wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “Burgh Island”

Molten Sun at Burgh

Burgh Sunset

Burgh Sunset through a Wave

Underwater GoPro still from Video

Underwater

Sunset, high tide, pretty flat. We set off and split into a fast and a dawdler group the latter of which is somewhat delayed by the time Helen sorts her goggles; absolutely no chatting involved. The sea is beautiful, warm and welcoming. As we approach Death Valley from a clockwise direction we’re assailed by crazy rebounding seas which always fascinate me; water somehow peaks and points and twirls here, and mirrors the portcullis of dark rocks pointing skywards.

Sunset

Sunset

Queenie who has swum across from Bantham, decides to go through the maelstrom reef on the final bend. Helen and Baa and I follow, but after a foaming, sucking, rising and falling and dumping and churning minute or so I wimp out and turn back. Still missing a bit of my derring do… Nonetheless it’s exhilarating. As we swim round to meet Queenie,  the cliffs and our faces glow orange; we’re pushed up by the swell in petrol blue metallic seas and the sunset is smelted through the tips of the waves in a stunning deep red splurge, before forming briefly into a molten ball on the horizon.

These shots are all video stills from my new GoPro Hero3 Silver Edition which was mounted on my forehead while we swam. I’m in the early stages of working out how to maximise its potential.

Choppy Seas

Choppy Seas

More Friskiness

More Friskiness

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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

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/

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

Bigbury Blethering

Honey Surfs

Honey Surfs

Bigbury on Sea, Bank Holiday Monday; blue skies and wisps of cirrus, a bank of fog over the horizon, and the usual cheeky gale. It’s low tide and light glints from the sand beneath the shallows and illuminates the sea so that it glows turquoise.  We set up on the sand and chat while a few of our friends swim round Burgh Island, some for the first time. I’m hugely envious, but unable to join in owing to my shoulder injury.

Light Splinters

Light Splinters

Blowing Bubbles

Blowing Bubbles

We go to meet the first swimmers, but they take off up the stream towards the Lifeguard hut like Triathletes. Then we discover the gang think they might have lost one of our newbies – but the Lifeguards know exactly where he is, and sure enough he appears in the distance having become over-excited and taken the long route round the easterly reef.

Finally it feels warm enough for a bob – although I’m acclimatised, being unable to swim properly means the cold grips fast. We run in and there is no pain at all for the first time in ages. The actual water temperature is around 10-11ºc, practically boiling point by recent standards. I mess around and play with Honey. Tiny waves break and splinter the light around us. It’s like being on a cloud.

Afterwards we continue to blether, wrapped in the smoke from barbecues and washed by the hubbub of people at play. IMGP4687

WWS's Bare Naked Foot Returns

WWS’s Bare Naked Foot Returns

Hope at New Year

Bobbing Back

IMGP3918I’d thought I was dreaming when opening the curtains this morning to be confronted with a bright sky and no rain! New Year, New Weather? Honey and I drove in hope to Hope Cove. On the beach we changed to the wonderful retro sound of Esther’s wind-up gramophone music swirling, slowing and quickening with the wind and laughter.  At Outer Hope a buffeted Kestrel attempted to hover over the cliff. I’d decided against a wetsuit and was delighted to find that the rather frisky water, opaque with mashed weeds like toast crumbs in milky tea, actually felt warm as toast on my wind-whipped flesh. I dived in, and was swaddled. A series of hilariously tortured faces followed us. Boogie on the Beach

Pixie in the LumpsI struck out and either ducked under the foam or swooped up over the rollers. JJ and Hugo had set off fast, so Sue and I waited for Esther and Claire. We swam round together and watched as waves disintegrated on pointy rocks. The Pop Art sky set off the lumpy water to form a gallery of stunning seascapes.

As we approached the beach we began to struggle with the breaking waves, the undertow and the hidden rocks. It was too murky to see what was coming; underwater, dark strips of weed flashed past like space at Warp Speed in negative.

I felt warm till I stood wobbling in the shallows, at which point the water ran from my body leaving it exposed to the nasty gale. After a shivering change I could still feel the chill radiate from my body as we wandered to the Hope and Anchor. When you’re this frozen, layers of clothing act like a cool box.

Later, having warmed up beautifully, we walked the coast path to view JJ’s latest plan: Round Burgh Island and on to Thurlestone through the arch in one swim. It doesn’t look far from up there! Thank you for reading in 2012, and may your New Year be wet and wild with floods of sunshine.

