wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Burgh Bogeyman Banishment

Happy WWS, photo Aquatic Ape

Happy WWS (photo Aquatic Ape)

Just before Christmas, Hugo and I had a rather large scare in the stormy seas off Burgh Island (https://wildwomanswimming.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/a-cautionary-tale-peaks-and-troughs-off-burgh/). A week later I wimped out of attempting another circumnavigation in perfectly swimmable if rather large seas. Since then, when Burgh came up I’ve been otherwise engaged, or it’s been cancelled. Then JJ, a safe, super-fit and adventurous wing man on some of our more exciting swims, died in the sea, close to the shore, while on an otherwise unremarkable swim; a considerable chunk of my derring-do immediately vanished beneath the waves. Consequently the whole Burgh thing has become a bit of a bogeyman for me. Aquatic Ape picked this up after our extended chat yesterday, and suggested we should swim around Burgh this morning on the middle of the ebb tide. 

Beautiful Burgh

Beautiful Burgh (photo Aquatic Ape)

It’s a stunning and breezy day of sunshine and a bit of a Burgh swell from the south west. As we set off the sea warms and we clear the easterly reef safely. I feel strangely distant and misty and almost short of breath as my body expresses the previously subconscious psychological whirlpool in my head. I had only met AA virtually before yesterday, on account of our blogging relationship. But wild swimmers somehow become instantaneous friends and I could not have wished for a better companion. He’s a faster and fitter swimmer than I am, and he stops and waits for me now and again, chats, takes a few photos, and is just there, without being too close. He says if either of us were to get into trouble, there’s not a lot the other could do in any case!

Walking around Burgh After the Swim

Walking Around Burgh Post-Swim (photo Aquatic Ape)

We reach the entrance to what AA calmly calls ‘the channel’ which we locals more dramatically refer to as ‘Death Valley’. It’s quite churny and I begin to feel the old Burgh magic as we forge through, adjusting for the direction of the swell, lost buoyancy and rocks. Then we’re specks below the cliffs, sheltered from the waves and swimming in slow motion above and below the surface, seeing red and pink and green weeds wave in the submarine breeze.

We stop as we leave the channel, where the reef is scattered with pointed rocks. These appear and partly disappear as the waves crash into them. I try to suggest we should swim out away from the rocks, but AA is having none of it, so through the reef we go. I feel short of breath and internally shaky again, but am soon swimming with full concentration and watching ahead and beneath for the skin graters, until we are spat out into the swell. We bob for a bit, then work our way back in. I feel amazing.

Thank you Aquatic Ape.

And thanks too for the photos; my formerly trusty and well-battered underwater camera has sprung a leak.

Swimming Through the Swell (photo Aquatic Ape)

Swimming Through the Swell (photo Aquatic Ape)

http://musingsofanaquaticape.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/south-hams-pt3/

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And Sharrah Again…

The End of the Dive

The End of the Dive (photo Aquatic Ape)

Kari Sinks Beneath the Cascade

Kari Sinks Beneath the Cascade

Today Kari and I have a special guest from the Big Smoke; none other than Mr Aquatic Ape (blogger of some repute, Tooting Bec Lido ice swimmer, afficionado of post-swim cakes, and endurance sea swimmer). Kari knows AA of old, but we’ve never met in person before. We talk rather a lot on the way to Sharrah, then enjoy a lovely swimming and photography extravaganza in the golden water; the normally camera-shy Kari needs photos of herself in various aquatic environments for an interview she’s giving,

I adore swimming with Kari who treats swimming as an art-form, but there are disadvantages because her artistic focus and unique coaching skills have previously resulted in some near-death experiences. (‘You don’t have to breathe’ she says. Or: ‘I’m planning to swallow-dive off that huge rock into the sea as a performance art piece, it’s only thirty-seven feet. Who’s coming to high diving lessons?’). So she wrestles the camera from AA and we are forced to spend some minutes underwater while Kari photographs us. In my case she wants to capture the shadowy zebra stripes on my body from the surface ripples. Then I have to dive in several times until Kari gives up and AA manages to capture the event in chronophotography.

Later, Kari and I chat on the rocks while AA swims some more and Kari notices his left foot still kicks at an angle some ten years after she taught him to swim properly…He escapes with a talking to.

We eat crisps and shortbread, then wander back talking some more. A lovely day out.

http://musingsofanaquaticape.wordpress.com/

http://swimclinic.squarespace.com/ (Kari’s Swim Clinic website: Kari will transform your swimming and your enjoyment of the water, whatever your level or need, I promise!)

