wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “labradoodle”

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

 

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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

 

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

 

Sunrise at Wonwell

Sunrise at Wonwell: Honey & WWS. Photo Karen Lubbe.

Sunrise at Wonwell: Honey & WWS. Photo Karen Lubbe.

I’m never at my best in the morning, and today I’ve only had a couple of hours kip in TrannyVan after a housewarming party. It’s 0530. Wonwell is a small, isolated beach at the mouth of the river Erme, more or less opposite Mothecombe. The tide’s out and it’s almost light as we walk down and dump our stuff. There’s a delay before anyone gets changed; I always feel cold when tired, and there’s a chilly wind. Finally we trot down to the sea which feels considerably warmer than the air, and wade in through long, low waves that break on the sand bar as the tide begins to flood. I can’t swim fast because of my back and I’m really noticing the lack of exercise-generated heat.

There’s a grey-green-blue coolness to the water, then it starts to transform as the sun peeps over the hill. I’m floating with Honey maybe a hundred yards out and there’s a moment when warmth begins to suffuse me that must be purely psychological.  A peachy tinge ripples then dissolves through the surface and the water beneath becomes bluer. I swim back to shore with Honey who is swamped by a couple of waves. By the time we return to the rocks I’m shivering, and the sea is a good hundred yards closer than it was when we arrived. Joh’s crutch meanwhile has been swallowed by the incoming tide, and will no doubt intrigue the person who finds it washed up one day.

We set up our camping stoves and cook tomatoes, eggs, bacon and eggy bread for breakfast. I’m ravenous. Steph, being German, eats a sacrilegious combination of crumpets fried in olive oil with jam. We threaten to call UKIP. Carole has made bacon and egg cup-cakes, including some with veggie bacon for me. We light a fire and warm and smoke ourselves. I give Honey her ball, which somehow ends up in the fire. Luckily someone notices and kicks the ball out shortly after Honey has attempted to extricate it with her paws. Then I see her lying on the beach breathing smoke like a dragon; she’s holding the hot ball in her mouth. I grab it and cool it in the stream, but she doesn’t seem to have suffered at all…

This was the inaugural swim of our new wild swimming group into the fish dimension... which has an artistic and environmental ethos. The swim was organised by our friend Carole Whelan. Thanks Carole!

 

 

Plym Perfection

Teri De-Stressing

Teri De-Stressing

Hello

Hello

Honey's game Part I

Honey’s game Part I

Honey's Game Part II

Honey’s Game Part II

I creak up the track towards the Dewerstone at slug-pace, dreaming of the calming effect of cold river water on my back injury. It’s a gorgeous day of sunshine and glittering cascades. The pool refracts light the colour of new leaves and the roar of the falls blitzes my ears as I doggy paddle. Teri and Jane slide down the pudding rock and clamber through the keyhole, while Honey plays her Dewerstone game of dropping her found tennis ball from the ledge fifteen feet above, before scrabbling down and swimming over to collect it from the eddy, over and over again. I bob to the falls while a grey wagtail bobs on a nearby rock. I clamber out refreshed and watch Teri floating her worries away. She shouts a good while later that she can’t bring herself to get out.

Spring from the Plym

Spring from the Plym

Bubbles at Pudding Rock

Bubbles at Pudding Rock

Three Dips and Four Full Moons

Bugle Hole

Bugle Hole

 

Erme Estuary as the Tide Begins to Flood

Erme Estuary as the Tide Begins to Flood (photo Helen Sargent)

Fiona, Joe and the Urban Fox Terrier are visiting from London. Today we plan a three-pronged attack on Fiona’s attempt to swim in 60 new locations in her 60th birthday year: The Erme estuary; Bugle Hole; and Mothecombe beach, a triumvirate of Devon swims within a single meandering mile or so of each other. Since my back has given out, I leave the first swim to Fiona, Helen, Honey and Boswell while Stef and I natter on the beach. Luckily Joe saves us from being cut off by the incoming tide which we’d rather embarrassingly failed to notice. A rapid swoosh up the river with the flood is one of the wonderful adventures described in Roger Deakin’s Water Log and it’s high on our list for the summer.

