wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the month “June, 2013”

Norfolk: Burnham Overy Staithe

Burnham Overy Staithe

Burnham Overy Staithe

Honey, TrannyVan and I are on our travels thanks to the 60th birthday party of my old mucker Les, who lives in far eastern parts. Since JJ’s funeral is on Friday in Ashburton, and Les’s party on Saturday lunchtime near Neatishead, we set off on Friday evening and finish the long journey on Saturday morning, punctuated by a few hours attempting to sleep in a layby on the A14 being buffeted by speeding traffic, and awash with the scent of stale wee.

Shelduck Art

Shelduck Art

The party is a lovely, chatty, scoffy, alcoholic affair, as I catch up with my old RAF friends of over 20 years ago. Honey and I spend the night in the local bowling club’s field. Wild flowers scent the air, and there’s no traffic other than the resident pigeons dancing tangos on TrannyVan’s roof.  We spend Sunday engaged in more talking, the eating of leftovers and recovery from the hangover. Finally, we set off for the North Norfolk coast in the sultry late afternoon.

Coast Path

Coast Path

I have a gallery of beautiful pictures of Holkham in my head, left over from my days based at RAF West Raynham in the mid-1980s.  I’m shattered and in need of peace, isolation and wild water after two weeks of emotional upset and too much alcohol. The current reality is so far from my memories that I think I must have dreamed it. There are several hundred cars and a constant stream of sun-burned people heading back from the beach. The final decision not to stop here is made by the most extortionate parking charges I’ve ever seen. Of course the place is stunning, but we execute a hasty departure and head along the coast road in search of somewhere more peaceful and affordable.

Eternity of Beach

Eternity of Beach

We turn down to the harbour of Burnham Overy Staithe, a place I don’t remember at all. There are a few people wandering along a creek littered with small boats, and a clinking like alpine cow bells as lanyards rattle against masts. The parking is free, and a sign points to Burnham Overy Beach (1 1/2 miles) and Holkham (3 1/2 miles) via the coast path, a raised walkway of red chalk atop banks of waving grasses and wild flowers weaving across the salt marshes and estuarine mud flats like a giant rag worm. It’s close to low tide, and the sun is beginning to drop as Honey and I set off.

Over the Dunes

Over the Dunes

The plants that bedizen the path include hemlock, poppies of red and mauve, wild thyme, barley and several succulents I don’t recognise. Oyster Catchers, my favourite comedy birds, wander around and fly overhead which excites Honey owing to the resemblance of their calls to squeaky dog toys, one of her obsessions. I hear a skylark over the marshes. A gaggle of Shelducks gobble their evening meal from the mud, leaving a series of dashed meandering lines like Aboriginal art. A Redshank flies off as we approach and a very vocal pair of Curlews shoots past. There is a smell of estuary mud and salty water and a tang of fish.

Watery Remains on Wrinkled Sand

Watery Remains on Wrinkled Sand

I remove my sandals as we climb the dunes, super-fine, pale golden sand crunches and sifts between my toes and the North Sea glints in the distance as we crest between clumps of marram grass. It’s cooler here, and the wind blows strong and steady along the beach which stretches for miles. Honey and I run down and trot across the high tide mark that’s littered with razor shells like a self-harmer’s convention. There are shallow pools and strips of water. We walk across wrinkled damp sand.

Skinny Dip Sundown

Skinny Dip Sundown

Finally we reach the sea. The only sounds are sea birds and the whistling gale and the constant white noise of roughened water.  There is no swell, and no swell in the sound,  which contributes to a  sense of eternal suspense. Everything is infinite.

Sea

Sea Impression

I strip off, and run naked into brownish-grey water that I’m expecting will be cold, only it’s the warmest I’ve swum in this year. The touch of the sea and the wind that blows straight and constant and the widescreen view leave me floating in a perfect suspension of time and place. The closest landscape to this I can think of is the Atlantic coast of North Devon, but this place is emptier, wilder, more exposed. There are no protruding headlands to divert the gale or the sea, no snuggled coves. I feel excoriated, sloughed.

Sun Down

Sun Down over the Burn Estuary

We dry off in the wind as the sun drops lower, gleaming from sand exposed by the ebbed tide.

