wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “dartmoor”

East Okement and Taw

Sophie swims the gully, E Okement

Sophie swims the gully, E Okement

Sophie’s walk on a gorgeous but cold day, taking in a few hot swimming spots. We start in the East Okement, being wholly unable to resist the top waterfalls. Clear water with a turquoise tint, and sun-spots the colour of barley sugar. The water’s very, very cold. The dogs are ecstatic, bounding between river and rock and leaf mould, panting, steaming and snuffling.

E Okement Falls

E Okement Falls

Someone finds an eviscerated Tawny Owl, which Rachel slings in a bin liner for later examination. It swings sadly in its makeshift body bag beneath her rucksack as she walks up the cleave towards Nine Maidens. There we play around with some gorse stump foraged by Kari and which resembles labia, rather appropriately for the stone circle that is most probably a paean to a moon goddess, perhaps Artemis or Hecate.

There’s a rather surreal twenty-first century army ambush occurring in the middle of the track where we’re heading, so we’re asked, very politely, to wander elsewhere. As we cross below Belstone Ridge all hell breaks loose, except there’s more smoke from Alex’s e-cigarette than from the grenade below.

Cassiterite

Cassiterite

Taw Marsh is stunning in the spring sunshine, weeds wafting green beneath the surface. We’re all thinking of the pre-Raphaelite Ophelia, and Kari decides to recreate Millais’ version with Linda and some bracken. Linda lies supine in the water playing dead, which at that temperature is no mean feat. As Rachel pushes her off and leaps out of the way for the picture, Lily and Fudge photo bomb before the hair floats downstream. Less Lizzie Siddall than Dartmoor Moses.

As we leave, we realise we’ve left Philippa, Linda’s ancient historian friend, behind… We call her with whistles and she returns, thrilled at the discovery of some black and glittery rock that she’s sure is a type of tin ore called cassiterite. This reminds me, as Anna has just pointed out, why it’s fun to walk and swim with such variegated people who together form a human encyclopaedia.

Dartmoor Ophelia with Dogs

Dartmoor Ophelia with Dogs

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Foaming Sharrah

Foam Art

Foam Art

Painfully cold water at Sharrah Pool today. The recent heavy rain has left natural foam flecks, marking the meandering flows through the eddies in Australian Aboriginal art. It’s a map of the river; unseen spirit currents materialised in ectoplasm.

I’m forced to stand for a while waist-deep in biting water, till I swim upstream. A man sat on the bank smiles and waves, I manage to gurn back. The others perch on elephant rock, past which the tongue of the cascade roars. We each have a go, swooping in ruffled bubbles before spinning out at the bottom.

Allan has a second dip at Black Rock, but it’s too cold for the rest of us. He shivers hard as he dresses.

Cascading

Cascading

Gollum on Elephant Rock

Gollum on Elephant Rock

WWS Book Review: River Suite

Book Review: River Suite by Roselle Angwin, with photos byVikky Minette

Book review: River Suite

As a wild swimmer and writer I find endless inspiration in wild places and wild water. Reading the poetic interpretations of others, however, is a wonderful way of gaining a different perspective that refreshes one’s own imagination. So, I was enormously excited when I found this extended poem about the OSS’s and my favourite river, the Dart.

River Suite is a limited edition book by local poet Roselle Angwin and photographer Vikky Minette. The poem traces the Dart from Cranmere Pool, the common source of five rivers high on Dartmoor

here where the heart of Devon clenches tight
and squeezes out its rivers
like arteries clotted with granite

Roselle’s imagery is magical and varied as befits a writer whose soul is in Celtic myth and legend. Vikky’s photography mirrors the poetry; close ups of the river where water and light and the riverbed meld into fleeting images of living, breathing beasts: a ghostly bird of prey swooping across a cascade in black water; phoenix feathers in golden ripples; reptilian scales in bronze shallows.

