One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Snowy Dip on Dartmoor

FloatingI trudge, head down, through the snow and howling easterly gale towards the river Lyd. Honey goes loopy doodle and leaves yeti-prints in the drifts. It starts to snow again and I have to pull my hat down because the flakes are travelling so fast they feel like sand in my eyes. The view over Widgery Cross is breathtaking, and drifts blow to form knife-edged waves and ripples below the stone wall. Gorse flowers peek through puffs of snow like little suns.Snowy Dip

I change under Black Rock, but it’s not sheltered at all and the gale surges up the valley riffling and rucking the surface of the pool. I was hoping to dip in just a swimsuit and boots, but the wind chill is seriously dangerous (I estimate it to be around -23ºc) and Honey and I are alone, so I decide to wear a swimsuit, a rash vest, boots, gloves and a silicone hat. As I change my legs turn cherry red, which doesn’t usually happen until you’ve been in very cold water for a while.Honey Joins In

I take a deep breath and brace myself for the freeze, smiling broadly. At the risk of sounding like Uri Geller, it really is all about positive mental attitude. Strangely, it feels warmer in than out and I don’t get ice-cream anything as I swim towards the falls. Light reflects from the snow, and the amber water glows like hot embers beneath me. I plunge under and become a firework as my skin burns and the water sparkles and bubbles explode from the cascade. I pop to the surface and float on my back, giggling.Firework

I stay in for around three minutes, and although I’m tempted it would be foolish to swim some more. Slithering over icy rocks to leave the water the wind slaps into me. I’m completely numb.  I change rapidly, fumbling under my Robie. My little cotton mat is frozen to the ground and I have to pull hard to un-stick it. I dry Honey and we trek back the mile and a half to the car, by which time we’re almost warm-ish. There are no words to describe this exhilaration.Gale Ruffling Water

Gorse Shines Through

Wandering Back

Book review – Beyond the Beach: the Secret Wild Swims of Torbay

Matt and Sophie DreamworldThis fascinating book exposes the secrets of the wild and beautiful coast of Torbay. It’s illustrated with a mouth-watering cornucopia of photographs, and if you can look at them and then resist dashing straight there and diving in, then you have the control of a medieval monk.

Beyond the Beach was researched and written by Matt Newbury and Sophie Pierce, and photographed underwater by Dan Bolt. I have to admit to a Wild Swimming relationship with the authors, and I had the pleasure of participating in some of the swims. But it’s honestly fantastic and I can’t recommend it highly enough. There is no substitute for the passion, eclectic knowledge and unique perspective Matt and Sophie have for this area and its unique geology and sea-life, and the book demonstrates precisely why so many people adore wild swimming. Excitingly, you also have plenty of scope for your own discoveries when you swim here.

There’s something here for everyone who has any affinity for water, or sea-life, or geology, or the history of tourism. There are some historical photographs too. The writing teems with informative and interesting snippets to tempt you into an aquatic exploration of this sensational piece of coastline, which is largely accessible to all. There are clear directions on distances, tides and how to find and explore rock arches, coves and sea caves (you simply must discover the Juliet Cave and the Rude Cave); and there are hints as to what wildlife to look for whether that’s rare eel grass, bright pink Dead Man’s Fingers, starfish or the famously inquisitive seals. There’s also an explanation for the bright red of the sandstone cliffs which were once heated by an equatorial sun.

You won’t regret buying this book, particularly if you think of Torbay simply as a large conurbation of bungalows, caravans and guest houses with some nice sea-frontages, lots of bars frequented by cooked lobster-skinned tourists, and a smattering of palm trees. So if you’d love to uncover some of Torbay’s delectable secrets then this book is essential whether you’re a wild swimmer, a tourist with a yen for adventure, someone who fancies giving relatively safe outdoor swimming a try, or just a person who loves beautiful and interesting books.

Beyond the Beach: the Secret Wild Swims of Torbay is available from


or contact Matt and Sophie via the Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Beyond-the-Beach-the-secret-wild-swims-of-Torbay/489909844375598beyond 2

Chocolate Sea and Sunday Tea

Lesley Swims in ChocolateIt’s a dank day and Honey and I drive through mizzle all the way to Sidmouth. As we approach Jacob’s Ladder bright red cliffs burn through the hitherto relentless grey and the pale turquoise sea appears to have been invaded by milk chocolate. Great drifts of pebbles like gulls’ eggs clatter then emit an other-worldly shriek as brown waves break and snatch the water back leaving milky rivulets.WWS Plays in Chocolate Waves

Hunting...Bobbing along in the chill, I notice the headland between here and Ladram is trailing mist and resembles a speeding steam train heading out to sea. Karen is wearing a fur trapper hat so it looks as though she was hit by a flash flood while out hunting.

Ducking under, I’m in an orangey world where I can barely see my own arms, the result of the pulverised chunks of cliff that have plummeted back into the sea after the wettest year in living memory.

We change on the pebble bank, drink tea and chocolate and eat muffins baked by Lesley (spiced banana) and Karen (maple and pecan). Honey mugs several people for their cake and Sidmouth sits cuddled by cliffs while the wind whips in from the sea.Honey Mugging Jo

Turquoise and Chocolate

Hope at New Year

Bobbing Back

IMGP3918I’d thought I was dreaming when opening the curtains this morning to be confronted with a bright sky and no rain! New Year, New Weather? Honey and I drove in hope to Hope Cove. On the beach we changed to the wonderful retro sound of Esther’s wind-up gramophone music swirling, slowing and quickening with the wind and laughter.  At Outer Hope a buffeted Kestrel attempted to hover over the cliff. I’d decided against a wetsuit and was delighted to find that the rather frisky water, opaque with mashed weeds like toast crumbs in milky tea, actually felt warm as toast on my wind-whipped flesh. I dived in, and was swaddled. A series of hilariously tortured faces followed us. Boogie on the Beach

Pixie in the LumpsI struck out and either ducked under the foam or swooped up over the rollers. JJ and Hugo had set off fast, so Sue and I waited for Esther and Claire. We swam round together and watched as waves disintegrated on pointy rocks. The Pop Art sky set off the lumpy water to form a gallery of stunning seascapes.

As we approached the beach we began to struggle with the breaking waves, the undertow and the hidden rocks. It was too murky to see what was coming; underwater, dark strips of weed flashed past like space at Warp Speed in negative.

I felt warm till I stood wobbling in the shallows, at which point the water ran from my body leaving it exposed to the nasty gale. After a shivering change I could still feel the chill radiate from my body as we wandered to the Hope and Anchor. When you’re this frozen, layers of clothing act like a cool box.

Later, having warmed up beautifully, we walked the coast path to view JJ’s latest plan: Round Burgh Island and on to Thurlestone through the arch in one swim. It doesn’t look far from up there! Thank you for reading in 2012, and may your New Year be wet and wild with floods of sunshine.


Woo Hoo!

Post Navigation