Double Dart, December Chill
It’s December, the air temperature is 7°c, and the water temperature 6.5°c. Honey and I stride through the woods, dead leaves squidging underfoot like soggy cornflakes. We stop opposite Wellsfoot Island.
In the summer, I dislike swimming here; Holne cliff exerts a looming oppression over the otherwise lovely pool beneath. Today it’s inviting: blue-black water glinting in the blue-grey light; the surrounding space expanded by the view through denuded winter trees; and the soughing of the rapids like a lullaby. The tiny red sandy beach on the island is partly hidden by a drift of dark twigs a couple of feet deep. Behind is moss and dessicated bracken the colour of a fox’s pelt.
I change into my wetsuit and Honey swims over to the Island, where she rootles around and finds an old shoe which provides her entertainment for the duration of my swim. I walk carefully over the rocky bed to the deeper water, and feel the change from my last (11°c) swim here. I dive forwards and the river slashes me like a blade. In her winter guise she’s lost her silky, peat-scented enchantment and become a steel-hard witch with the taste and texture of bootleg vodka.My hands, face and neck burn with cold and I feel my blood freezing. A flock of kayakers zip by; one of them shouts “People think we’re mad!” I swim hard through the current to the bank, then lie on my back watching the ice-blue sky till the cold is too much. As I change, tendrils of mist emanate from my skin. We start to walk back and I realise the scalding heat I feel is actually the frost radiating from my bones.