Kari and I Underwater

Subaquatic Dance: Kari and WWS (photo Aquatic Ape)

Aquatic Ape Being Aquatic

Aquatic Ape

Aquatic Canine (Bun Bun)

Aquatic Canine (Bun Bun)

Hot Naked Men and Cool Dartmoor Water

WWS Pummelled by the Sharrah Cascade

WWS Pummelled by the Sharrah Cascade

Baking hot, oppressively hot, heavy air that’s hard to inhale. Horse flies, midges, salty, sticky skin. Laura and I slide into cool, rippling water and sink under gorgeous jacuzzi bubbles. After a while in Salter’s and Horseshoe we steam up the track through the woods where even the boggiest patches are solidifying like overcooked chocolate Brownies. It’s cooler as we climb in the shelter of the ancient woodland, and the usual breeze funnels up the Sharrah glade.

Honey Above the Cascade

Honey Above the Cascade

Cascade Close Up

Cascade Close Up

You can’t see the cascade current below the big rock, and the water in most of the pool is apparently flowing up hill in a series of slow eddies speckled with foam. We are able to swim straight up and into the falls, wedging in and feeling the full force without being snapped in two. It’s usually impossible to get this close. Muscles loosen; atomised water mists our view.

When we get chilled, we prostrate ourselves on the flat rock on the far side and allow the heat to radiate through our bodies, moving periodically to a warmer patch. Dragonflies and Damselflies swoop among the whizzing midges above the surface, a series of deaths marked by plops. Small striped fish float silver and grey above bronze shadows in yellow ochre water.

We slither back down the silty slab and glide back upstream; a naked man swims past and we converse casually about the best pools and how to get to them. He gets out and is replaced by another, younger one who ignores us. Leaves rustle louder than the river.

Laura in Horseshoe

Laura in Horseshoe

Under Sharrah

Under Sharrah

Dartmeet Down

Beautiful Desmoiselle over Pool!

Beautiful Desmoiselle over Pool

The heatwave continues, and Honey and I are heading downstream from Dartmeet today in order to veg out on a rock somewhere and get very wet as often as we possibly can. There is a smattering of people around, most of them in the river. When we jump into the first pool, a couple join us fully-clothed. They tell me they hadn’t intended to swim. The water’s gorgeous and it’s only the difference in temperature between the air (30°c!!!) and the water that makes the river feel cool. There’s barely a breeze.

Honey Swims in a Rather Fast-Flowing Place...

Honey Swims in a Rather Fast-Flowing Place…

I don’t know this upper stretch of the Double Dart that well, and there are endless shallow but swimmable pools, a couple on open moorland, then a sudden change of character as the river begins to rush downhill. In this lower part there are deeper, smaller pools, little canyons and waterfalls and the familiar ancient woodland hangs overhead. Trees grow through rocks and roots thrust down to the water. A holly bush some ten feet above the river is draped with dried grasses, little flags reminding us of the potential power of this summery and benign-looking valley.

Narrow Swoosh

Narrow Swoosh

We wander, swim, float, shoot down narrows and sit under cascades. In between we lie around on hot rocks. Most of these are flat slabs surrounded by river and it feels like floating as the water rushes past at eye level. I read my book, do a bit of writing in my little notebook, eat my carrot hummous and pitta bread and take photos. Honey rootles around in the undergrowth, or indulges with great focus and concentration in one of her absolutely favourite pass times; bubble-watching. It’s not often that I stop and just hang out somewhere and the solitude is exactly what I need.

WWS's Underwater Swimming Shadow

WWS’s Underwater Swimming Shadow

Beautiful Desmoiselles are everywhere, and a bright orange butterfly plays around us for a while. I notice the layers of sounds that make up what at first appears to be the white noise of the Dart; soughing, plinking, deep hollow plops, tinkles, gurgles and then a sound like waves that ebbs and flows. We wander back up towards the car park when my skin begins to glow from the sun. I’m pretty tanned, but I have parts that are less well-acclimatised than others to an actual, full-on summer with sun and everything. We arrive back at Dartmeet some six hours after we set off; I scoff a wonderfully cold strawberry cornet while Honey crashes soggily on her van bed.

Calm Pool

Calm Pool

Honey Bubble-Watching
Honey Bubble-Watching

Why We Must Fight For Marine Conservation Areas

I’ve just been sent a link to this wonderful TED talk by Sylvia Earle. Watch it if you care about anything at all.

http://www.upworthy.com/this-woman-is-so-badass-her-favorite-bathing-suit-is-basically-a-robot?c=ufb1

Champagne Dart

Jacuzzi

Jacuzzi

Rachel

Rachel

A quick early evening dip with Honey and Rachel; we go to one of the little pools just above the bridge today. The water is wonderfully refreshing and filled with fish – trout we think. There are two small jacuzzis here – one is hard to reach with the force of water but I manage to stay in for a good minute by clambering over submerged mossy rocks then standing on one horizontally with my head and body upstream in the fizzing bit. The other is narrower with much less water coming through and there’s a handy curved nook in which to wedge.  We wallow and watch the bubbles burst like Tinkerbells. I feel the tickle of the water and the amplified echoes of the falls in my underwater ears. Rachel says it’s like bathing in champagne.