Erme Estuary 30 Minutes Later: with Honey, Boswell, Helen and Fiona

Erme Estuary 30 Minutes Later: with Honey, Boswell, Helen and Fiona

Around tea time we return to the car park and load up with food before wandering down to Mothecombe. Four of us amble along the coast path to Bugle Hole with the aim of hitting it at high tide. The sun has just departed and it feels far colder than it is. Once in, I regain my mojo and allow myself to be coddled by the magnified Bugle swell. The last of the sun hits at the far end of the passage where we float in a sparkling wonderland of rocks and aquamarine sea. Honey joins us but I have to help her back through the magic cauldron where we’re gliding through the water one moment, stationary in the centre of the pool the next, and then flung into the barnacled cheese-grater rock with a partly peeled body part to finish.

Back at Mothecombe flames gutter through Alison’s driftwood fire and we begin scoffing as the sun drops and the colour leeches from sea and sky leaving a watery, diluted metal effect in shades of shell pink and wishy blue. Gradually people depart, leaving me, Fiona, Helen, Joe, Honey and the dogs on the beach. We wander across to the western end of the sands as the light granulates into darkness. There, above the headland dangles a splendid full moon, a watery track melting across the sand and the receding wavelets.

Sun Drops at Mothecombe

Sun Drops at Mothecombe (photo Helen Sargent)

Helen and I have decided not to go in again, while Fiona is keen. The moon goddess of course works her magic so we strip for a skinny dip making a full four full moons. Although the sea is still nippy at between 10 and 11 degrees, it feels delicious; who could ask for more than the creep of sea on bare skin, a water-stroked body, and the scent of salt and the whoosh of the waves and the shimmering magic pathway to the moon. We are studiously ignored by the two bonfire loads of teenagers swigging beer and toasting sausages on driftwood sticks.

We clamber back up the track in moon light and moon shadow on numb feet, and are greeted by a transcendental view as we reach the top of the headland. Below us the Erme and the ebb tide rush out to sea while waves run inland over the top. The summit of each breaker gleams silver, and the various eddies and wavelets where water fights over sand bars shoal into visions of fish. We stand transfixed at the curves and waves and ribbons and the witch moon.

Moon Rise at Mothecombe

Moon Rise at Mothecombe

Witch Moon Over Estuary (photo Helen Sargent)

Witch Moon Over Estuary (photo Helen Sargent)

 

Juicy Spring River

WWS Submerged

WWS Submerged

Fairy Tree House

Fairy Tree House

A day of whipped wind, wispy clouds and watery blue skies. Honey is frisky; I feel heavy, chilled and tired. She decides on a trip to the Double Dart. We walk from Dartmeet and I’m soon sweating through my t-shirt and summer fleece. Honey skits along, paddling and snuffling among the tree roots. It smells of spring.

Honey Rootles

Honey Rootles

Honey's Twin Checks Me Out

Honey’s Twin Checks Me Out

We rootle around, picking our way through juicily-mossed tumbles of clitter, exploring sculptural stumps and dams left by the incredible winter spates. One dam is at least ten feet above the river level, a wicker wall of bleached, fractured tree limbs and wads of washed-out grass, twigs and bracken, curved like a river current. A speeding toad passes us then dives into a bed of crumpled oak leaves.

A couple are frying bacon on the flat rock from where I meant to swim. The two wide pools here are smooth as satin with every stone and twig visible from the path above.

Since Honey’s summer claim to fame of wolfing the gourmet lunch of Daniel Start’s friends while we swam and chatted in Sharrah Pool, I’ve been hyper-alert to such doggy temptation. We go in further down, sinking through heaped sub aqua sand dunes. The current pulls hard and swamps my grey mood with water the colour and sweetness of Sauternes. There’s a perfect level of nip; it’s far warmer than last week when I struggled to stay in.

Turquoise Tinged Cascade

Turquoise Tinged Cascade

I scramble out and walk up to the narrows, where there’s an unexpected turquoise hue. It’s an easy slide down the mossy rocks into the cascade where I swoosh, suspended in a cloud of bubbles, knees and hip smarting where frozen skin connects with rock. The river rolls me to the eddy. Bumble bees buzz past followed by a low-flying chinook, both sensed rather than heard, the difference between them mostly one of scale. I wade to the bank and my cold water tan burns. We wander back upstream while the roar of the river swirls into birdsong.

Flood Dam Sculpture

Flood Dam Sculpture

Swooshing

Swooshing

Spring Reflections

Spring Reflections

Honey Thinks It’s Funny: There’s Snow on Them There Tors…

WWS's Pain Captured

WWS’s Pain Captured

We’d already decided to go for a Double Dart dip today, but peering from my bedroom window I see snow on them there Tors. Jackie, Allan and Helen have come from the southern side and haven’t seen the snow, so we decide to drive back to Dartmeet to make the most of it. It’s gone from the valley but there’s a good few inches at the top and the temperature is a mere two degrees, although the water is considerably warmer at – gulp – six. I’m not acclimatised to this and I know it’s going to hurt.

