far too long to immerse myself. And when I eventually did, I was already cold. I only swam a few breaststrokes, avoiding to put my head in the water, before calling it a day.


La météo se maintenait, avec de gros nuages qui passaient rapidement dans le ciel bleu entre deux éclaircies. Le vent, en revanche, soufflait incessamment, et il n’y avait aucun endroit où s’en abriter.

J’ai appris depuis que Tonelagee (Tóin le Gaoith en gaëlique) signifie “derrière au vent”. Un nom parfaitement choisi !

Des conditions de baignade difficiles

Avant de changer d’avis, j’ai vite retiré mes vêtements avant de m’avancer prudemment dans l’eau. Mes pieds s’enfoncèrent jusqu’à la cheville dans le sable mou du rivage. Brian, puis Sirène, me suivirent bientôt. Jedi s’avança jusqu’à mi-cuisse avant de ressortir de l’eau.

Certes, l’eau était froide, mais elle n’avait rien de choquant par rapport à la mer d’Irlande le weekend précédent. En fait, l’air et de l’eau étaient probablement à des températures similaires. Le vent était le problème.

Des rafales balayaient sans cesse la surface du lac, hérissant les flots de vaguelettes. Dans l’espoir d’un moment de répit, j’attendis trop longtemps avant de me mouiller. Quand enfin je m’immergeai, j’étais déjà transie de froid. Je fis quelques brasses pour éviter de mettre la tête sous l’eau, et je ressortis sans tarder.

With shaky hands, I managed to take this short video of Brian swimming in Lough Ouler.


Les mains tremblantes, je réussis à prendre cette vidéo de Brian nageant dans Lough Ouler.

 

It took several hot drinks and all my layers (thermal top, T-shirt, fleece and outer shell) to warm myself up. Next time, I’ll bring my Dryrobe!

Cos there will be a next time, of course. If this lake swim taught me anything, it is that I cope rather well with cold water. The electric tingle all over my body as I came out of the lake felt like nothing I have experienced before. Only the wind was a buzz-killer. Next time, we’ll be better prepared.

Brian soon fired the Kelly kettle, and our obligatory bowl of instant chicken noodles never tasted so good. 


Il me fallut plusieurs boissons chaudes et toutes mes épaisseurs (sous-pull thermique, maillot, polaire et imperméable) pour me réchauffer. La prochaine fois, j’apporterai ma Dryrobe !

Car il y aura une prochaine fois, c’est sûr ! Si cette baignade m’a montré une chose, c’est que je supporte plutôt bien l’eau froide. Le picotement presque électrique sur tout mon corps comme je ressortai de l’eau ne ressemblait à rien que j’ai pu ressentir auparavant. Seul le vent a étouffé la sensation grisante d’une baignade en eau froide. La prochaine fois, nous serons préparés.

Brian alluma bientôt la bouilloire Kelly Kettle, et notre sempiternel bol de nouilles chinoises instantanées n’a jamais été aussi bon.

By the time we packed up to leave, the sun was slowly going down behind Tonelagee, and Lough Ouler was already in the shade.

The acorns decided to walk around the other side of the lake. On spotting the last bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillusfraughan in Irish) of the summer, they were like four little bears foraging hungrily before the onset of winter.

With the bilberry bushes’ bright red leaves and the heather’s faded blooms, the upland vegetation was already in full autumn mood, and the late afternoon light made the lakeside look like a patch of Alaskan tundra.


Au moment de redescendre, le soleil baissait derrière Tonelagee et Lough Ouler était déjà à l’ombre.

Les graines de chêne décidèrent de contourner l’autre rive du lac. A la vue des dernières myrtilles de l’été, ils furent comme quatre oursons gloutons cueillant autant de fruits que possible avant l’arrivée de l’hiver. Avec les feuilles rouge vif des myrtilles et les fleurs fanées de la bruyère, la végétation de montagne était déjà parée de ses couleurs d’automne. La lumière dorée de fin d’après-midi transformait le pourtour du lac en un carré de toundra arctique.

lake-bog-wicklow-mountains-ireland

By the time we left, Lough Ouler was already in the shade. / Quand nous sommes repartis, Lough Ouler était déjà dans l’ombre.

bilberry-blueberry-red-leaves-wicklow-ireland

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) bushes in full autumn splendour / Myrtille (Vaccinium myrtillus) déjà parée de ses couleurs automnales.

Three deer stood watching us as we made our way down the boggy trail. Jedi took out his binoculars to observe them, until we got a little too close for comfort and they darted off across the moor.

Soon, we were back at the stepping stones across the Glenmacnass River.

It was 7 o’clock when we arrived at our car – our hiking/swimming adventure had lasted 6 hours.


Comme nous descendions, trois chevreuils nous regardaient négocier le sentier boueux. Jedi sortit ses jumelles pour les observer. Quelques pas de plus, et ils bonfirent hors de vue à travers la lande.

Bientôt, nous étions de retour au passage à gué de la rivière Glenmacnass.

Il était presque 19 heures à notre arrivée à la voiture. Notre aventure à pied et à la nage avait duré près de six heures.

 

Getting there

Driving to the Sally Gap from Laragh (near Glendalough) on the R115, you will see the Glenmacnass Waterfall. Drive past the official car park above the waterfall and keep going for about 1km until a small woodland on the left-hand side. There is a wayside car park with enough space for 5-6 cars. Down from the car park, one wood marker for the Wicklow Mountains National Park shows the trail head – a rough track going down to the Glenmacnass River. Find a crossing point to ford the river, then head uphill on the right-hand side of the stream (named Lough Brook on maps) all the way to the lake. 

