Part One: The Odyssey
‘There will be a passing band of heavy rain, which will have cleared by the time we get there’ said Dan the Fish, Weather Forecaster to the Stars. ‘We might even see the moon’.
We were due to meet at 6.30pm in New Bridge Car Park for our Moon-Gazey Swim on the Double Dart. At 5.40, at home in Mary Tavy, I heard through the sound of the deluge hammering on my roof, a faint ‘bong’ from my laptop. It was a Facebook message from Dan: ‘It will stop raining now. Right now. It is written in the stars. Mars has gone into retrograde and Pisces is rising. Russell Grant is dancing the American Smooth’.
Despite Dan’s assurances, several people managed to find suitable excuses. Then the hardy Torbay contingent were forced to turn back when the outboard on Allan and Jackie’s car broke down, Dangerous Malcolm was swept away on the pavement outside Jackie’s house, and Queenie, heading for her first Double Dart swim, made it all the way to the wrong bridge.
Honey and I drove tentatively across the moors, our little Jimny periodically vanishing under a bow wave. The water on the road at Dunnabridge was two feet deep in places, and was heading straight down the hill to the West Dart. But we made it through the rain, and arrived at New Bridge to see Martin, Marie and Helena sheltering in their car which bobbed around the car park like a fishing float. We waited for Dan. Finally, at 6.45, the red Volvo screamed up in a cloud of spray. The door opened. ‘I told you it would stop raining’! he grinned. ‘Oh…’ he said as a few naughty drops splatted into his face.
We’d already checked the water level which was way too high for a swim at Sharrah and rising fast, so we set off for Spitchwick. As we changed in the car park, we realised that it actually had stopped raining, rendering Dan’s forecast accurately tardy.
Part Two: The Swim
We sprang straight in to chilly water, shrieking with the cold. The smell of peat and the distant roar of the cascade faded as I went under. Even here on the slow side of the pool the current pulled hard, and it took me several minutes to get upstream in front crawl. Swimming across to the cliff we were swept downstream through the dark fast, grabbing the rocks and clinging on, feeling the pull of the river.
Honey, compelled by some fascinating scent or other, kept swimming head-first into a bush on the near bank; I heard a rustling crunch, and could barely make out a white blur like the moon behind the tangle of branches. As I pulled her out and pointed her towards the step she turned and shot straight back in using a combination of super-doggy-paddle and a leaping dive. I retrieved her again, and she dived back in. I persuaded her to get out, and she careered back into the bush from the top in a crash of splintering wood, snorting and snuffling.
The river was a couple of feet higher than usual. Drifts of leaves stroked us as we swam through brief flashes of copper. The sky cleared and stars appeared. The wispy white clouds began to reflect moonlight, and finally the moon rose above the trees; we swam in the shadow cast by the cliff, looking across the common to where hawthorns stood petrified like cartoon witches in the glow. A mist appeared like ectoplasm and wrapped itself around the distant trees.
Dan the Fish
Marie, Martin, Helena, Dan, Honey
Foiled by the Weather
Jackie, Allan, Malcolm
Warm Pub with Lovely Hot Chocolate
Tavistock Inn, Poundsgate