Returning to our creek, we sit on the floor in the back of the van with the doors open and eat, before retiring for a peaceful night of whistling wind, lapping water and dinghy mast tinkling.

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Super-Moon Gazey: Bugle Hole, Mothecombe

Super-Moon Gazey (Photo Allan Macfadyen)

Waves Spill into Bugle Hole

Super-Moon Gazey (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Super-Moon Gazey (photo Allan Macfadyen)

I’ve cancelled today’s swim, which was rather too exciting and not something I felt able to plan and execute just yet. A group of us have met up this evening mostly because we want to see each other and talk and remember JJ in a place where we feel his spirit. The Super Full Moon lends enhanced significance.

Wild Bugle

Wild Bugle

Bugle Hole in early evening on a high spring tide and with a sporting swell is simply awesome. It looks like nothing as you meander down the cliff path, but once you’re in you’re swept along, hugged in the bosom of the sea, pushed and squeezed and pulled and splatted against rocks if you fail to pay attention, as I did.

Maelstrom

Maelstrom

Waves crash and foam, rocks grow taller and shrink like Alice in Wonderland, and the Blow Hole at the end gurgles like a giant with IBS, despite being gob-stoppered by a buoy. Well worth the giant bruises.

Helen Leaps into Bugle Hole

Helen Leaps into Bugle Hole

Afterwards, we amble back to Mothecombe and collect driftwood for a fire. Then we lay out our lavish picnic and await the great event; the rising of the Full Super-Moon above the headland. Allan and Kate’s boys do a grand job with the fire, which has been carefully and anally constructed by Rachel, who then assumes responsibility for predicting the appearance of said Super Moon using her Android app. We learn random facts about planets elicited without the aid of specs and including that there’s a planet called ‘Sooth’, which turns out to be ‘South’. Of course JJ would have used a far superior iphone5.  We eat and chat and laugh, and Baa, Lou, Helen, Linda and Michele construct a moon from pebbles and driftwood on the sand as a kind of  incantation, while slate clouds mass behind the beach.

Rachel's Digital Moon Gazing

Rachel’s Digital Moon Gazing

Suddenly, she’s here. Rising orange and dribbling a wandering reflection across the damp left by the receding tide on the sand, glowing and pregnant with our emotions. We toast our Full Super-Moon and our dear, lost friend JJ with sparkling rosé wine. Then we change into wet kit and run into the sea, Michele and Helen do cartwheels and we all body surf and dive and play in the breakers in the moonlight. The black clouds roll over, but JJ’s Moon forces cracks of light, incandescent through the darkness.

Super-Moon

Super-Moon

Moon Hiding

Moon Hiding

Driftwood Fire

Driftwood Bonfire

Rising...

Rising…

A Midsummer Night’s Wet Dream With All Kinds of Shenanigans

Faeri Rachel Doth Not Take the Officer of the Law With Due Seriousness

Faerie Rachel Doth Not Take the Officer of the Law With Due Seriousness

Cast:

Faeries Lesley, Jane, Tara, Tara’s Mum, Debs, Michael, Charlotte, Rachel, Geoffrey, Helen, Lynne, Oakley and Honey.

An Officer of the Law

Bottom

A Young Surfer Dude

A Mostly Silent Man But For Fair Swearing

Faerie Lesley Wafts

Faerie Lesley Wafts

Act 1

New Bridge Car Park, close to the great river Dart, on a Mizzled and Gloomy Midsummer’s Eve. Water Faeries are wafting and gathering wild flowers and ivy for to adorn their faerie heads. Wings are sprouting willy nilly.  A chequered Vauxhall Estate of yellow and blue enters stage left, driven by an Officer of the Law. The Officer of the Law winds down his window and beckons to Faerie Rachel. 

Officer of the Law: ‘Fair spinster, I think you be what I seek’

Faerie Rachel (a Faerie of a certain age, posing appealingly): ‘What, Faeries in the woods?’

Officer of the Law (scoffing openly): ‘No, fair spinster I seek the Ravers of whom I have heard tell from the great Baron of these Woods, who in his turn heard this tale from a former serf who overheard some yoofs discussing it in the local hostelry, the name and location of which I have forgot’.