Maps

Ordnance Survey Ireland Discovery Series 56

EastWest Mapping 25Series Wicklow Mountains West

Outdoor swimming

This article by Maureen McCoy and Paul McCambridge, authors of Wild Swimming Ireland – Discover 50 Places to Swim in Rivers, Lakes and the Sea, lists 10 of the most amazing outdoor swims in Ireland.

Lough Ouler doesn’t make their list but it appears on the highly informative Outdoor Swimming Ireland. Beware as some sections of this website may not be up-to-date.

And if wild swimming doesn’t appeal but you’d still like to enjoy Ireland’s lakes and rivers, SchoolDays.ie has a list of family-friendly lakes and swimming trails in Ireland’s midlands.


S’y rendre

Sur la route R115 du Sally Gap au départ de Laragh (près de Glendalough), vous atteindrez d’abord la cascade de Glenmacnass. Ignorez le parking officiel au-dessus de la cascade et continuez pendant 1 km environ jusqu’à un petit bois de conifères sur la gauche. Il y a là un parking de fortune avec assez de place pour 5 à 6 voitures. 

Sous le parking, un poteau en bois du Parc national des Monts de Wicklow marque le départ du sentier : une piste sableuse qui descend à la rivière Glenmacnass. Trouvez un passage à gué pour la traverser, puis montez à droite du ruisseau (Lough Brook sur les cartes) jusqu’au rivage du lac.

Cartes

Ordnance Survey Ireland Discovery Series 56

EastWest Mapping 25Series Wicklow Mountains West

 

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19 Responses to “A lake swim in the “heart” of Wicklow / Baignade en lac au “coeur” de Wicklow

  • Gpingto try this. Hopefully a hike eithet end will warm us for the swim. How long is the hike from the car park to the lake?
    Beautiful photography, love your blog!

    • Thank you Grainne for stopping by, glad you enjoy the blog 🙂
      The hike takes 45-50 minutes from the wayside car park on the R113. Make sure to pack some warm clothes and a flask of tea (or whatever hot drink you like) to warm you up after the swim, and enjoy! 🙂
      Annette

  • I love a little wild swimming, even if it is just a few strokes, there is something satisfying about swimming in the lakes or sea without cumbersome wetsuits. I must say my last dip was a couple of weeks ago. I’m loathed to say that’s it till next year, but I know it will take a calm still day to get me in now! The scenery and walk look beautiful around your heart lake, autumn is really showing it’s hand and making everything even more pretty. #CountryKids

  • Oh my goodness – this is so beautiful! I visited the area a few years ago in the middle of winter when there was so on the ground. Cannot imagine swimming in the lake. You are so brave! I love your photographs. #countrykids

  • Wow swimming in a heart shaped lake…amazing #countrykids

  • You have taken some absolutely beautiful photos here! Can’t believe you guys swam in it, very brave!! #countrykids

  • Well done you, a few strokes in that wind is impressive. And that you swim barefoot too, or was the water clear? I struggle without swim shoes if I can’t see the bottom. In case if ‘things’ and weird weeds! Not very wild-sounding I know, must be my urban upbringing! The lake looks so much bigger at the shoreline than from above! Another brilliant Acorns adventure tempting me to Ireland once again #CountryKids

    • Thank you, Lucy 🙂 The water was pretty clear but I didn’t expect to sink so much into the silty sand! I only wear water shoes when the ground is too rough, which is fairly often when swimming outdoors!

  • Just back as me, Caroline would just adore that heart-shaped lake. She loves anything in nature with a heart!

  • That heart-shaped lake is so beautiful. It does look cold though. I’m not sure I would be brave enough to venture in even for a few strokes but I can imagine that wild swimming is quite exhilarating and that the cold water does give you a bit of a buzz. Your photos are so beautiful – it looks like a stunning place to visit and sounds like you had a wonderful outdoor adventure together. Thank you for sharing it with #CountryKids

  • What a lovely lake that you’ve found on your door step. I can almost feel how cold it was through your writing and footage. #CountryKids

  • That landscape is really beautiful (and captured very well in your photos), but it looks freezing!
    I’m a bit more of a wimp nowadays, as a child I was happy to go swimming at almost any temperature (though haven’t done winter swimming, in ice, not been in colder water than +6 C).
    Growing up in Sweden and spending a lot of my time (as a child) out in the archipelago outside Stockholm, outdoor swimming was the norm for me. And eating a lot of bilberries, too! Though I always call them blueberries (direct translation of their Swedish name). Very tasty. Often used to have a bowl of milk with billberries in as light lunch/snack x #CountryKids

  • I always admire your outdoor adventures and in such beautiful landscape. I’m not sure i’d cope well with swimming there but it does look beautiful #Countrykids

  • Stunning photos of a beautiful place #adventurecalling@_karendenniz

  • Brr, I felt a bit chilly just reading this post! I find I’m getting less and less brace with cold water a small I get older, which really disappoints me! I had to use a wetsuit in the Isles of Scilly. I need to toughen up! The shape of that lake is incredible, and such a brilliant blue. #adventurecalling

  • What a beautiful, beautiful lake! The shape of it is amazing. It’s no wonder you enjoying visiting it and swimming in it. Thanks for joining us on #adventurecalling.

  • I can see why you love this lake, it is truly stunning. I’ve never tried wild swimming but I can see how it makes you feel alive. I loved reading this, amazing photos and great advice as ever. Thank you for sharing with us #AdventureCalling

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