wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the category “Swimming”

Wadham Wander

Michele Wimping Out

Michele Wimping Out

Sophie’s idea again – Wadham is a secret cove accessed via a precipitous track, and it’s normally frequented by nudists. Rain tips and pours downhill and it’s January, so we  allow ourselves the luxury of layers of fleece, woollies, waterproofs and wellies.  As we pick our way from the cliff top we notice there is a patch of light over the sea, and sure enough the deluge stops.  By this time Honey, who has been groomed to within an inch of her life by her Gran, has transformed from a beautifully fluffy cream puff to a mud-bespattered, drenched mop. Of course she’s found a tennis ball. We scramble the last bit which is more of a mountain-bike drop than a footpath, and spy Richard on the beach waiting for us. His family have refused to leave the car.

Sploshing

Sploshing

The rocks are Dartmouth slate according to Richard who’s done some research. The slate is layered and striped in shades of turquoise-bruise and purple-bruise and small bodies of it pop up from the shingle beach like the undulations of Loch Ness monsters.  We change and plunge into bouncy water, which is stained with mud yet still maintains a blue-green tinge to the predominant battleship grey. It’s not too cold, and being engulfed feels like heaven. Michele and I pootle out towards the end of the  reef where waves are waterfalling and sucking. In the end I go fairly close and allow myself to be pulled over rock wards for a while. I swim some of the return in backstroke and when I turn over I can see Jackie’s customary flower bobbing up and down; a summery, bright pink splurge among the hundred shades of grey.

Backstroke

Backstroke

Sophie and Bun

Sophie and Bun

Advertisements

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…

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

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

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

Sh Sh Sh Sharrah

Honey CheatsWe’ve had several days of positively spring-like weather, and so we set off for Sharrah Pool warmed intermittently by sunlight through the bare branches. Following the late freeze there isn’t so much an unfurling of leaves as a tentative peeking of leaf buds which continue to hug themselves just in case.

JJ in the Cascade

The Double Dart is not too full for the time of year and her depths are clear and amber, although there is still a suspiciously chilly-looking greenish-blue tinge around the rapids. We have two temperature takers who say 9°c and 8°c, but it feels colder than that to my stunned body which attempts to shrink inside itself as I slide in. Several of us shriek. Honey cheats by wearing her fur coat.Cheeky Gale

I swim up and am more or less acclimatised by the upper cascade, where JJ forges across and clings to the far side. The water is gorgeously foaming and sparkling in the sunshine. I go in off an incredibly slippery rock and flail past in the rapid grinning and sinking as the energy fizzes through the needles of icy heat in my skin. I pass everyone else on the way up, faces dancing with light reflected from the choppy surface, hair ruffled by the cheeky gusts of wind funneling down the gorge.

Afterwards we scoff a trio of cakes: gin-soaked lemon drizzle courtesy of JJ, chocolate from Helen, and Jackie’s colourful dried-fruit fest. I’m grateful for the warmth of my lovely Mammot hoody until Rachel, wrapped in a capacious white robe and carrying a Lightsabre, tells me I resemble a sperm.

Cake HuddleCold Hurts!

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

Biting Beesands

Winter Seas

Heaps of tanned pebbles add percussion to our footsteps as we walk to the sea which is gin clear, dead calm and tinted palest turqoise. Babette’s boys are already frolicking like seals. I wade in and feel the nip as the water creeps up my body. The seabed is steeply shelving and I swim straight away, the back of my neck contracting and shortening my stroke.Beesands

Beesands is a bleak and haunted place with a widescreen horizon, like the setting for a seaside Spaghetti Western. We laugh openly as Babette’s non-outdoor-swimming friends walk in slow motion to their icy nemesis as though to a gun-fight, bodies shrinking and faces contorting with the chill.Queenie's Fly

Swimming butterfly, the top of my head is knifed with cold. I surface with a star-burst acid-high.Palest Turquoise

The Gang

Mystical Meldon Pond

Meldon Dam is spectacular with Royal Wedding-scale bridal veils of overflow. We cross the clam over the dark and flooded West Okment and squelch through the woods. Suddenly, through autumn trees illuminated by bright sun, a delicious, turquoise pool materialises. It’s as though a chunk of sea has dropped from the sky to stun us in this world of amber waters and green turf.

The leaves are starting to turn, and their greens and golds are mirrored around the edges of the pool, refracting their tints through the water so that the ocean colours turn with them and become indescribably autumnal. The sky is a bright, cool blue and fish-boned with diaphanous clouds. I feel the nip of autumn in the air and the burn of clear, cold water on my skin.

A wall of rock like a fairy-tale castle teeters over us as we swim. The luminous grey is smooth and streaked with limestone trails that are almost indistinguishable from the ripples reflected off the surface of the pool. Ivy trails down. Our two new wild swimmers are enchanted, and so are we.

Meldon Pond is a flooded limestone quarry which is around one hundred and thirty feet deep. The links  below are transcripts of some oral history of this magical place.

http://www.virtuallydartmoor.org.uk/meldon/transcripts/Lime_quarry/a03_willem_lime_formation.pdf

http://www.virtuallydartmoor.org.uk/meldon/transcripts/Lime_quarry/a05_jane_quarrying.pdf

http://www.virtuallydartmoor.org.uk/meldon/transcripts/Lime_quarry/a06_debbie_kiln_dumps.pdf

http://www.virtuallydartmoor.org.uk/meldon/transcripts/Lime_quarry/a10_jane_waterwheel.pdf

Silver Grey Sports Club Interview

Several members of Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimming were asked to do an interview for this interesting website. The idea is to promote health and fitness for over-fifties through extreme sports and adventurous activities. This is a link to our interview. There are some inspirational people and stories unrelated to wild swimming on the site too.

http://www.silvergreysportsclub.com/index.php/silver-greys/wild-swimming.html

Post Navigation