Three Braver Wild Swimmers

Three Braver Wild Swimmers

Jackie floats almost serenely, but even she grimaces briefly from beneath the big flower in her hair. She says it’s lovely, but I don’t believe her. Helen and Allan begin swimming, and now it’s my turn. It feels like hugging a slab of iceberg before having it ripped from my body inch by inch. I scream. Lots. Then I swim, ish, and stagger out. Honey thinks it’s hilarious and goes loopy doodle on the bank with a full display of doggy guffawing. I try again, which usually works, but not today. Still it was worth it for the video in which you can’t hear the others scream owing to the waterproof camera case. Honest. Here’s the link:

Honey Thinks It's Funny

Honey Thinks It’s Funny

Honey Thinks It's Funny 2

Honey Thinks It’s Funny 2

Honey Still Thinks It's Funny

Honey Still Thinks It’s Funny

Honey Thinks It's Totally Hilarious

Honey Thinks It’s Totally Hilarious

 

Polar Bear Sharrah

Geddin!

Geddin!

Polar Bear Roar

Polar Bear Roar

We haven’t swum here for ages thanks to the storms and constant rain. There are exposed roots in Sharrah glade like nerves in a flailed body and the track resembles a dry riverbed. The river is surging and elephant rock barely raises its head above the surface.

Sprinting Between Currents

Sprinting To Elephant Rock

Today is not a positive embrace-the-chill sort of day for me.  We dawdle before taking the plunge and when we do it’s like being savaged by a colony of frozen ants. We all struggle to get upstream and are pushed into the rocks. To the right is a gently curvaceous surge, which turns out to be more forceful still than the choppy stream by the bank. There is a mere smattering of natural foam; usually when the river rages we swim through a beery head at least a foot high. By now I’ve contorted into a frog pose and my stroke is more of a judder.  By kicking off an underwater boulder and sprinting between the two currents I make it to the rock.

Squatting on Elephant Rock

Squatting on Elephant Rock

The rapid is spectacular like the tangible roar of a polar bear. We sink a fair way down before popping up with the dissipating bubbles. The water is greenish as though tinted with absinthe and sets off our scarlet cold water tans rather nicely. Six degrees of wonderful.

Negative Buoyancy - Allan Sinks

Negative Buoyancy – Allan Sinks

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Carole is King!

Whitsand Bay

Whitsand Bay

Whitsand Bay

It’s a real shock this – a sunny day! Sadly our plans to swim at Tregantle are foiled thanks to Second World War beach defence ironmongery that’s been uncovered by the recent weeks of extreme storms. So Stef and I pootle down to the middle of the bay and descend the cliffs with the dogs. It’s low tide and we’re concerned about the recent doggy deaths from eating boulders of palm oil washed up on local beaches, particularly since both of our dogs have the word ‘labrador’ in the title. Luckily there doesn’t appear to be any here. Instead, there’s a gingery heap of ripped kelp, alive with flies, and a hail of plastic scattered across the sands. Mist veils the rocky reefs and razor shells lie smashed like little car crashes, spilling pale sausage shaped bodies the colour and texture of clotted cream. And there’s the sound of the sea, soothing and enticing…

By the time we wade in the sun is glaring at a winter angle. The water here pulls and swirls in several directions between the outcrops, and there is a diagonal wave and a nice big rip feeding out from the near reef.  As I pop up from a wipeout I see white puffs of cloud on the horizon that echo the foaming white water perfectly. It’s beautiful, exhilarating, invigorating. We chat about Stef’s daughter and her travels in Cambodia while the cold seeps and slaps and sand churns. The waves dump from eight feet, silky walls of water that rise and curl suddenly before crashing down. Sometimes three or four catch up and we’re in a sea of bubbles. Small fountains erupt from the surface like the ghostly fingers of wrecked sailors.

Afterwards we change slowly, soaked in the warmth of the winter sun; or perhaps the heat is generated by the young couple canoodling in the cave entrance behind us…We have lunch and tea in TrannyVan on the cliff top. Today, instead of running the heater on full we sit with the side and barn doors open. This allows Honey and Boswell to revolve through playing and looking for tennis balls and doggy snacks. Stef’s treat pocket is slick with dog flob.

Honey and Boswell Seek Balls

Honey and Boswell Seek Balls

Foaming Clouds

Foaming Clouds

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