Faerie Rachel: (pouring a cup of elderflower tea and dropping in a couple of soluble Es which fizz and emit an enchanted greenish glow) ‘Verily Officer I know not who or what might be this Raver of which you speak. I am Faerie Rachel, a Faerie of A Certain Age and these be my Wild Band of Merrie Water Faeries. I have not raved for many Super-Moons, and indeed may normally be found tucked up in my Faerie bed at so late an hour as this’.

Officer of the Law: ‘Faerie Rachel I see those eyes are ringed with darkness, and so I presumed you had not seen your bed for many Super-Moons indeed. I had not clocked that you was a Faerie of a Certain Age, since you has tresses the colour of the sun what shines over the Moors in the early morn, and a face near free of crow’s feet and other give away lines’.

Faerie Rachel: (attempting to scowl through her botox and lobbing a handful of Faerie Dust through the window of the car, which Faerie Michael blows off-course towards Spitchwick): ‘What art thou trying to say, oh Officer of the Law? Dost I look like a Raver? A hex on you! I wish you a particularly horrible and endless night shift involving a gaggle of drunks and a complicated mix-up over a parking ticket’.

Faerie Jane: (Now changed into a winged wetsuit and flirting shamelessly) ‘Have you seen my beautiful Faerie wings, oh Officer of the Law? Don’t you wish to stroke them? They have glitter on them and everything!’

Officer of the Law: (Sticks the blues on and drives away, muttering) ‘I fear tis not safe for a youthful and lone Officer of the Law in these enchanted parts…’

Faerie's Tara and Tara's Mum

Faerie’s Tara and Tara’s Mum

Act 2

The Car Park at Spitchwick.

Faerie Lesley: (Wafting yards of netting) ‘But soft, I hear drunken mooing, has yon Faerie Rachel been Faerie dusting again’?

Faerie Rachel: ‘Forsooth I mooed when I gave birth, yet verily there was no such dust around in those days of yore, when we had simply gas and air. You may be mistaken that my Faerie Dust has blown astray, fair Water Faeries’

Bottom: (wetting himself, swigging many quarts of cyder and mooing some more) ‘I know not where I is,  mine friends is gone away with the Faeries, take me home, pleeeeeeease, and bring me my beautiful cow for I am truly in love!’

Faeries: ‘We be going for our Midsummer’s Eve swim in yonder great river, but verily several of us might fall helpless in love with you, dear Bottom, for tis an enchanted eve this eve and we are dressed to Rave. Though of course yon dark and dangly depths of enchanted water be most chilled, and forsooth will dampen the ardour of all but Faeries Jane, Michael, Charlotte and Deb who are attired in Faerie Neoprene With Glittering Wings’.

Bottom: (Sobs, moos yet more) ‘I know not what I be doing, I know not where be mine friends, I know not what I be doing, I love this fair cow, see her lashes and her brown eyes like the pool in which we shall swim!’

(Faeries flutter away towards the pool, wings dripping in the mizzle)

Faeries Michael and Charlotte

Faeries Michael and Charlotte

Act 3

The Pool at Spitchwick

(Faeries waft up and down the pool, Faerie Honey frolics with a ball beneath the bank, Faerie Oakley steals Faerie Honey’s ball)

Enter Young Surfer Dude, friend of Bottom, attired in orange board shorts

Young Surfer Dude: (Slurring and posing) ‘Hey, so be you Faeries of Wild Swimming? What be your purpose in these beautiful parts? Know you why we be here, me and my friends, who have vodka and stuff and a boy-racer car with twin exhausts and a thundersome box and are camping in these enchanted woods on this enchanted eve, and did you know I can verily jump into yon pool from the very very pinnacle of yon cliff, which is of course but a quarter as high as the many cliffs off what I have leapt in my time, what with me being verily a yoof and a surfer, and also I hail from the magic land of Kernow’?

Faerie Helen: (raises eyes to heaven) ‘Yoofy Surfer Dude I am interested not in your great feats of manhood, but rather what you may have secreted in yon board shorts. Be there flap jacks in there’?

