One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Bun Fight on the Dart

We met in the usual place and wandered up to Salter’s Pool for a chilling-off after another hot and sunny day. The water was cool and silky, Horseshoe gave us a pummelling akin to trotting for ten miles bareback on a Dartmoor pony, and we were all bursting with bonhomie. Two latecomers arrived and leapt in with Queenie and Jane, while the rest of us dried off.

Then Jackie got the cake out.

The water in Salters, previously black and smooth as guinness, churned as though a carcass had been flung to a school of ravenous pirhanas. Jackie stood on the bank and extended her cake-loaded hand. Jane and Queenie emerged from the scrum together, but a passing salmon staged a dazzling leap over their heads and grabbed the cake. Queenie executed a glorious dive, but lost control on the slithery rocks and smacked into Jane before they both plummeted back to the river, crushing the salmon beneath them. Jane grabbed the cake from the jaws of the stunned fish. Jackie, fearing for her fingers, lobbed a spare piece to Queenie.

Meanwhile, the MacFamily came close to being swept away by the tsunami as they furtively gobbled brownies and flapjacks under cover of the trees on the big slab rock.

As the sun set we scoffed the last of the cake and the churning waters subsided. The lifeless salmon floated downstream on her final journey, turning stiffly in the current, glinting silver through the dark water. Jane threw a mid-stream Falling Tree Pose in an attempt to pretend she had been calmly practising yoga all along, and had played no part in the tragic death of the salmon. A final shock-wave hit her and she was tossed gracefully downstream like a branch in a winter storm. Fishy Karma.


Beauteous Bovisand

It’s evening and the sun is low, flooding Bovisand with light reflected from sea, sky and wet sand. The inlet glows softly, guarded by dark rocks pointing out to Cornwall like dragon’s feet. Occasionally, the growl of a boat engine augments the reptilian grumble and crash of the sea. The breakwater appears to hover in a fairytale cloud. We bob around and leap through waves while gulls float nearby in puddles of light. 

Luscious Lyd

Dry heat rises in waves from the moorland track. Squadrons of skylarks take off from the gorse, dull brown, and rise slowly before suddenly letting rip, fluttering and singing their hearts out, higher and higher and higher.

It’s a thrill to slip into Witch’s Pool and wallow in amber water, surrounded by the tinkle of the falls and brushed by occasional gusts from a warm breeze. Honey rootles along the edge, apparently walking below the surface where it vanishes into infinity.

We jog down to the little cascade and I float face-down in the sparkling flume. As I roll over a kestrel flies directly overhead on arched wings. Two women seated on the Black Rock bench wave and smile at me while new, beaming-yellow gorse flowers waft their exotic coconut scent.

Delicious Dart

I’m baking and sticky with sweat after the hottest day this year, and the sound and sight of the Double Dart as the air starts to cool makes me want to run flat out and dive straight in. We walk upstream and change among the trees. The river rocks are slippery, so our entrance is less nifty than we had hoped. As I fall forwards the deliciously cool water sluices the heat and salt from my skin and I’m instantly invigorated.

We swim serenely around the pool, occasionally passed by a speeding dog; we have Honey and Perrin the labrador with us this evening. It’s a joy to watch a dog bred for swimming cavorting through the river, water rilling from his coat.

We swim in each pool before plopping in to the Horseshoe jacuzzi. I feel the fizzling softness on my skin. Janey says the bubbles make happy water, and I know what she means. I hold a handful of bubbles briefly before they evanesce like Tinkerbell.

Goodrington to Broadsands

A Sophie-Swim today, from Goodrington to Broadsands near Paignton. It’s hot and sunny and the sea is flat and warm; light splays off red sand, still wet from the retreating tide. It smells like summer. We swim face-down through forests of weed, some of which stroke and pull at our limbs, while others scour like brillos. A school of tiny, blue fish zip past, dodging through a mini-canyon.

As we approach Arm Chair Rock, the sea turns turquoise and is tepid as bathwater. Water ebbs and flows around curiously pitted and holed limestone formations with a sound like vindaloo-induced indigestion. Sophie wallows and exclaims, transfixed by the shapes and the sounds.

I venture a couple of short runs of butterfly, but it’s difficult getting the timing back after my injury. Switching back to crawl I hit a thermocline where the water is suddenly icy, sending a shiver through my bare feet, hands and head.

Approaching Broadsands beach I feel then hear a strimmer sound cutting through me from the surrounding sea. I turn to see a couple of speed boats shooting across the bay, ejaculating sea water from their engines as they pass.  It’s a horrible return to the real world, as annoying as a mosquito in your bedroom.

The Spell of Bel Pool

Glorious sunshine; the scent of bluebells; May trees exploding; a soft carpet of grasses, wood anemones, mosses and leftover autumn leaves. As we walk, I watch the sky glaring blue through illuminated young oak leaves. I briefly mistake a yellow-green Brimstone butterfly for a magically animated leaf.