The poem evokes the isolation in this wilderness, the insignificance of people, the river spirits and the unique atmosphere that bewitches all who immerse themselves in or wander alongside the Dart.

if you were to shout here
the wind would carry your words away like birds

As the Dart descends from the moors to the cultivated “soft lands” she becomes tidal and her waters slow and spread with Roselle’s words, before the towns and roads

where the cars leave their litter of plastic and dead birds
a pheasant’s rainbow fading or a torn tumble of badger
Thence to the sea where the rhythm builds like wind chop
come down to the shore
come down to the shore
come down to the wild singing sea
oh slip night’s skins
oh shed your fears
oh come and swim with me

A beautiful book; inspirational, watery, feral, mysterious, joyful. Beyond a wild dip in the Dart’s secretive pools, what more could you ask for?

To order this limited edition go to  http://roselleangwin.wordpress.com/books/ and follow the River Suitelink. Click the drop down menu under ‘Buying Books’ at the bottom right of the page and select River Suite.

Black Tor Dell

The First Sneaky Peek of Black Tor Dell

The First Sneaky Peek of Black Tor Dell

Today’s dip stems from a sudden whim to visit the little dell below Black Tor where we haven’t been for some time. I have no towel or swimsuit so it’s a skinny dip, clinging to mossed rocks like hairy pectorals in the surge below the falls, in a howling gale, just before the storm hits.

Afterwards I stand spreadeagled on the bank while the wind whirls and chills still more. Flicking the drops of water from my skin with both hands, I turn and slowly dry. As I dress slinky grey stripes of rain advance from Burrator.  Water runs from my hair and down my face, and my sandalled feet are frozen from squelching through sucking boggy tussocks. Honey has the wind up her tail, cavorts like an excited camel, then eats some perfectly-matured vintage horse poo which means a choice between warming my soaking feet with the van heater and fainting with the pong, or winding the window down and breathing fresh, cold, Dartmoor air…you can guess which option I choose.

The Dell

The Dell

 

Bel Pool with Panda and Woody

Somewhat Nippy

Somewhat Nippy

We have visitors today; Panda and Woody from Deepest Dorset. It’s a beautiful morning, and we can still smell bluebells although they’re past their best. The Dart is middling-high after the rain, and the colour of a pub ceiling before the smoking ban. As we change at the lower end of Bel Pool a foam berg floats past, revolving gently in the current. It’s fairly easy to swim upstream on the island side, then suddenly I’m whipped by a speeding eddy to the cascade. Floating backwards the cappuccino foam splats spurts and spumes in a crazy dance, sending us over to the rocks. Woody and I both climb up and leap in, it’s invigorating to say the least. The sun hasn’t quite reached the pool, but I feel the warmth as I contemplate the fresh oak leaves overhead. The juddering after drop shows the water is as cold as it felt.

Clambering In

Clambering In

Strip in the Lyd

Waterfall

Waterfall

Continued downpours have left our little river the colour of Jail Ale and with a foaming head. Helen and I were intending to skinny dip, only there’s a couple just downstream setting up camp for the night and a lone walker on the far bank heading our way. So we wimp out and don our cozzies.  We’re still chatting about Helen’s trip to Russia and are properly iced by the swirly wind before we get in.

Helen Pre-Strip

Helen Pre-Strip

We duck, swim to the waterfall and explore for a time till I notice Helen is mid strip. So I join her and we toss our swimsuits over to the rocks. Although we’re almost naked, Helen is wearing goggles and I a pair of neoprene boots. How very English. So we whip those off too and lob them to the shallows. The surge beneath the big rock resembles ghostly frogspawn and I imagine ranks of frogs squatting in the depths, bums aloft.

We take turns to swim breast stroke against the flow. So many sensations, and far more subtle than a jacuzzi: the cold; currents that push and pummel howling like gales, or waft gently past like summer breezes; effervescence like birds’ wings brushing on skin, fizzing louder than the roar of the cascade. Each bubble oscillates and atomises on our faces. Our eyes are level with the surface so we see tiny spheres meld and grow before scatting across the pool in the wind. There’s nothing to beat skinny dipping in this exposed place.

Honey's Downward Dog

Honey’s Downward Dog

The wind whips around and chills wet hair so we dive back under to warm up. I open my eyes and float through beer that turns gold like scrumpy. We begin another chat, rolling and wallowing with the water but cold sidles around and we’re suddenly numbed to the core. After we leave, reluctantly, I can’t feel my towel nor whether I’m wet or dry. A current of ice runs along my spine and radiates like the sun.