Young Surfer Dude: ‘Faerie Helen just you watch and you will be complete unable to resist my displays of manhood’! (Dips toe into water, undips toe, runs away)

Faeries: (Guffaw, swim up and down, chatter and giggle, waft a bit more, float some flowers downstream)

Enter Young Surfer Dude again, wearing a 7mm wetsuit. (Leaps into water, climbs cliff, leaps from top, over and over again sending giant waves of enchanted water across the pool).

Faerie Lesley: ‘Dratted Surfer Dudes, now I am wetter than ever and mine sunflower has bedraggled’.

Faerie Jane: ‘Forsooth I am most grateful for these wings, what have glitter on them and everything, for otherwise I should verily have sunk without trace’

Faeries Charlotte and Debs: (faint with admiration for the enormous size of the enchanted waves, and discussing the purchase of surf boards on ebay) Wooo Hooo!

Faerie Helen: (screams) ‘Shark’!

Weaving Watery Spells

Weaving Watery Spells

Act 4

Faerie Michael: ‘Forsooth, I am without neoprene and my suit of clothes has vanished! What enchanted woods are these? I and Faerie Charlotte shall depart for the lovely hostelry of which we have heard tell, though we know not where it be’

Bottom: (Some miles away) ‘Moooooooooooooooooo! Moooooooooooooooo!

Silent Swearing Man: ‘Shut the f**k up!’

Surfer Dude: ‘Silent friend let us take off to our hidden tent, and let us make merry with this bottle of vodka while leaving Bottom to moo. For verily he is driving me away with the Faeries also, and besides he has a new friend who is a rather winsome cow, perchance a belted Galloway. And I rather fancy mine chances with you…for your swearing hath aroused me something rotten.’

Exit stage left, pursued by a Mooooooo!

Fairies: (Drying off with Faerie towels and refuelling on flap jacks and gin-soaked lemon drizzle cake) ‘Let us go to yon hostelry which be up yon hill, past Bottom’

Bottom: ‘Mooooooooooooo! I be lost, oh take me home dear Water Faeries for I cannot be alone no more in this enchanted place and now mine cow have departed while I were somewhat indisposed and wetting mine pants some more’.

Faeries: ‘Bottom, move not and we shall find your friends for you’ (Faeries seek and search in vain, for at least a minute, before departing for the local hostelry)

Watery Faeries

Watery Faeries With Wings and Glitter and Everything

Act 5

The Local Hostelry

Faerie Tara: ‘Hail fine Land Lord, furnish me at once with a hot chocolate as big as my face, for I no longer care about the events of this enchanted midsummer eve. I need chocolate!’

Faerie Lesley: ‘Mine be a quart of your finest ale, mine landlord, and make it fast since the witching hour is almost upon us…’.

Faerie Tara’s Mum: ‘I worry about poor Bottom, all alone and with his loves departed. What should we do…’

Faerie Jane: ‘Fear not on this enchanted eve, for I have bewitched the Officer of the Law and have insisted that he shall seek and seek and seek through the mizzzle and the hawthornes and the crab apples till he be soaked through and chilled to them there bones. How dare he be so rude to poor Faerie Rachel of a Certain Age.’

The clock strikes midnight and the Water Faeries melt away…The Officer of the Law seeks Bottom endlessly in vain over a long and enchanted night, before eventually falling into a dreamy sleep after a lunch of a stale Co-Op donut and a bag of crisps.

All returns to normal on the enchanted Double Dart, where Water Faeries play and yoofs and Old Dears Rave…

Bedraggled Sunflower

Bedraggled Sunflower

Wildly Wonderful: JJ

JJ Shocks a Kayker, Dec 11

JJ Shocks the Paddlers, Sharrah Pool, Dec 11

Deflowered by the Thurlestone

Deflowered by the Thurlestone

I don’t want to write about JJ with a sad heart. He was pure joy; effervescent as a Double Dart cascade or a stormy sea; wild and wonderful and kind and clever and affectionate, and always up for anything. He was my friend and I adored him, a universal sentiment among our ever-expanding group of wild swimmers. JJ made us all feel special, he had time and hugs for everyone, always.

