Gartan Lough, Donegal

15km west of Letterkenny, close to Church Hill lies Gartan Lough. On its shore sits Colmcille Heritage Centre and outdoor education centre where the local triathlon club meets on a Monday evening to swim at 6pm (correct at time of writing). Although with signs stating “no unauthorised access to lough from estate” this is not the place for a quiet dip. Instead carry on past the heritage centre, crossing the river below Church Hill and continue past Gartan School and Annies Cottage. Soon you will reach Glebe Gallery the house was once home to artist Derek Hill (also famous for returning many years to paint on Tory Island). Beside the gallery entrance gate a narrow concrete lane, a few hundred metres long, brings you to the lough side where a new pontoon provides a stunning view up the lough and easy access for your swim.

Leaving our water shoes on the pontoon we swam out through tall reeds past a small rowing boat the blue paint faded with summer exposure. We struck out further up the lough towards the small island opposite the education centre, about 1km from our starting point. Silence only broken by our strokes and the distant voices of kayakers near the far shore echoing across the water. As we passed the island the view expanded to take in the entire lough. Another day we might aim to start earlier and complete the full lap and back but we’d started late today and the light was dropping promising a pleasant sunset. So we turned back and slipped quietly away from the wider lough, once again past that solitary row boat and through the reeds, a small family of moorhens weaved their way through the thick entanglement of reeds on the farther shore, un-inhibited by our passing.

Returning to the pontoon we dressed then sat sipping a sweet G’n’T as the evening light fell, creating ever changing sketches with the reeds and their reflections on the mirror-like water.  

The crisp angles at one instance looked like a fine line-drawn geishas face, the next I was minded of a poem I read as a child;

“There once was a square, such a square little square, And he loved a trim triangle…” – Maternity by Robert W Service

The next day we met Elaine and Eamon of the Gartan Open Water Swimmers who told us they’re “not really early morning swimmers, especially not at the weekends!” But there were to be plenty of others hitting the water at Port na Blagh later if we wanted to join them?

Gartan Open Water Swimmers Elaine and Eamon

Gartan Open Water Swimmers are a very sociable bunch so if you want to meet up do message them on fb. They swim at various locations including Gartan and Port na Blagh as well as organising charity swims and challenges throughout the season.


There once was a Square, such a square little Square,

And he loved a trim Triangle;

But she was a flirt and around her skirt

Vainly she made him dangle.

Oh he wanted to wed and he had no dread

Of domestic woes and wrangles;

For he thought that his fate was to procreate

Cute little Squares and Triangles.

Now it happened one day on that geometric way

There swaggered a big bold Cube,

With a haughty stare and he made that Square

Have the air of a perfect boob;

To his solid spell the Triangle fell,

And she thrilled with love’s sweet sickness,

For she took delight in his breadth and height— 

But how she adored his thickness!

So that poor little Square just died of despair,

For his love he could not strangle;

While the bold Cube led to the bridal bed

That cute and acute Triangle.

The Square’s sad lot she has long forgot,

And his passionate pretensions …

For she dotes on her kids—Oh such cute Pyramids

In a world of three dimensions.

By Robert W Service

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