wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “Mewstone”

Happy Wet New Year

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Finally we managed to swim today after endless storms and flooding. I’ve been hammered by a cold and cough over Christmas and was desperately in need of some chilly, frisky water. So off we went to good old Wembury where the forecast 7-11 foot surf wasn’t too bad at low tide, and the water and air temperatures were both conveniently 10ºc.

Landwards

Landwards

We frolicked in the surf, bobbed around and chatted. Low sun gave two totally contrasting views; one (out to sea) in shades of mercury and the other (towards shore) in technicolor. The seabed resembled a yarn shop at sale time with heaps of ankle-grabbing, tangled, ripped up weeds and the water was khaki, opaque with pulverised sea life.Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 17.44.16

Afterwards we loitered around Tony’s fire, ate, drank Teri’s mulled cider and shoved hot rocks from the wind-break up our jumpers. An effective way of warming up from the inside. Thanks for reading in 2013 and may you have a wet and wild new year.

Bottoms Up!

Bottoms Up!

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Wonderful Wembury

Leaping

Leaping

Waves from Above

Waves from Above

Met the gals for a wonderfully wild swim at Wembury today. It was shortly after high tide, and the breakers were perfectly-sized; large enough for some proper fun but not so big as to cause us problems with getting back in, nor indeed for a repeat of Teri’s ‘stunned sea bass’ impression. Wintery sun seeped through whispy clouds and forged the surface of the sea into molten aluminium.

WWS Ascending a Wave

WWS Ascending a Wave

The messy waves peaked in points, backlit as we leapt to beat the breaks like aquamarine stained glass windows. Chilly water, but nowhere near the freeze of the weekend. I felt a glow of cold radiate from my body, but ice cream neck lasted only briefly as water slapped and walloped us from above. We played and bobbed and marvelled in the light show while we chatted and laughed. Small rafts of seaweed swept past. There’s nothing to beat a wild winter sea. Thanks to Sharon Nicol for the photos.

Hamming it Up

Hamming it Up

Marvellous Moon Gazey

moongazey wembury1There’s a full moon due and predictably, it’s a drizzly horrid day. Except the cloud begins to lift and the horizon comes into view as the sun drops. And then a brief glimpse of the plump full moon, gleaming pale gold. At Wembury she remains hidden by the hills. There’s a four-foot swell rolling gently to shore while the Mewstone lurks like a shark beyond the bay.

The sun sets without too much fuss over Wembury Point while moon-glow silhouettes the hills behind us, creeping higher and higher in a teasing burlesque till we are finally able to gaze on the full moon from the sea and swim across her spot-lit path. Waves curve silver and shatter like mirrors.

A thousand thanks to Teri Cox for the photos. I’d taken my new GoPro for a try out in the dark. I set it on stills, to take 10 in 2 second bursts when I pressed the shutter.  A 20 minute swim: 560 photos. All of them were black…

Sue in Surf

Sue in Surf

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

Wicked Wembury

Dark clouds begin to glow as the moon staggers above them. It’s hard to judge the height of the surf as we wade in to water the colour of lead; you don’t see approaching breakers, but rather sense a looming presence. Wave lips flash with spray. A couple are big enough to have to duck under, while others break into our faces as we jump. My legs are grabbed by glossy kelp which slides down my thighs like a drowning bogeyman. The ghosts of waves fizzle on the surface before vanishing. Honey howls from the beach – it’s too rough for her to swim with us and she’s on the lead.

Moonlight glints off tipsy wavelets and silhouettes Wembury Church, and the lights of the Old Mill look like the orange eyes of a Halloween pumpkin. I levitate up waves in the dark then plummet, watching their speeding backs then turning to glimpse the darkly distant shark’s fin of the Mewstone. My skin is alive and burning with salty chill. Mesmerised by the moon I gaze as a curl of cloud breaks over her face. Wicked.

Our friend Helen is about to have her baby who has been nurtured by the waters of Devon since conception. It was too rough for Helen to swim tonight. Helen, I wish you and your baby love, and the happy magic of wild water.