In Stormy Seas at Wembury

In Stormy Seas at Wembury

This is a series of fleeting impressions from an Atlantic Ocean of memories. Thinking of JJ I hear his laughter echoing from the walls of a sea cave, I feel zings of adrenaline and the whoosh of a wave as we career through a sea arch having egged each other on, I see a blurred, ghostly form in a tiny tent as he shivers after an hour in Crazy Well Pool during his acclimatisation for a Channel relay. I see him bobbing and photographing Shags and Cormorants around the back of Thatcher Rock. I see his silly, yak-chewed hat and crazy jacuzzi hair, corkscrewing and tipped with mini-dreads from constant immersion in wild water. I see the sun shining and glinting off the sea as he smiles. I watch him with his beloved boys, tactile and funny and deeply interested.

Swimming near to the Mewstone

Swimming near to the Mewstone

JJ had a hand-knitted hippy heart veined with high-tech neoprene through which digital technology pulsed. We were the Japanese Tourists, obsessively snapping each other and everyone else with our underwater cameras. He was warmth in wind-whipped winter water, and love, and amber depths in a moorland river.  He was a ‘sinker’ – a muscled and super-fit type who couldn’t bear to carry the extra couple of kilos of blubber he needed in order for his legs to float; he was an amazing swimmer who flew through wild water like an eel with a jet engine. How we laughed at his expensive buoyancy shorts that added extra buns and quads onto his already legendary body. He took it all with good grace.

Claiming Thatcher Rock for DWS

Claiming Thatcher Rock for DWS

Walking alongside me on dry land, chatting as we climbed back up a cliff, or along the track through Holne Woods, JJ was quietly-spoken and  thoughtful, or playful and funny, or challenging, and always interesting. He’d move among the group, spending time with everyone, head bent forward in concentration, discussing advanced swim training methods, or interactive smart phone apps for kids with diabetes, or telling a funny story, or explaining an idea for a swim, or this week’s twist to his famous gin-soaked lemon drizzle cake recipe. Honey also loved JJ and his cakes, having stolen several hunks thanks to his habit of leaving them on the ground.

The Famous Physique

The Famous Physique

Standing next to him in my swimsuit at Burgh Island as he pulled his wetsuit on (the one with the gold sleeves that he so loved) I laughingly called JJ a wimp. He hesitated. Queenie piped up from behind; ‘She’s got bigger balls than you have!’ He removed the suit and swam in trunks. He once signed up for an extreme endurance swim after I joked to him on Facebook that he ought to be able to do it since he had a whole 5 days to recover from the 10k he was entered for; I added a winking face, but as he pointed out, I should have known he’d have to go for it.

Dwarfed by the Cliffs, London Bridge

Dwarfed by the Cliffs, London Bridge

I haven’t swum since JJ died one endless week ago, and when I do I know I’ll glimpse him  just over the next wave, camera dangling from his belt, attempting to smile through frozen lips. He’ll shoot past like a meteorite in Sharrah Pool, and I’ll hear his voice in the cascade. JJ thank you for sharing so many adventures, and thank you for being a part of my life for the two years or so that I had the honour to know you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPK5fwBUTxE

Jonathan Joyce, wild swimmer and bloody wonderful bloke, 1971-2013

Sharrah Cascade

Sharrah Cascade

Don't Ask!

Don’t Ask!

