wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

West Okement Waterfall

Hiding Behind the Cascade

Hiding Behind the Cascade (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Pretending to Go Over

Pretending to Go Over (photo Allan Macfadyen)

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.

Lou the Hobbit

Lou the Hobbit (photo Allan Macfadyen)

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.

The Start of the Scramble

The Start of the Scramble (photo Allan Macfadyen)

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

Stef Cools Off

Stef Cools Off (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Allan and Harry

Allan and Harry

Baa Wades Upriver

Baa Wades Upriver (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Boswell Gets Encouragement

Boswell Gets Encouragement (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Bank Holiday Dipping

The First Pool

The First Pool

Honey and I went to Dartmeet this afternoon, and only just squeezed TrannyVan into the packed car park. We wandered downstream, but I could have counted the people we met on my fingers and toes. Our first dip was in the big pool only a few hundred meters from the bridge and there was neither sight nor sound of anyone. The water was golden and glassy, with every rock and fish and granule of sand clearly visible through the rippled reflected sun. The water today is noticeably chillier than of late and I felt a slight but definite skin burn. We dried off on the bank in the light breeze and warmish sun before trundling down to a faster stretch for a race up against the current. Squadrons of dragonflies droned around the bank.

The Second, Friskier Pool

The Second, Friskier Pool

 

Looping the Loop: the Lower Dart, Pondorously

Weir Plunging

Weir Plunging

Today we’re swimming the wider, lower, Wind in the Willows parts of the Dart between Staverton Bridge and Totnes. This is Sophie’s idea,and although I’ve driven along here many times, I’ve never swum it. At three miles it is shorter that the other swim I had contemplated, and also populated with some nice dawdlers and a good downhill current which will suit my level of post-injury unfitness perfectly – or so I think.

Swooping Down the Faster Parts

Swooping Down the Faster Parts

Of course it takes some time to corral everyone near the finish, a feat that includes catching Kari as she drives past without seeing us, organising people into carloads, and engaging in diplomacy with a local who is rather perturbed at our presence. We drive up to Staverton Bridge for the start, where I become trapped on the wrong side of the railway line after parking TrannyVan some way down the lane. Eventually the train driver stops chatting to his mates and sets off (he’d make a great wild swimmer) and so we are all able to walk down the track to the river.

The water is gorgeous and really rather warm and I’ve already dispensed with the wetsuit, which made it into TrannyVan but which I haven’t worn since December. We swim and scramble down through a languorous landscape where even the rapids are wide. From time to time I find myself spinning and being swept sideways across the rocky bottom. We slide down the weir – head first in Esther’s case – then continue chatting and floating and fish-watching. There are some bright turquoise stones on the riverbed, which turn out to be coloured on their tops only with a kind of verdigris (algae, perhaps?) Should anyone be able to explain this, please do tell!

Sophie and WWS Bobbing and Chatting

Sophie and WWS Bobbing and Chatting

The water by the banks is sieved through the roots of oaks and willows. Parts of the swim are eerily quiet as the river flows lazy and tinkle-less around wide bends. We float on our backs to watch as we hear the steam train passing with a wonderful hiss and chug and a nostalgic scent of Victorian England. Sophie is almost asleep at one point, and I have to prod her as she swoops, eyes closed and head-first towards the bank at about five knots. I miss the gnome garden, but catch a glimpse as we look back.

Eventually, Sophie, Lucien and I reach almost the end and, being shattered, decide to climb out and walk the last couple of hundred meters. The lower reaches of the loop were not as fast-flowing as we’d expected, and so we have done a fair amount of proper swimming. My jaw is juddering with cold as we walk up to find the others.

We decamp to the White Hart Bar at Dartington, and order an expensive dinner of tiny food. There is mackerel (around an eighth of a fish) with some foam and some beetroot, some venison with what appears to be goat’s milk aerosol cream (this being Dartington), a teapot of tomato soup that’s poured in a crazy gastronomic mixed metaphor into espresso cups, and sweet potato chips. Being completely ravenous after a three hour swim, we’re forced to have cheesecake for pudding, mainly because we’ve seen some going out to a neighbouring table and it was visible to the naked eye. Dogs are not allowed. This bar is now officially off the list!

Thanks to Stephanie Simon and Allan Macfadyen for the pics.

Wind in the Willows

Wind in the Willows

Hindu Caves Sun-Up Fry-Up

Fishy Tales on the Rocks at Sunrise

Fishy Tales on the Rocks at Sunrise

This is one of Sophie’s legendary swims, and she has persuaded us to meet at 6am in time for the sunrise. Honey and I drive across the moors in the dark, through torrential rain and swirling fog, before the rain slows to drizzle as we enter Torquay. Now clouds are dispersing to reveal watery blue skies and a glow over the headland to the east. We change on the flat rocks and creep into the sea over savagely barnacled slabs, as the salmon-pink sunrise drips orange over the surface ripples and intensifies the red of the cliffs.

