One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Watermouth Bay

We head up-county today, to the Atlantic below the wild cliffs of North Devon. The sea is pale turquoise through the trees, which are still stark in places but frilled with tiny new leaves. The scent of wild garlic wafts in the wind, white sparkler flowers exploding above caterpillar-green leaves. We totter down precipitously wonky steps for a couple of hundred feet to the greyish-pink sand. The bay is shaped like a slice of melon, with a series of mini-coves bitten out, each containing its own small beach. 

Andrew, Geoffrey and I swim across to the cave-pocked bluff. Here leans a wonky archway, the ledge below barely covered by water. Sea drives into the rocks, making the caves difficult to explore properly. It’s not too cold, but I feel the wind-chill. I turn back to check Honey who’s running along the beach, and who occasionally swims a little way out towards me before returning to shore.

The waves in the crescent bay, sheltered from the north-easterlies, are fairly smooth; but beyond the narrow sand neck which joins the pointed islet like a polyp to the northern side of the bay is a foaming mass of crazy, four-foot breakers. Floating on my back, buffeted by the sea, I watch the wave-shapes of the cliffs, rumpled into fifty-foot points above me.

Wild Swimming France – Book review

Sitting in my rocking chair looking out through driving rain over a chilly grey Dartmoor landscape, I opened Daniel Start’s latest book: Wild Swimming France and was immediately entranced and transported to a dream-world of sun and turquoise water cascading into fairytale pools. Each new page elicited gasps and little excited dances, to the point that my neighbours must have wondered what I was doing. This book is pure wild swimming porn.

I have two of Daniel’s other, British-based books, Wild Swimming; and Wild Swimming Coast which have proved invaluable in my explorations of local swimming spots and so I fully expected Wild Swimming France to contain similarly wonderful photos and useful information. I wasn’t prepared for the range and beauty of the watery environments across central and southern France, which Daniel has spent three years of hard graft discovering and swimming in.

The book covers every type of inland waterworld a wild swimmer could wish for: voluptuous, turquoise Corsican river pools nestling in white rock; wide, leaf-shaded Loire tributaries overlooked by Chateaux; cascades falling straight from heaven into deep, dark basins in the land of the Cathars; aquamarine Pyrenean tarns surrounded by mountains; and a host of other rivers, lakes, watery caves and canyons to explore.

Daniel incorporates a wealth of practical information which includes lat and long coordinates for each spot together with directions and ease of access; he discusses safety in detail, with sensible warnings and suggestions on how to mitigate any risks, plus translations of French signs relating to swimming. There are also summaries of popular water-based activities like canyoning and canoeing, hints on where to look for your own wild swimming spots, basic maps, and details of campsites and restaurants.

As a keen wild swimmer, this book will certainly inform my next foreign holiday; it would also be fantastic for anyone visiting France who fancied making a leap into some safe or more challenging water-based activities as a part of a family holiday.

A book to give you sparkling, watery daydreams, and which will help to make your wild swimming dreams come true.

See more about the book, and buy a copy here: http://www.wildswimming.co.uk/france.html

Photos from Wild Swimming France by Daniel Start

A Battering in the Erme

We trot up the path through Long Timber Woods the day after heavy downpours had left the moorland rivers in spate. Entering a large, deep pool I feel the chill of recent rain and swim in dark brown water before Maretta and I float and bump downstream over rocky shallows and falls.

Jackie joins us off and on, having never descended a river before. We slide over slabs into effervescent pools, popping up through the spray like ice cubes dropped into G&T. 

Many of the rocks are cushioned by thick moss, so we are spared a proper battering and it’s unusually easy to stop or get clear of stronger currents and stoppers.

There’s a six-foot drop off one side of a biggish waterfall into a mini-canyon between boulders, followed by a scarily turbulent sequence of falls.

I slide off the drop and tip up as I hit the deep water, emerging to see the edge of the more dangerous cascade approaching fast. I push back, and am immediately submerged by the force of the water. I manage to escape, and Maretta follows me over. I wait and catch her hand to pull her clear.

Shivering, we leave the river and wend our way back up the path to the viaduct; the roar of the cascades fades into the roar of traffic climbing the hill.