Japanese Tourist Shot

Japanese Tourist Shot

JJ and Me, Thurlestone

JJ and Me, Thurlestone

Extreme Banging the Nail into the Log, Kate's 40th

Extreme Banging the Nail into the Log, Kate’s 40th

East Dart with Honey

East Dart with Honey

With Queenie, Channel Good Luck Party

With Queenie, Channel Good Luck Party

Soar Mill Cove

Soar Mill Cove

The Famous Buoyancy Shorts

The Famous Buoyancy Shorts

Red Balloon, Burgh Island

Red Balloon, Burgh Island

Crazy Well Pool

Swimming With Dogs, Crazy Well Pool

Photography-Induced Wipeout, Blackpool Snads

Photography-Induced Wipe-Out, Blackpool Sands

Wetsuit Shananigans

Wetsuit Shananigans

Bobbing

Bobbing

Sea Caves

In the Sea Caves

Photographing Shags

Photographing Shags

Chatting With Cake

Chatting With Cake

Diplets in Two Small Rivers

Meavy Pool

Meavy

Meavy Falls

Meavy Falls

I intended to dip by Leather Tor Bridge, an elderly and very narrow granite crossing of the Meavy above Burrator. There has never been a road here, only a hard core track. It’s a beautiful, gentle valley where the rocks and trees are softened by mosses and ferns, and where potato caves, their walls luminous with troglodyte lichens, hide beneath banks and rocks. The local farmers were evicted in 1917 to allow for a purer catchment and the eventual deepening of Burrator reservoir.  Then the Forestry Commission littered this productive valley area of tiny Newtakes,  Devon banks, and fungus-clad beeches and oaks, with fast-growing non-native pines. Somehow in places the indigenous lushness breaks through the Forestry, like green satin knickers from beneath a witch’s black cloak.  The land between Leather Tor and the river has recently been clear-felled and currently resembles Mount Washington post-pyroclastic flow. So no dip here today.

Luscious But Rocky

Luscious But Rocky

Irises

Irises

Honey and I climb over a stile downstream and pick and tunnel our way through the undergrowth and trees to a long and darkly mysterious pool. I find it’s littered with hidden black rocks and is  mostly not deep enough to swim in. I navigate and propel myself upstream with my arms to the little waterfall, and lie back to let the river pass over me. The sound in this bongo-shaped haven is deep and resonant, and we’re cocooned by trees.

We scrabble out and walk down to Newleycombe Lake (in this part of Devon, a ‘lake’ is a stream). Here in the lower clearing wild yellow flag irises are coming into flower. Wending down the narrow falls, I perch on a comfortably mossy rock and listen to the bubbling tinkles and plinks and plops of the water as it worms around roots and rocks. Hemlock sprouts everywhere.

Newlycombe Lake

Newlycombe Lake

Newleycombe Honey

Newlycombe Honey

Wild Jacuzzi

Wild Jacuzzi

Wild Jacuzzi

Green Light, Amber Water

Green Light, Amber Water

The water’s soft and gorgeous, and that surreal, early summer-green light is tangible in the air around the pool above Horseshoe Falls. I dive in off the rocks, and the chill is warm enough to invigorate rather than shock. As I surface through amber in soft-focus it takes a few seconds for my ears to clear before the silence is replaced by the soothing sough of the falls. I swim upstream to warm up, then float down to the jacuzzi.

Honey Swims

Honey Swims

The pummelling and fizzing clears my mind and relaxes tired muscles after three long night shifts and four hours sleep. I’m wedged on a ledge that’s softly clad in moss like a hairy chest; every so often I slide off and sink like a stone, giving myself up to the river, while light sprays through bubbles and my skin tingles. I float again to the surface when the buoyancy returns below the falls, like drifting back to consciousness from a lovely dream.

Afterwards I play ball with Honey in the pool, and mess around with underwater shots of us both. Ecstasy.

Green Through Amber

Green Through Amber

Honey Leaves the Pool

Honey Leaves the Pool

Relaxation

Relaxation

Bracing Bovisand

Forestry Green Sea

Forestry Green Sea

It seems simple to meet on Bovisand Beach, however there are three beaches and this results in some confusion so that we end up on opposite sides of the cliff. I sit and chat to Susan while the Testosterone Twins swim for miles, having promised to wave to Helen and family should they spot them on the next beach. At this point Helen arrives, panting, on Bovisand Two, which is not Bovisand it’s Crownhill Beach, as she mentions several times.  Dan has set up camp on Bovisand beach with Issy and baby Freddie and most of the contents of their house. After twenty minutes of full on nagging, I persuade Helen that the walk there and back to collect everything will do her good, especially since she’s complaining of being unfit. Off we go, leaving Susan and Richard’s family to guard the kit.

