wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “Devon”

Welcombe Mouth

Reef

Reef

Foaming

Foaming

Honey and I are in North Devon today on a work-related visit, and take the opportunity to return to one of our favourite beaches. Welcome Mouth is a part of that wonderful area of cliff on the North Devon/Cornwall borders where the earth’s crust has been pushed and snapped into points that rise up to 400 feet above the Atlantic. In dramatic terms, Welcombe plays Emmerdale to Hartland’s Wolf Hall. Here, there’s simply a fifty-to-one hundred foot cliff and a miniature waterfall whose spread and style hints at its ambition to be Speake’s Mill. The Atlantic breakers have crashed into these cliffs over millennia to erode fingers of rock that cleave the sand at 45 degrees and claw out to sea.

Mini Waterfall

Mini Waterfall

Drifts of pebbles form waves around the cliffs; smooth gulls’ eggs ringed with quartz, in a soft grey that must be made by Farrow and Ball.

It’s almost low tide, and there’s a fair swell and a drizzle that might be spray from the waves crashing along the reefs. The sea is opaque and tinted rich-tea-biscuit. We trot up the narrow sandy tongue to be splatted almost at once by excitable foaming water, marbled, crashing and sucking. It’s not too cold. I’m tempted to head beyond the break, but the backwash is hideously strong and I’m afraid that Honey, who’s nearby, will get caught and pulled into the break zone. Crazy diagonal waves jaywalk back out, so I don’t spend long with my feet off the ground.

A dog walker tells me she swims from May to October, and that the sand is only recently returning after the huge storms of 14 months ago, grouting the gaps between reef fingers.

Honey Engulfed

Honey Engulfed

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

Mothecombe

Dahab Ninja Wipeout

Egyptian Ninja Wipeout

Trying to avoid getting wet...

Trying to avoid getting wet…

A last-minute call to dip at Mothecombe, and boy is it worth the trip. It’s mid-flood and surfy, the spectacular estuarine break is at its peak, and a strong, chilly wind cuts through our prematurely spring-like clothing. Rachel, Linda, Honey and I make our way to the shelter of the disused tidal pool. Honey thunders off after a tall dark and handsome flat coat retriever while the three of us change.

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Failing to stay dry…

The rip drags at our legs as we teeter in, shivering, so we cross closer to the surfers and into the teeth of the wind. The water is muted turquoise and cold, but made icy by the wind chill. We contort into dance shapes to stay dry as we wade deeper; wild swimming oxymoronic behaviour if ever I saw it. Linda is resplendent in her Dahab souk hooded neoprene singlet, while Rachel is wearing a mini ra ra skirt and a purple flowered hat. As I float between Egyptian Ninja and Devon Cream Tea Lady a large wave breaks over my head, dousing the Dali dreamscape.

Devon Cream Tea Lady

Devon Cream Tea Lady

Fire and Icy Water

Gloved Moon

Gloved Moon

A full Cold Moon draws us to Bantham, where we meet to swim in the Aune ria. We build a bonfire and use it to light home-made torches. There is an arterial sound and energy here, of lifeblood whooshing upstream on the flood tide. The scents of salt and woodsmoke meld, and we trail flames as we wade in.

Frigid water glows in orange ripples, while above glares a phosphorus moon, escaped from the glove of a passing cloud. Sparks shoot in the steely edge of the sea wind and hair flies like the flame from my torch. Warm thoughts and wind-burned cheeks tussle with chilled bodies. On the far bank, from a glass-walled house, silhouetted figures watch. We form a circle, shadowing the moon who has lured us and the sea to her.

Moonglow, Torchglow

Moonglow, Torchglow

Flaming Water

Flaming Water

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Tara Adds Magic

 

Bonfire

Bonfire

 

Wading

Wading

Watcombe Beach to Bell Rock

Bell Rock

Bell Rock – Too Slim by Far

You might have noticed the dearth of blogs recently; it’s partly due to being busy and partly to a smorgasbord of injuries that appear to be roaming from joint to joint like a hen night. Anyway, I had my pesky shoulder injury injected with hydrocortisone almost two weeks ago, and since we’re supposed to be taking on the beast that is the Gulf of Corryvreckan on 15th August and I’ve not swum properly for well over 6 months I thought I’d better give the shoulder a try out.

Allan and Carole

Allan and Carole

So off we went to Watcombe Beach.  I lived in Watcombe from age 3 to 7, and have many happy memories of the beach and the steep walk down to it, but I haven’t been there since…1968. It’s a gorgeous little cove surrounded by red sandstone cliffs and woodland. The end chunk of cliff sports a considerable crack down half its length, so it won’t be long till that tumbles down into the sea.