We arrive at Bel Pool, a beguiling potion of reflected sun, frog-green light, dappled amber water and sparkling rapids. I climb in over a tree skeleton, washed here over the winter. The rocks below the surface are slippery, and I reach out to grab one near the surface. It feels like a hairy thigh with its patchy moss pelt. It’s the warmest water I’ve swum in this year, but still tastes fresh and lovely as I push upstream.

I hear a tinkling like raindrops and feel the chill emanating from the dank rock fissure near the iron ladder that leads down the rock face to the river.  Swimming quickly past, the sun warms my back till I meet the rapids and push into the flume. I sink slightly and whoosh down among the bubbles towards the luteous glow at the lower end of the pool.

Brollies at Bantham

It’s Kari’s idea to float down the the Avon (or Aune) estuary to Bantham carrying decorated umbrellas, partly for the spectacle, and partly to see whether we can! We slip into cool water just after high tide on a warm evening. Most of us are carrying umbrellas adorned with everything from fish and ribbons to christmas-tree decorations.

The water is still and deep aquamarine, and reflects the few puffs of cloud. As we swim out from the shadow of the boat house we are warmed by hazy sunlight. I carry my brolly in one hand and swim in side-stroke, swept along by the current like Mary Poppins. I hear laughter as the others stream water and beads from their brollies like rain in the sunshine. Honey follows, chasing flotillas of seaweed and pouncing as the mood takes her. She trails gory green sea lettuce from her mouth.

As I reach the remaining small square of sand I float face down, and watch empty shells and balls of seaweed scud by over the wrinkled sand. Wavelets hit from three directions pushing my body hither and thither, and moving the submarine flotsam in sympathy. My view is intermittently clouded by little sandstorms where opposing waves hit. I roll over and watch a couple of umbrellas drift round the point to the beach.

Stoke Boat Yard

Neither Michelle nor I have been to Stoke Beach before today, and we are disappointed by the rows of ugly green caravans, and the flotsam and jetsam littering the tiny beach. We comment on the lack of care shown to the beach, in contrast to the manicured caravan park. The sea, however, is beautifully greeny-blue and frisky under the blustery sky. We swim up a small gully to open water and are immediately walloped by washing-machine waves.

Honey is usually happy on the beach, but today I turn to see her teetering on the edge of the rocks as the surf hits, from where she is washed to join us. She swims in her speedboat stroke – head right up and forelegs pumping fast. When she reaches us, she relaxes and we accompany her back to the rocks where she somehow manages to land through the white water, which streams from her woolly coat.

We return for another buffeting; loose weed catches my face as I swim, like ghostly hands. I look back shorewards and see bleached, sparse grasses, colourless cliffs and the dusty track. It reminds me of the setting for the final showdown in a Spaghetti Western, to the point that I can hear the spooky strains of Ennio Morricone in the wind.

There are sea anemones in the shallows, and Turban Tops clinging to the rocks below the tide-line. I hear crunching over the sound of the sea; Honey, having tired of eating seaweed, is snacking on molluscs shells and all.

Later, Michelle realises we were swimming from Stoke Boat Yard, just along from the real Stoke Beach which is secreted around the corner behind a rocky headland.

Evening at Spitchwick

Warm sun, chill breeze, cold river…ice-cream head! The surface is smooth like liquid brass, reflecting acid-green leafed trees. Occasionally the wind catches the water which wrinkles along its path. As I swim I hear birds, the ripples from my stroke and plinks and plops as fish jump for midges near the bank. The sun is low and catches my eyes, sparkling from damp eyelashes. My skin burns with the cold.

Wembury Aaaaaargh

Hight tide, big breakers, and off we go into the cloudy sea. Its chillier than usual after days of torrential rain. We swim a bit and float a bit, spread-eagled and sparkling in the sun to warm our frozen cheeks. Wembury Church is a silhouette, moving further and further away. We realise we’re quite far out, and swim back at an angle against the swell, which is pushing over towards the reef on the Yealm side.

We draw level with the surfers and the stand-up-paddle-boarder. I start to enjoy the breakers, shooting up and plummeting on the far side in a wild roller coaster. Teri and Michelle are slightly further in. Suddenly there’s a set of huge waves, around twelve feet high. Realising we’re in the breaking zone, I sink to the bottom and pop up after the wave has passed, but the next one is on me. I dive through it, and get rolled. We’re out of our depth, and it’s hard to overcome the buoyancy of the wetsuit.

I have to shove my camera down my front to concentrate fully on getting through the surf, and try to cross parallel to the beach where the waves are less high. I look back at an advancing breaker and see the stand-up-paddle-board wipe out and fly above the foam. I’m braced and ready for the next onslaught, when the energy drops suddenly. Looking shorewards, I spot my friends among the foamy amoeba-shapes left by the waves. Teri has the expression of  a stunned sea bass; she’s been rolled and has lost her goggles, and her swimming hat is perched like a second head atop her hair. Michelle says she looks like Blackadder the First.

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