Wedged In

Wedged In

Big Bubbles

Big Bubbles

 

Walkham Treasure

Honey Swims in Our Pool

Honey Swims in Slim Pool

It’s baking today; Honey and I are hot and bothered. We set off for Grenofen at about 5.30pm and walk downstream towards Double Waters. We stop at the long, slim pool  about half way down. It’s sheltered by beeches and oaks, in a place where the water is forced, tinkling, through a narrow channel. The rocks down which we step echo the course of the river with whorls and curlicues eroded by spates. I float through midges like electrons whizzing around the surface and feel the prickly, sticky sweat wash away. Where the sun dapples through the leaves the riverbed gleams gold and amber and resembles heaped coins to my un-goggled eyes.  A dragonfly swoops overhead.

Treasure Trove

Treasure Trove by Curlicued Rocks

Unwinding at Bovisand

Underwater Zombies

Underwater Zombies

Having been coiled to the point of snapping by a certain tennis match, Honey and I are relieved to be able to cool off and unwind in the sea. It’s heaving on Bovisand despite us not arriving till 7pm, since it’s high tide and everyone’s crammed into the few yards of remaining beach. We stride out into water that looks like mercury and wallow out to the buoy before spending some time engaged in underwater antics and buoy-mounting.

Happy!

Happy!

Aquatic Antics

Aquatic Antics

I swim back in front crawl and my shoulder is, remarkably, still fine. Honey is on the lead as she’s obsessed with balls and intent on crashing every game of cricket or dog-playing session on the beach. As we eat our picnic, she takes off with me attached, causing my plate of pasta salad and lettuce to fly skywards before crashing into the sand.

I retrieve Honey from the sea, and tie her lead to her coiled metal spike that’s screwed into the beach. She takes off again, complete with spike, in pursuit of a labrador chasing a stick and once again has to be retrieved from the sea. The spike is lying on a rock, and luckily has failed to impale anyone.

As the sun drops behind the headland the sky melds into the sea in pastel shades of pinky blue so that distant boats appear to float through the sky. I feel I could join them. Well done Andy Murray!

Setting Off

Setting Off

Boats in the Sky

Boats in the Sky

Summery Salter’s

Floating

Floating

Four of us meet on the Double Dart for a morning swim in bright sunshine. Most of the pools in this steep-sided wooded valley are in shadow at this time of day, although the sun is creeping over the far bank and beginning to illuminate the water. It’s beautifully cool and we finish our swim with a wild jacuzzi in Horseshoe Falls. The water is low, but there’s plenty of bubble action to spritz our spirits to bursting point and I have a proper massage under the flume. We climb out onto the flat rock and warm our chilled bodies in a patch of sunlight before swimming back across to our rock, which is now crawling with happy teenagers out to enjoy this magical place on a golden day.

Wild Jacuzzi and Massage Parlour

Wild Jacuzzi and Massage Parlour

Wells Next the Sea and Holkham Bay

Wrinkled Sand

Furrows

We go for a long wander along the beach at Wells at low tide on Monday morning. Again, the parking is extortionate so we limit ourselves to two hours. There are warning signs since there’s dredging under way in order to clear Wells Harbour for the large vessels servicing the new offshore wind farms, whose ghostly forms can be glimpsed on the horizon. The Coastguards have a hut on the beach and a claxon to warn of the incoming tide so that people don’t get trapped on the wrong side of the channel. There is mud chunked and slicked in places and the sea is a distant memory.

Distant Sea

Distant Sea

Here the razor and oyster shells are heaped like landfill but there’s remarkably little plastic jetsam on the high tide line. Below this, the sand is furrowed like a worried forehead and frosted with dry sand. Honey expresses her inner labrador and finds some mud in which to bathe, while flinging bits of seaweed around like rats.

Honey Sea Gazing

Honey Sea Gazing

Later we drive on up the coast and stop at a track that leads across the marshes to the piece of coast path we walked yesterday. This time we turn right at the end and walk down the beach for a mile or two into Holkham Bay, which isn’t a bay in the Devon sense of the word; it’s more a dink in the endless sandy coastline edged with indigenous conifers. It’s high tide, and we swim in salty, still warm sea that’s almost orange. The strongly fishy smell later alerts me to the presence of algal bloom – possibly the same one that’s been hanging around Torbay for the past month. I didn’t feel or really notice it in the water, perhaps because there is no gentle swell here and no soft blue or startling turquoise where the stain would be noticed, just flat grey-brown choppiness stretching into forever.

Holkham Bay Swim

Holkham Bay Swim

Honey Dries Off

Honey Dries Off

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