One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Channel Swim, Kari’s Blog

This link is to Kari Furre’s blog of Thursday’s Channel Swim attempt, where she was one of the support team of three accompanying JJ and Queenie. It shows first-hand what an immense challenge this swim is. Kari is our Swimming Guru, the woman who has given many of our swimmers the confidence and skill to swim in the wild, and who has truly transformed my own relationship with the water.  http://swimclinic.squarespace.com/blog/2012/7/28/to-the-other-side.html

Horndon Clam

We all spent the day on tenterhooks while Queenie and JJ slogged through their epic Channel swim. They left Dover just after 2am, but following seasickness and extreme cold they were forced to stop around thirteen hours later, just three miles from their goal. Queenie and JJ, all your swimming friends are in awe of your courage, stamina and strength.

I feel devastated for my friends, so Honey and I set off to Horndon Clam on the river Tavy, near where we live. We clamber down the track and take the tiny path upstream from the Clam through the woods. We pass twisty oaks, luscious bracken and orchids. The fields on the far side are edged with Dartmoor bunting of barbed wire hung with sheeps’ wool flags.

It’s still baking hot and I feel sweat prickling my skin and every so often there’s a sharp itch where a cleg fly bites. Honey and I dip by the little falls and are cleansed by sparkling bubbles which seem to release stress as they burst. They’re silver at the surface where the sun catches them, fading to pale amber in deeper water.

We walk back and slide into the deep pool. It’s black and still, soaked with reflected colour. I float downstream so as not to disturb the calm, then swim back up. The current’s almost invisible here until I swim against it and the water pushes over my face and shoulders. A pair of wrens watch from low down in a tree, and fly off trilling as Honey shakes the water from her coat.

Double Dip

Such a glorious day, so I decided to follow a topical theme and go for a double dip. This morning I dropped Honey off with her Gran and swam around a mile along Plymouth Hoe. The city’s finest were out in force, and I changed near a gang of blokes swigging White Lightning from three-litre bottles, smoking, swearing at each other, and commenting on passing women’s breasts. Luckily, I don’t have any of those…

I swam out past the Lido, and was overtaken by a pilot-boat and then a frigate making a huge racket and presumably on her way back from a detachment. My next encounter was with the ‘One Hour Plymouth Tour’ boat dropping off one lot of passengers and reloading another. I waited for them to pass, and felt rather like an exotic fish in the Aquarium as people pointed at me and exclaimed, I hope because I was wearing my new loud swimsuit – a rather spectacular Uglies.

As I swam back across the buoy-marked swimming area (limit 4kts) the mates of the drunk blokes swept in at full-speed in two boats with in-boards, shaking their tails, enveloping me with a smog of exhaust fumes and almost drowning me in their wake. I was slightly annoyed. A boy belonging to the gang threw stones at a little girl in the shallows, calling her no end of names, while the adults chugged more cider and shouted at each other. The overall impression today was of the kind of uncivilised wildness I’d rather avoid.

Late afternoon: we wander up the East Dart from Grockle Hell, aka Dartmeet, where most people confine themselves to a picnic next to the car. A little way upstream is a lovely dipping pool sheltered by oaks, one of which appears to be executing a theatrical bow; Come in, Come in, he says. This is an altogether nicer experience than this morning’s. The water glistens amber and green and feels like satin. I share the pool with some kids who show me how their swimming shorts blow up underwater, while JJ sits like a Dartmoor Pixie on the rocks having gashed his arm and been banned from the wet. 

And finally, somewhat off-message, I’d like to send the very best of luck to my friends JJ (see photo below – he’s the mop-head who’s not blonde) and Queenie, who will be swimming the English Channel in a two-person relay on Thursday, probably starting at around 4.30am. Their support ship is the Anastasia, which you can follow via this link. Go Twins!    http://www.shipais.com/showship.php?mmsi=235019572

Swimming Out with the Tide: Lostwithiel to Golant

The water in the upper reaches of the tidal Fowey River is a chilly 12.5°C when we slip in at 8.30am in bright sunshine. I dunk my face and am glad I chose to wear my wetsuit. Stef and I have decided to pootle for this cheeky little four-mile swim, and once we’ve warmed-up we stop for a float and a chat washed with the green light from the overhanging trees. We meander with the river whose banks are frayed by masses of reeds, and pass a pair of unconcerned swans while skeins of Canada Geese cross overhead. A swallow swoops close enough to touch.

The water is thick and opaque with silty lifeforms, illuminated by distinct rays of greeny-amber. I watch the bubbles stream from my hands and hear the glug as I exhale. Floating on my back, sun sprays from ripples. The river widens, and there’s a faint tang of saltiness like perspiration.

Now we are able to stand, feet sliding in clay studded with harder nuggets. I’m ambushed by Stef and Richard and we lob mud pies at each other. Queenie (towing a dry-bag full of cake), Rosie and Bridget mud-jump to meet us, bouncing along through waist-high water in a slow-mo run like Chariots of Fire. The estuary is wide, littered with boats, and overwhelmingly blue.