Watch WWS’s ‘controlled descent’ of the big waterfall here, complete with cackling from the bank! (With thanks to Jackie and Sue): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvFUbB3m2mY&feature=youtu.be


Today we meet Sophie for another of her research swims. She’s doing a talk about the history of wild swimming in Torquay on June 10th at Oddicombe Beach (see link at the bottom). It’s a crazy weather day with morning deluges and interminable traffic jams from Newton Abbot all the way to Hele, but the sun appears as we finally make it to the coast road. 

The sky is bright blue, and the sea is that weird orangy-turquoise colour you find beneath the red beaches around here. We set off towards Watcombe and the Bell Arch. About half way there I start to feel my shoulder injury. The arch seems to call to me; a rust-red promontory topped by a grassy toupée.  I manage to resist and sensibly return to the beach in a slow, shoulder-friendly front crawl with maximum rotation and no pull. The others carry on and find their way barred by a large seal, who scares them out of the water then follows them back along to the beach, thrilling the kids on the rocks.

Standing halfway up the cliff, I watch for the others; they appear as small dots in rippled circles, their laughs coming and going on the breeze.


Horseshoe Bubbly

Queenie, Honey and I amble along through the rain and squelchy earth to Salter’s Pool on the Double Dart. The water is chill and lovely with its fresh, peaty taste and we quickly become warm as we swim. It’s not quite deep enough to shoot properly over the shallow bit, but I manage to get a decent swoosh in the middle before grounding on a rock. I worry about Queenie, who is acclimatising for a Channel swim and is wearing only a swimsuit. Being Queenie, she goes for it and laughs through the pain, leaving a smear of blood over the rocks.

We arrive at Horseshoe Falls and slide over into the jacuzzi. I love the feeling of sinking through the bubbles which soften even cold water so it resembles a feather bed.  We bob around, sink, and swim up and down enjoying the sensation. Honey likes to wander around on the ledge above Horseshoe, but misjudges it today and slips over the edge into the falls, sinking. Queenie pulls her up and she climbs back, with the broken tennis ball she’s found still in her mouth. 

We swim back up against the current. and scramble over the shallows with difficulty. Even though the water is low, there’s still some force and the rocks appear to be made from ice. A couple of Mallards fly away upstream.

As we swim through the pool, the rain becomes heavier and the wind picks up. A big gust splats rain drops into the river and sends a shiver across the surface which runs right through my body. Rain drums add a further beat to the progress of the river, while the hoolie rushes through wet vegetation, energising everything. Honey goes loopy-doodle following a scent. We change into damp clothes, and drip our way back to the bridge.

Soar Mill Cove

A gaggle of us ambled along the coast path from the cliff at Bolberry Down to Soar Mill Cove on a sunny, blowy day. En route we found ourselves level with a hovering Kestrel, which Ninja Elf noticed looked like a flying heart with her curved wings.

It felt like a summer’s day on the beach with the sun, the blue sky and the sand pitted from the passing of many feet. We hung around in swimwear, although it was somewhat nippy in the breeze, and gaped at Jackie who, having swum in all weathers throughout the winter in a swimsuit, had decided to wear rubber ‘to keep the heat out’. JJ changed into his new floating shorts, which actually contained Brazilian secret padded Envy Pants, increasing the size of his arse from two garden peas to a couple of apricots.

I ran into the sea which was warmer than the puddles on the beach, and bobbed around for a bit. Most of the others set off to circumnavigate the Ham Stone, which looked wonderful. As I’m injured I stayed close to shore and then had to rescue Honey, who’d lost sight of me and run off along past the caves in a panic.

It was low tide on a spring, so we were able to explore the caves on foot. One cave went back some distance, but it was too dark inside to see much. There was a faint scent of city car park about it. It looks as though it would be easily swimmable, even on a high spring tide in decent conditions. Nearby, was a narrow crevasse in which a rock had wedged. I thought immediately of Aaron Ralston.

On the way back up, we saw our Kestrel again and watched as she floated on the updrafts like a swimmer in a bouncy sea.

Post Navigation