In the Hindu Caves

In the Hindu Caves (photo Jackie Wills)

The caves are magical, chuntering with departing wavelets and studded with ancient shells and shingle. The sea transmutes through a disco light show of colours from navy to royal blue to turquoise and aquamarine, tinted with pinks and oranges and silvery highlights. Snakelocks stroke our legs.

Sun-Up!

Sun-Up! WWS and Sophie Ham It Up Shamelessly (photo Jackie Wills)

Afterwards we make a huge fry up on portable stoves and chatter away. A young gull keens and pesters his mother for food. The sea siren calls us back for another dip.

This swim features in Sophie and Matt’s fabulous book Beyond the Beach: The Secret Wild Swims of Torbay which you can read about and buy here: http://secretwildswims.wordpress.com/home/

Sophie Fries Up

Sophie Fries Up

Burgh and the Plym

Dwadling and Bobbing DWS Style! (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Dwadling and Bobbing DWS Style! (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Another circumnavigation of Burgh at the request of Fiona and Flora, visiting from London. They are expecting to swim flat out all the way, and take off around the outside before we manage to stop them for a trip up Death Valley, which is nicely smooth and clear, so we mess around watching cormorants and gulls, and diving under the water. We meet a couple of off-duty lifeguards swimming the other way and stop for a chat, before passing some stand up paddle boarders and kayakers on the back straight. Stef has been properly told off for swimming in the Hotel’s Mermaid Pool on the previous week, so we bravely decide against venturing in there today. By the time we leave the water, F&F are properly trained in the art of dawdling and yakking Devon Wild Swimming-style, and the beach has filled. We eat a smorgasbord of cakes and drink tea kindly provided by F&F’s PA from their camper van and chat some more before going for a doggy wander on the beach.

Sub-Aquatic Stef and WWS

Sub-Aquatic Stef and WWS

On the way home, I stop to desalinate Bun Bun in the Plym above Cadover Bridge. It’s so lovely I decide to join her in one of the little pools that’s nicely secluded – just as well since it’s always busy up here on a nice day, and I’ve left my cossie in the van.

Plym Desalination Pool

Plym Desalination Pool

Westward Ho!

Westward Ho! View towards Northam

Westward Ho! View towards Northam

Westward Ho! is the only place in Britain that features an exclamation mark as a part of its name. This makes it sound vital and pioneering, as though overrun with pirates and pilgrims and maybe a cowboy or two. I spent most of my childhood in North Devon, and despite coming from a family who went out exploring at every opportunity, I don’t remember ever coming here. So today I decided to have a quick swim in the lovely Atlantic after a shift at Bideford.

I followed signs to the sea-front and parked for 85p next to a cafe and amusement arcade. Paying the fee necessitated entering the cafe, which was constructed entirely from plastic and overrun by people scoffing piles of anaemic chips, fried eggs, sausages the colour of exposed northern skin, beans, and bowls of what looked like diarrhoea, but which turned out to be ‘curry sauce’. I left with the uncomfortable feeling that the perspiration on my brow had been impregnated with chip fat.

Trotting Westward Ho! I stared at the crowd of plastic tat-filled shops and cafes, designed to fleece visitors of every last penny.  Clambering along the shingle bank was a relief; I stripped fast and tottered into the sea at high tide. It was warm and bouncy and deeply greeny-blue, with a nice thermocline in which my toes dangled from time to time as I bobbed. The smell of fried crap lined my nostrils like the scent of death, even when I looked out to sea. Next time I’ll swim at Northam.

North Moor Downpour

Stair Rods in Meldon Pond WWS and Rachel

Stair Rods in Meldon Pond WWS and Rachel

As we swim up Meldon Pond the rain hits; torrential, hammering Dartmoor rain accompanied by a rumble of thunder. We consider getting out, but we don’t see any lightning and it’s mesmerising watching the different types of rain hitting the water; its texture and colour morphs and melds into a misted band of spray over the surface of the pond. The water darkens and deepens in hue from turquoise to forest green. The rain-drops grow in size and leap on stalks of water from the surface, before dropping back and disappearing into floating hemispherical bubbles. Smaller drops scatter pearls across the meniscus.

Red-a-van Brook Pool

Red-a-ven Brook Pool, WWS, Rachel and Bun Bun

Afterwards we walk back through the rain wearing our swimming gear and draped in soaked towels to Red-a-ven Brook which is close to spate. There we dip and play in a small pool where dark brown water forges and foams creamy and cool below the falls. The centre of the bubbly milky way is like whisky and soda.

Thanks to Miguel Dawson-Ambiado for the two top photos (WWS’s camera is broken…)

Swimming in the Rain 2

Swimming in the Rain – Miguel

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