Queenie and I swim the last stretch side by side, through water that is suddenly the colour of milk chocolate, and flecked with bits of grass. My fingers are splayed with the cold. We clamber out onto the slip way and feel the heat from the sun.


Crazywell Pool

Crazywell Pool is overflowing down the Gurt, smooth and black and, according to local legend, deeper than the combined length of the bell-ropes from Walkhampton Church. We swim through opaque water, the cloudy sky reflected in its rippled surface. There is a layer of warmth on top, but the depths are cooler, catching dangling feet and hands.  Crossing the centre of the pool, I swim above the spring and am iced by a wintry blast while the sun sneaks through and warms my head.

Inspirational 🙂

Pickled Hedgehog Dilemma

Yes, crocheting really is that important. In case you don’t quite understand why, I’ll start at the beginning.

Two women in LA, Margaret Wertheim and her twin sister, were concerned about climate change. If left to continue along its current trajectory, the world’s climate will heat up (even more than it has for the past decades). This climate change promises to bring a  number of disasters upon the human race and our planet.  One of the potential disasters that climate change could cause is the loss of many of the world’s coral reefs.

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Foggy Hoe

We meet for a Thursday evening swim on Plymouth Hoe, after yet another hideous day of torrential rain, wind and mist. Unusually, the boys outnumber the girls.  We pick our way over rocks and seaweed into murky greeny-grey water. The wind slaps rain over me and I chill instantly so that the sea feels almost warm. Drake’s Island and a cruise ship loom in and out of view through the fog.

The minute I hit the water I feel better. The spray sparks off my burning skin and I smell stormy sea. Every so often patches of slender weed wrap my limbs like bony fingers in a ghost train.  I bump around randomly enjoying the sensation of being slapped by frantic waves. The wind roars in my ears enhancing the feeling of a fairground ride.

I swim and concentrate on holding my glide while I breathe, allowing the sea to dictate an erratic rhythm. I roll with the white horses and wait, sneaking breaths where I can see a gap in the slapper waves. We swim back in and are dumped inelegantly among the shingle, weed and sand on the shore.


Honey and I squidge up to Sharrah just as the sun begins to make tentative appearances. It’s bright, juicy green everywhere after weeks of rain, and we’re walloped with the usual crescendo and energy surge as we cross the stile above the lower rapids. The pool is black and the currents are patterned with fine foam like paisley fabric.

Today I swim through water like iced black coffee, silver bubbles trailing from my hands and mouth. The upper cascade foams and sprays and I float face-down through ginger ale fizz. I have ice-cream neck, but it soon passes. I practise my strokes heading upstream, and feel the current pressing against my arms and body; I try to streamline myself but the water direction is too random. Floating on my back, I watch wisps of white wander across a slice of bright blue sky.

Tavy Cleave

It’s not raining, so we head off to Tavy Cleave to find a dipping spot. We discover a lovely little pool below a shallow cascade overlooked by steeply-pointed Ger Tor. Just below the falls, Honey and I slip into water the colour of ginger cake made with black treacle. I barely notice the chill, and the scent of sheep fades as I dip under. The cascade roars and the birds sing while the wind blusters. I swim against the current, adjusting my stroke as the flow buffets me in order to stay in the same place, and watch a bird of prey hover over the escarpment, jinking in the wind to a similar end.

I float back down past a ginormous Dartmoor slug, black and wrinkled like slightly animated fox poo.  A slow worm slides away, beautiful despite appearing to have been decorated by Kelly Hoppen in shades of taupe and cappuccino with just enough iridescence to stay on the right side of tasteful.  The bird of prey, a Sparrow Hawk I think, swoops down and vanishes.

Sweetly Sugary Cove

Just around the corner from Dartmouth Castle, Sugary Cove is as sweet and lovely as it sounds. The tide is high and we enter the cool, pale turquoise sea from the rocks then swim along to the gully. Cliffs tower above while gulls wheel overhead. A pair of nesting Oyster Catchers rush past, black and white with long orange beaks, they emit frequent squeaky-toy calls and should certainly be immortalised in plasticine by Nick Park. We dive down and see a large crab who quickly pulls a frond of seaweed over her shell like a wig, in an attempt to disguise herself.

Round the corner overlooked by the Castle is a cave where we play for a while. The pale, quartz-veined slabs close to the surface make the water pulse with colour. We swim back round the outside, where a gull guards a guano-iced rock and the Oyster Catchers reappear, circuiting us several times in alarm. The scent of sea bird wafts over us, while white-sheeted yachts sail silently past like ghosts.

We find another deep cave on the opposite side of the bay.  We’re pulled in and shooshed back; it’s like being caught in the wind-pipe of a living creature. The cold hits here under the damp, limpeted walls. We swim back to shore in sunshine through fragments of weed suspended in bright sea.

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