One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “labrador”

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)


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

West Okement Waterfall

Hiding Behind the Cascade

Hiding Behind the Cascade (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Pretending to Go Over

Pretending to Go Over (photo Allan Macfadyen)

This adventure was planned after I glimpsed wild water while walking the track above the cleave last week. Then I had sandalled feet, and couldn’t safely descend over the clitter to the river. So today some wild swimming friends have joined me for a sporting wild swim and waterfall exploration, in which we intend to walk up the river and into the cleave. This is not as simple as it might sound, and we soon find ourselves scrambling under and around stunted oaks, hawthorns and rowans on sometimes near-sheer banks, crawling on all fours and bouldering around monolithic, mossed boulders. About a third of the way we are forced to stop and change into swim gear and wetsuit boots, before dumping our rucksacks. From there we work our way uphill, mostly in the river.

Lou the Hobbit

Lou the Hobbit (photo Allan Macfadyen)

We plop into a small pool. The West Okement’s source is underground springs in a mire not too far from here and so it’s chilly and peaty. We sit under the falls where ice-cream head hits fast, and discover a variation on the wild jacuzzi; a wild bidet where water is forced upwards in a small basin between three rocks . Boswell, Stef’s young labrador, is battling to deal with this new environment and attempts several giant leaps across pools. Honey leads the way, being well used to such adventures.

The Start of the Scramble

The Start of the Scramble (photo Allan Macfadyen)

As we ascend through greeny-bronze light the falls become increasingly secretive and other-worldly; the Okement has found a way around and across and under this jumble of rocks and trees in the most picturesque way. Lou and Baa squat like Hobbits on rocks. It’s the covering of black lichen like flaked burned paint and the soft layer of dark green moss, that allow us to get this far; wet rocks are like ice to grip.

We swim up a little pool where hunks of granite loom overhead. I feel like a microscopic lifeform. Allan photographs us as we sit behind the waterfall at the top end, inhaling the earthy smell and muffled sounds of dripping, velvety moss behind the shower curtain of water. Harry is barely visible in the falls, till his disembodied thumbs up appears.

Afterwards we climb to the track above the cleave and sit looking down. There is the merest hint of a ribbon of white water visible through the trees.

See ‘Tors and Clitter Slopes’ for an explanation of the geology here: http://www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/learningabout/lab-printableresources/lab-factsheetshome/lab-geologylandforms

Stef Cools Off

Stef Cools Off (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Allan and Harry

Allan and Harry

Baa Wades Upriver

Baa Wades Upriver (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Boswell Gets Encouragement

Boswell Gets Encouragement (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Delicious Dart

I’m baking and sticky with sweat after the hottest day this year, and the sound and sight of the Double Dart as the air starts to cool makes me want to run flat out and dive straight in. We walk upstream and change among the trees. The river rocks are slippery, so our entrance is less nifty than we had hoped. As I fall forwards the deliciously cool water sluices the heat and salt from my skin and I’m instantly invigorated.

We swim serenely around the pool, occasionally passed by a speeding dog; we have Honey and Perrin the labrador with us this evening. It’s a joy to watch a dog bred for swimming cavorting through the river, water rilling from his coat.

We swim in each pool before plopping in to the Horseshoe jacuzzi. I feel the fizzling softness on my skin. Janey says the bubbles make happy water, and I know what she means. I hold a handful of bubbles briefly before they evanesce like Tinkerbell.

Post Navigation