Tis Rather Nippy

Tis Rather Nippy

Helen and I climb the cliff and walk across the grass to Bovisand Beach, from where we can see Dan’s Death-Star sized beach camp on the far side. In fact, you could have seen it from the International Space Station. I’m beginning to wonder whether we can make it back with all their belongings, but after some hours of packing and loading we manage to pick it all up, including both kids, the beach umbrella, pram, tent, bags, food, extra clothes, range cooker and king-sized four-poster bed. We stagger across the beach and up the path, leaving Dan and Freddie with instructions for dumping a few bits in the car (car? Pick up truck more like).

Latecomer

Latecomer

Finally we’re all together on the same beach, the kids are playing and scaling the cliffs, Issy does one-handed cartwheels, and we laugh at Freddie rolling repeatedly out of his tent. Ruth appears with perfect timing for our swim. The sun has vanished, but we’re confident that the sea will be less cold than the boys are claiming, especially bearing in mind the Dart was more or less warmish yesterday. In we go, and it’s brass monkeys. Neck ache, cheek ache cold. Ten maybe? There is smashed weed swirling around in the shallows, and Helen mentions – but only three or four times – that the sea on Bovisand Beach is much nicer. She struggles to keep her body from the water and goes through a series of facial contortions before ending up bobbing around and grinning broadly. We swim out to the buoys in water that’s the colour of a forestry plantation on a dull day, dark green and light-sucking. Over towards Cawsand mist descends and blurs the horizon. The sea magically turns battleship grey.

Freddie Rolls From The Tent

Freddie Rolls From The Tent

As we swim back in we see Stephanie who leaps into her wetsuit and comes in to join us. I’m too cold now, and get out leaving Ruth and Helen to swim. Dan, in training for a Channel relay which has to be done with no wetsuit, gets in after some hectoring persuasion from Helen, and stays in for an impressive amount of time. I’m dry but still really cold in the chilly wind, so I borrow grisling Freddie who acts as a rather cute hot water bottle, and falls asleep on my chest. Helen kindly lends me Dan’s jacket, and lends Ruth Dan’s hoodie. Dan’s cold acclimatisation thus continues on the beach.

We eat and chat and shiver on the sand for hours and put the world to rights. Then the sun reappears and it’s suddenly almost tropical. Such a lovely afternoon.

Looks Summery

Looks Summery

A Medley of Pools on the Far Side

Allan from the Gods

Allan from the Gods

Jackie, Allan, Honey and I are scrambling through bright sunshine and delayed-spring bluebells along the Poundsgate side of the Double Dart. The track is rather more suited to goats than humans and in places it’s a mere foot-width across, hanging above the precipitous Dart Gorge by threads of roots, scree and loose soil. The bluebells are slightly faded but their scent is still tangled with the roar of the river and the bright green leaves that oscillate and flicker the light so that I feel a physical shiver.

Underwater

Underwater

We dip first below Mel Tor in one of the beautiful pools fed by falls that become part of the rapids in spate. There’s a luteous tinge to the water and splodges of acid green leach from the trees. It’s almost warm.

Jackie Below Mel Tor

Jackie Below Mel Tor

Wandering on, we stop of course at Sharrah, and plunge in from the rocks below the cascade. The northerly wind funnels down the gorge and ruffles the surface which shows its temperament of currents and eddies in a pointillist paisley of foam, like wrinkles on a face.

There’s a mucky and slippery climb and descent over pink, polished rocks before we float into Lower Sharrah, a pool that’s invisible from the Holne side of the river. It’s a beautiful, fairyland place, heavily shaded by the high gorge on the far side. We step in to the puddle of light by the bank where the sun pours over the oaks above like a waterfall. A cave is secreted at the bend, trailing with ivy and protected from swimmers by the force of water from the cascade.

Finally, we stop at Bel Pool where Allan uses the rope and iron ladder to climb down from the track and leap in from the rocks. Jackie, Honey and I watch from the gods as he swims, diminished in size like an insect in amber. On our way back we are mesmerised by a fluttering of butterflies and moths, brimstone, orange and blue, around bluebells and wood anemones. The May trees are finally beginning to bloom, a month or so late.

Honey Finds Sharrah Cascade Fascinating

Honey Finds Sharrah Cascade Fascinating

Allan and Jackie, Lower Sharrah

Allan and Jackie, Lower Sharrah

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lRW0C9g7Ns

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=535AMDiVNEg

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