IMGP3911

Woo Hoo!

Christmas Eve Bubbles at Burgh

Bouncing

SurfWe return to Burgh for a Christmas Eve swim in the hope of getting round the island this time. The swell is less, but it’s much windier than forecast. I feel dull and spaced out having had just three hour’s sleep after a run of night shifts. We boing in through the surf, and are whipped and bashed and smashed in the face by spray. My spirits lift with the swell and I realise that my teeth are chilled because I’m smiling under the water.Post-Storm

Bouncing Some MoreBouncing along we chat and laugh. The sea’s slightly mucky from the recent deluges, but is altogether friendlier than last week with far less weight behind it. We round the side, and are walloped by waves refracting from the reef and the island.

We decide against going round so play for a while then swim and body surf back in. I wallow in the natural bubble bath where opposing surf collides over the sand neck, then trot up to the car park where Teri hands me a glass of mulled cider and Honey picks up a handsome black labrador and runs off to play ball with him and his family. Bubbly sea, wild weather, fabulous wild friends and a warming drink. A perfect afternoon.Bubbly

Beached Honey

A Cautionary Tale: Peaks and Troughs off Burgh

The Splash is Hugo

Getting RoughThere’s a point at which wild swimming becomes dangerous, and as a swimmer who loves the exhilaration and challenge of wild water it’s vital to understand where that point is. Our risk-averse culture is anathema to me, and I can’t think of anything worse than a life half-lived through fear and avoidance of perceived dangers especially when statistically the most risky think that most of us do is to travel by car.

The swell today is forecast to be between eight and fourteen feet, and despite this a small gang of us want to swim round Burgh Island while the others dip or explore the Mermaid Pool. Although the circumnavigation looks doable from the shore, you can never sense the scale of the sea till you’re out in it.

There’s a squall as we change and charcoal slashes of rain belt from bruised clouds. JJ and Ninja have swum early and we’re looking out for them but there’s no sign. Then they materialise and tell us they turned back because they were wiped out and rolled head over heels by a pair of massive opposing waves, well away from any breaks.  JJ, always on the crazy side of sensible, says it would be ‘reckless’ to try the swim which makes all but Hugo and me decide against it.

Swimming out to have a look won’t be a problem – after all we’ve done this in far stronger winds and big seas before – so Hugo and I head out anticlockwise on the low spring tide. We know that the swell is from the south-west, and if we get that far we can use that energy on the home strait. This is the kind of adventure I love, the abrasive cold of the sea, the smell of stormy water with the whip of the wind on my skin, and the feeling of being on the edge of control. We’re bounced and buffeted and dropped from the backs of the waves. Stopping to chat, we’re feeling good so decide to swim on for a few more minutes before reassessing. I film my swim for a minute, and decide definitely not to go all the way round. Hugo’s way ahead of me though, so I carry on hoping to catch him up. I’m still pretty comfortable.In the Swell

There’s an instant where it changes. I’m teetering fifteen feet up, and the roller-coaster thrill of the descent is punched from me by a side-on psycho wave. I’m lifted again at once and I peer over towards where I last saw Hugo; on the pinnacle of the next swell there’s a brief flash of his blue hat circled by a halo of spray and he’s vanished into the Himalayan sea. My shouts are whipped away and buried beneath the avalanche roar of water meeting rocks and the distant shore. Now I’m lost, afraid and unsure, but know I should stay with Hugo. I swim towards him for a few strokes but my breathing rhythm has gone and with it my stroke. I feel close to hyperventilating and know with utter certainty I have to turn back now.

A wave sweeps me up from behind and begins to break while a flood of adrenaline washes through my body. I force myself to breathe steadily and stare at the back of the wave racing away, glinting steel and with spray flying from the top. The friendly green-blue light has been sucked from the wavelets, and I’m struggling in a sinister, pewter darkness. Sandwiched between opaque sea and heavy slate sky, in my head I’m sinking. My legs are jelly fish as I try to swim breast stroke, but I’m wearing my wetsuit for the first time since August and am unused to the buoyancy which pushes my head under while my legs fly up behind. The reef is almost within reach to my right; I could get over there but that thought shatters with the slow-motion crash of sea into rock. Struggling away from land my fear tries to propel me back; I stop, bob for a bit and turn onto my back while I grapple with my breathing and pull myself together. I know I won’t sink, but my left brain is saying otherwise. I float and think.

