This adventure was planned after I glimpsed wild water while walking the track above the cleave last week. Then I had sandalled feet, and couldn’t safely descend over the clitter to the river. So today some wild swimming friends have joined me for a sporting wild swim and waterfall exploration, in which we intend to walk up the river and into the cleave. This is not as simple as it might sound, and we soon find ourselves scrambling under and around stunted oaks, hawthorns and rowans on sometimes near-sheer banks, crawling on all fours and bouldering around monolithic, mossed boulders. About a third of the way we are forced to stop and change into swim gear and wetsuit boots, before dumping our rucksacks. From there we work our way uphill, mostly in the river.
We plop into a small pool. The West Okement’s source is underground springs in a mire not too far from here and so it’s chilly and peaty. We sit under the falls where ice-cream head hits fast, and discover a variation on the wild jacuzzi; a wild bidet where water is forced upwards in a small basin between three rocks . Boswell, Stef’s young labrador, is battling to deal with this new environment and attempts several giant leaps across pools. Honey leads the way, being well used to such adventures.
As we ascend through greeny-bronze light the falls become increasingly secretive and other-worldly; the Okement has found a way around and across and under this jumble of rocks and trees in the most picturesque way. Lou and Baa squat like Hobbits on rocks. It’s the covering of black lichen like flaked burned paint and the soft layer of dark green moss, that allow us to get this far; wet rocks are like ice to grip.
We swim up a little pool where hunks of granite loom overhead. I feel like a microscopic lifeform. Allan photographs us as we sit behind the waterfall at the top end, inhaling the earthy smell and muffled sounds of dripping, velvety moss behind the shower curtain of water. Harry is barely visible in the falls, till his disembodied thumbs up appears.
Afterwards we climb to the track above the cleave and sit looking down. There is the merest hint of a ribbon of white water visible through the trees.
See ‘Tors and Clitter Slopes’ for an explanation of the geology here: http://www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/learningabout/lab-printableresources/lab-factsheetshome/lab-geologylandforms