WWS Snapping at Starfish (photo Allan Macfadyen)

WWS Snapping Starfish (photo Allan Macfadyen)

We swam out stroked by kelp on a low spring, in sea that was misted and coloured shades of aquamarine. Constellations of starfish were scattered across sandy patches, and once we reached the caves they multiplied to a veritable milky way.  As ever on this piece of coastline, the colours of rocks and sea zing in a perfect Matisse palette. Although the sea was flat calm, it sucked and soughed through the cave, cooler than outside and stinking of seal breath. Layers of life forms meshed on the rocks to form a collage of mineral, plant and animal, so that it’s hard to see the divide between life and death.

Starfish!

Starfish!

I swam across to Bell Rock, but felt too cold to sidle through the slim gap. I also suspect after months of limited exercise that my capacious arse might have caused me to wedge fast in the narrows where I would probably stay till the next low tide. So Nancy and I headed back, leaving the rest to forage and exclaim. I managed I think around 300m of front crawl, with little in the way of pain. Here’s hoping…By the way, the beach cafe at Watcombe is a top place with fantastic, crispy thin chips. Hardly conducive to shrinking the bum.

Cave...

Cave…

Swimming Round the Point

Swimming Round the Point

Memories of JJ

Sharrah Cascade

JJ in Sharrah Cascade, April 2013

One short year ago yesterday, on 15th June 2013, Jonathan ‘JJ’ Joyce died suddenly. He was loved by many, and he created the OSS Wild Swim Map (wildswim.com) which exemplifies his nature of exploration, discovery and sharing.

JJ was an adventurous wild swimmer and challenge swimmer whose love for people and water was unsurpassed.

In common with many of JJ’s swimming friends, I find he pops into my mind while I’m immersed in wild water. This weekend of sun and watery fun was one he’d have adored and so he spent a lot of time in my head. We swam and later skinny-dipped under the full Honey Moon at Bantham,  wearing floral headdresses, we swooshed up and down the Aune Estuary with the speeding tide, and dipped in a pool and waterfall in the river Tavy on the high moor. JJ’s spirit was there, enjoying the thrills, the social banter and chat, the different types of water and cake, and the unusual cloud formations on Friday at dusk which would have intrigued him. We mentioned him, and memories trickled into conversations.

In the two short years that we knew him, JJ (together with his family Steph, Janus and Finn) became so much a part of our swimming and social lives that the hole resulting from his shocking death appeared like a disused mineshaft, swallowing large chunks of our world with it. Yet he gave so much, touched so many of us in different ways, infected us with his bubbling adventurousness and humour and kindness, that his presence remains tangible. He transformed people, and was instrumental in developing some of our favourite swims and our ideas of what is swimmable – just. I wouldn’t have done a few of the crazy things we did without him there. He reinforced the notion that it’s perfectly normal to run into the sea at dawn wearing 1920s fancy dress, and discovered that gin improves lemon drizzle cake no end.

So, Jonathan the unforgettable, you swim with us in our hearts always. We miss you.

 

Hartland Quay

Hartland Quay

Hartland Quay

The plan today was to swim from Hope Cove to Thurlestone, only with a pesky southerly blowing we thought it might be a tad frisky. So we went instead to Hartland Quay where we found the usual crashing and foaming around the rocks; it’s almost always wild around here.

Andrew, Plum and I got in fairly easily off the sheltered slipway and began to bounce in glowing, aquamarine sea. Earlier we’d been on the more reckless side of a Facebook debate on the dangers of being struck by lightning while swimming, so of course we were interrupted by a crashing rumble that I initially took to be a big wave dumping on pebbles; obviously it was thunder. We laughed in its face and continued with our swim, reasoning that there are plenty of high rocks and cliffs around here to attract strikes and we’re barely breaking the surface. Anyway, nothing short of death was going to get us out of this slightly nippy lushness.

Andrew Leaps

Andrew Leaps

The geology here always takes my breath away. Reefs like crashed wafer biscuits point out to sea, overwhelmed by cliffs layered and snapped into jagged points like petrified storm waves. We swam over, then back to the big rock from where Andrew climbed and jumped while Plum and I bobbed, pulled this way and that by the crazy currents from waves surging through and around rocks.

After around three quarters of an hour we walked back up the slipway and sniggered at the potential irony of being struck by lightning before we got to the pub, but survived to order a pint of Tribute each. Inside in a dark corner slouched a young couple watching movies on an iPad. Two hours later they were still there, Skyping their friends about the lovely weather. Really.

With thanks to Plum for the photos.

Stunned by Geological Marvels

Stunned by Geological Marvels

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

 

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