It’s a waste of time doing breast stroke, I’m only trying because I want to see what’s coming at me but that’s making me turn my head and stiffen up. I need to swim in front crawl towards the shore and trust myself. An apparition of Kari the mermaid muse tells me I don’t need to look at the sea, I need to feel it so I hold my glide, blowing a steady stream of bubbles underwater and waiting for gaps in the waves to inhale. I feel weightless and unmoving in the current as the water from the shore breakers sucks back out, as though in a disturbing dream where you want to wake but can’t. There’s a gap between the surf dashing towards the beach and the maelstrom around the island reefs. I head for it.

Suddenly it’s over; the sea is smaller and lighter, and I can see the warm, golden sand of the neck. I keep going till I feel my hands brush the bottom, then stand and wade backwards while spent breakers tug at my legs. After a couple of worrying minutes I spot Hugo ploughing towards me. As we trot across the beach he tells me about a mountaineer scaling Annapurna who dropped his gloves and had to watch them slide away, resulting in the loss of his fingers; Hugo says he too has had an ‘Annapurna moment’ today. We should have stayed with the others of course.  But there’s a danger in a close escape beyond that of not making it back alive, and ten minutes later I’m too high still to drink mulled cider or even to eat cake.

Video of the bit before the big scare here:

Wading In

Wizardry at Burgh Island

I’ve never swum Burgh Island in an easterly gale before, but I see from the cliffs that it’s doable. It’s the day after the OSS Dart 10k so we have about thirty swimmers from around the country excited at the prospect of an iconic Devon wild swim. We walk down past the sea tractor and into warm, pale turquoise sea.

The water’s miraculously clear and I can see the cheese grater rock that scrapes a piece from my thigh. I’m exhilarated by the wild energy of the storm and the towering cliffs and wonder whether we’ll get into Death Valley.  The entrance looks spookily calm; I watch for a bit before deciding it’s safe to enter.

My companion and I swim in, and are quickly joined by several others who’d been hovering to see whether we would survive. We swim through the outer reef towards the shelter of the cliffs.

Suddenly I’m in a cauldron of pointed wavelets about a foot high, spiralling like upside down tornados. Spray flies from their tops. There’s an invisible wizard somewhere, casting spells over the sea.

Every few yards the surface of the water transmogrifies: here are sharp waves that echo the shapes of the jagged rocks above; there tiny ruffles shiver across rounded swells; a splatter of rain pocks wavelets; white horses rear with manes of spindrift. It’s still somehow clear below the surface, and we dive down through waving weeds.

We play our way through the rocks to  where the sand bar is gradually revealed by the receding tide. The gale hits us full-force, flinging abrasive water as it rips through. There’s no big swell, just a wallop of wavelets that makes swimming hard. I’m battered from side to side to front to back and keep my head down. As we leave the water I freeze instantly; not from wizardry, but from the chill of the east wind.

Moon Gazey Swim With Moon!

Following our lovely swim around Burgh Island this afternoon, Queenie, Kate, Honey and I stay chatting in the pub before driving down to Bantham at nightfall. There we find Sue who’s travelled all the way from North Cornwall for our Moon Gazey Swim. A faint smudge of light through the clouds on the horizon behind us, like a distant glow-worm, raises our hopes of the moon putting in an appearance.

There’s enough light to feel the shapes of the dunes and I sense the sea before I see it, swelling like molten pewter. The lights of the Burgh Island Hotel glitter in the distance. It’s high tide so the earlier surf has died down to a gentle swell, which is just as well since there are rips here. Kate sets up her chair on the beach while the rest of us strip in the chill air, splattered by occasional rain drops. Sue has no kit with her, so we trot naked to the sea. The sand is damp and hard beneath my feet and the cool breeze tickles my salty skin.

We wade in over smooth kelp. The water creeps up my body like an incipient shiver; the shuushing of distant breakers swirls around in the breeze so that sound and sensation are indistinguishable. I recently learned that the music of waves is created by thousands of bubbles of air which vibrate and ring underwater like little bells. I feel the bubble bells through my skin as I swim, and phosphorescence sparks from my arms. We are mesmerised, and wave our arms through the water with fingers splayed. Ducking under, eyes open, green glints blossom like tiny neon lights blurred through a rainy window.

We’re quite far out, floating between sea and sky.  As we turn back the moon creeps above the clouds and illuminates a trembling, silvery path to the shore.

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