The Bubble Uprush

Frogspawn Bubble Uprush

 

Supernatural Force

After Jackie's Rescue

Before Jackie’s Dunking

We meandered up to the little falls for a dip. This is one of the tamer jacuzzis on the Double Dart, perfect for a sparkling pick me up with minimal effort. Jackie floated across ready to wallow, and disappeared suddenly under the bubbles, to be rescued from the deep by Carole. We shot downstream in shadow on the far side in a heavy current, returning via the central eddy. The water was distinctly nippy and black.

Back at the jacuzzi I worked my way in, bouldering in the water around the mossy hand holds on the rocks. As I neared the falls a judo black belt of a current whipped my legs away to the side. I reattached from the right and struggled to move my feet and legs along, fighting an underwater flume. Then my feet flew upwards like a meteor as the force reversed. I managed to cling to the rock and wedged myself precariously half in, near to the surface. Rachel noticed the river is shallower downstream, and we guessed that the January spates must have scoured and bulldozed the underwater boulders and somehow channeled the current into this scary entity. The force is completely out of proportion to the size of the falls, which is around three feet. From the rocks we were able to see the downward draft to the left, and then the surge up a couple of feet down and to the right. One to explore when the water’s really low, which we hope will happen this summer.

Crazy Falls

Crazy Falls

Secret Ten Tors

Honey Swims

Honey – First In as Usual

A lovely day and a little jaunt involving a prolonged route march in order to explore a particular river on the high moor, which must for now remain a secret as it’s going to feature in Sophie and Matt’s latest wild swimming book due out next year.

Lou and Baa in the Falls

Lou and Baa in the Falls

There is no more spectacular place than this. We swim in a long pool up a narrow chasm to a tallish waterfall, and shoot back down overlooked by vertiginous tors. The spectacle overhead almost removes the pain of collisions with one of the invisible rocks lurking near to  the surface. Next we wander downstream to a smaller pool and play in an ornamental waterfall. Monster-leg-hair moss gives hand and foot holds on granite boulders, while slick green algae is like greased lightning on others.  My sore muscles are pummelled into submission. We head back through sucking bog, and an exhausted Honey swims yet another pool to play with a rather handsome collie named Badger. Finally we arrive at the Royal Standard in Mary Tavy for a lovely pint of Dartmoor IPA and rather gorgeous meal some six hours after setting off. Sophie later names the adventure Ten Tors.

Rachel Thinks About Getting In

Rachel Thinks About Getting In

Honey Takes a Break

Honey Has a Cat Nap

 

Bel Pool

Bel Pool

Bel Pool

Luscious green vegetation ruffled by a cheeky breeze that gathers and flings birdsong in snatches. Brimstone butterflies, bluebells about to burst, wood anemones. Golden green light and a warm spring sun. Bel Pool looks still from the lower end, cuddled by trees in new leaf. My bare feet slither on silted rocks in the shallows, and I cling to the debarked fallen tree that’s been there ages. I can’t imagine how it’s survived the huge winter spates. When I swim the water’s far colder than expected; 10 at most. The little rapids at the top rush into sight and hearing together, just where the black, dripping crack in the side of the gorge sneaks into my peripheral vision. Here spring is sucked from the air and I can almost see trolls sidling out. Honey puffs to the island and boings off after a scent. My skin is flushed with cold and burning as I dry off.

Tavy Diplet

Helen Wafts

Helen Wafts

It’s unusual to have guests on my side of the moors; for some weird reason I’m an isolated wild swimmer in wild swimming heaven, but today Helen is visiting from Exeter. We pick our way down from Hill Bridge to one of the closer pools. There’s a precipitous pebble shelf half way up, a microcosm of the beaches at Beesands and Slapton. We stumble over goose-egg stones and drop in to the deep water, tasting the peat and the spring. It’s twelve degrees, and the river has lost her winter turquoise tint. It feels right to float again in bronze. Because of my back injury, I’ve developed an upright doggy-paddle floating walk and can’t get close to the cascade, but Helen swims in and wafts through bubbles. The branches above hang bare above luscious, erupting banks.

Honey Wallows

Honey Wallows

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