One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Scarey Dip

Heavy rain, water pouring from the hills and beer-head foam. Cullever Steps is not swimmable so I slip in to the little pool at the bottom below Scarey Tor. I mean to push hard off the underwater rocks and cross the flood to the eddy on the far side, but the rock I stand on is like glass and I slide straight in and under the central cascade. I almost go over the edge, but somehow make it across. I’m laughing as I bob in the nippy water which is black as stewed tea. I return with more success and grab the top of a rock to pull myself out. Standing on sodden turf, rain needles my body through the cold afterglow. White mist winds along Belstone ridge.

Silver Grey Sports Club Interview

Several members of Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimming were asked to do an interview for this interesting website. The idea is to promote health and fitness for over-fifties through extreme sports and adventurous activities. This is a link to our interview. There are some inspirational people and stories unrelated to wild swimming on the site too.


Bouncing in Bugle Hole

We’re not sure exactly where this natural tidal pool is, but as we descend the cliff path Bugle Hole reveals itself below us. We scramble down and change on rocks like fossilised Cadbury’s Flakes. I squat on the edge of the pool and the sea surges up to meet me so that I’m simply incorporated from damp autumnal air into water.

The sea beyond us is churning and spraying in the gale, but we’re mostly protected by a rock wall that resembles the top of a portcullis. From time to time a big wave foams through a gap like saliva from the mouth of a crocodile contemplating a juicy swimmer. I float over to explore the top of a narrow cave which is also a blow hole in the right conditions, and am sucked backwards into the entrance, before being spat back out.

On the other side is a narrow gully connected to the sea, through which the swell is forced. It’s a topsy-turvy world where the landscape is hidden and revealed randomly, and where from bouncing in deep water you suddenly find yourself stranded atop a rock with the water surface three feet below. Honey is bemused.

I swim from the shelter of the Hole as the sun breaks through and emerge into a glittering, tottering sea.

YouTube video here (apologies for the dodgy quality in the middle, I was shooting into the sun)


Wizardry at Burgh Island

I’ve never swum Burgh Island in an easterly gale before, but I see from the cliffs that it’s doable. It’s the day after the OSS Dart 10k so we have about thirty swimmers from around the country excited at the prospect of an iconic Devon wild swim. We walk down past the sea tractor and into warm, pale turquoise sea.

The water’s miraculously clear and I can see the cheese grater rock that scrapes a piece from my thigh. I’m exhilarated by the wild energy of the storm and the towering cliffs and wonder whether we’ll get into Death Valley.  The entrance looks spookily calm; I watch for a bit before deciding it’s safe to enter.

My companion and I swim in, and are quickly joined by several others who’d been hovering to see whether we would survive. We swim through the outer reef towards the shelter of the cliffs.

Suddenly I’m in a cauldron of pointed wavelets about a foot high, spiralling like upside down tornados. Spray flies from their tops. There’s an invisible wizard somewhere, casting spells over the sea.

Every few yards the surface of the water transmogrifies: here are sharp waves that echo the shapes of the jagged rocks above; there tiny ruffles shiver across rounded swells; a splatter of rain pocks wavelets; white horses rear with manes of spindrift. It’s still somehow clear below the surface, and we dive down through waving weeds.

We play our way through the rocks to  where the sand bar is gradually revealed by the receding tide. The gale hits us full-force, flinging abrasive water as it rips through. There’s no big swell, just a wallop of wavelets that makes swimming hard. I’m battered from side to side to front to back and keep my head down. As we leave the water I freeze instantly; not from wizardry, but from the chill of the east wind.

Bats at Spitchwick

Early evening on a misty, drizzly autumnal day. No glorious sunset;  just a patch of glowing white between pewter clouds that look heavy enough to sink with the sun. We creep in to water that manages to be both clear and the colour of an oil slick.  The bottom is softly carpeted with fallen vegetation. Midges nip at our faces.

The river is very chilly indeed; ice-cream neck hits and I swim as hard as I can upstream to heat up. Finally I’m suffused with a warm glow which starts in my bones and seeps through to my skin. Bats flitter past, flashes of dark above black water. The last notes of birdsong fade into the night.

Jackie swims with a decorated umbrella, while Matt and Queenie wear Union Jacks on their heads. Batty people from Torbay.

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