A Bit of a Battering Around the Mewstone

We finally arrange a Mewstone circumnavigation on a day when the weather and sea conditions are relatively good. There’s a bit of an onshore breeze, a two to three-foot swell and good visibility. I had planned the swim based on advice from Dave Curno, a yachtsman with an encyclopaedic knowledge of tides and currents around the area who had given us a tide talk a few weeks back. He suggested we should swim anticlockwise at high tide plus three hours, when the apparently random currents should be at their most accommodating. It’s a serious swim out to sea, to an island which sits out in the channel tidal stream in deep water. This picture is complicated by the funnelling effect of the Plymouth Breakwater, the Yealm estuary current, and the shallow narrows between the Mewstone and Wembury Point.

We set out for the famous island accompanied by four kayaks. It’s a hard swim into the breeze and the chop and there is a strange illusion by which the Mewstone appears to get further away like a ship dragging its anchor, before suddenly growing closer and becoming touchable. Jess and I arrive shortly after Queenie and Jo, while Max and Marisa the two racing eels are already heading around the back. We spot a huge cave and swim over but it’s not accessible at this water level, though it looks ripe for exploration on a higher tide. 

Cormorants pose with beaks to the sky, jagging the silhouette of the cliff while gulls wheel overhead.  We head up the western side of the island which is striped in horizontal waves of nut brown, black and grey-green, topped by a crenelated and tussocked hillock. It looks like the body of a cuddly jellyfish, not at all what I was expecting.

Approaching the seaward side we are hit by some sizeable swell. From our low-level view we see the tops of sails leaning into the wind, and then a jet black shard of rock like a shark’s fin thrusting from the sea at an angle of forty-five degrees. Waves splat and rush up the flat surface, foaming back down.  The sea is petrol blue and turbulent, and we feel nervous without a kayak in view.  We press on because the current between the Mewstone and Wembury Point from whence we came is fast and flowing out to sea.

We are buffeted and bounced, and our view ranges from water only, to the crews and decks of the nearby yachts, to the tops of their sails. In the other direction is the rest of the sinister, shattered rock slab which from here looks like a Gothic cathedral plummeting to hell. Waves crash and boom. I catch an occasional distant glimpse of white water which marks the position of the reef to the Yealm side. These lethal rocks are named The Slimers and we want to avoid them. I’ve seen the gully between them and the island on Google Earth and Dave has told us there should be two metres of water there at this time. He’s right and we swim over weed and rocks with plenty of water to spare. I’m panting with the effort of swimming so hard; it’s too strong a sea in which to relax.

Here a ridge rises steeply at an angle like the spine of a stegosaurus, and secreted in the hollow towards its base is a small stone building incorporating a roundhouse. The spine and the cottage are washed on their seaward side with yellowy-green lichen. This must have been the home of the infamous prisoner of the Mewstone, who chose banishment here in  preference to deportation to Australia in the nineteenth century. I wonder how this hasn’t been sold by Stag’s as an ideal second home renovation project for an Investment Banker like pretty much every other vernacular Devon building. 

We exit the gully and are momentarily confused. I spot Wembury Church in the far distance and realise we were about to head for Plymouth. Then Lindsay and Claire materialise on the horizon in their kayaks like bedraggled sea angels to escort us back in.

The waves are mostly with us, and we should be able to swim easily but it’s a struggle. I’ve lost my rhythm, am very tired, and am starting to get cramp in one calf and the other hamstring. Consciously relaxing, I manage to shake it out. It’s impossible to glide because of the buffeting so I have to grit my teeth and go for it. My mouth and throat are raw with salt water, and my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth. I dream of my bottle of water back on the shore and swim harder. Breathing to the left, I realise the Yealm current has pushed me over towards the Point so have to swim at an angle into it to get round the rocks to the beach.

Finally I see pale sand and surf in on two tiny waves. I’m greeted by cheers from some of our friends who’ve come for a little swim and waited for us. The adventure has taken the faster pair around one hour and forty minutes, but we’ve been nearer two and a half. I have just enough energy left to do a little dance on the beach.

There’s some wonderful historical information on this blog: http://matteringsofmind.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/mewstone-and-starfish/

Mewstone? In This Weather?

Well, we tried. It’s blowing a hoolie and there’s officially a six to eight foot swell. The Mewstone taunts us from the maelstrom, highlighted by spray from the surrounding reef; there’s no way we’ll make it there today. Most of the gang have failed to show, and John our safety-kayaker decides it’s too frisky for him to paddle through the surf so he opts to ‘photograph you guys drowning from the beach’ instead. Sophie does some body-boarding while JJ, Hugo and I go for a swim.

The water’s warm and churning, and I swim and either dive through the waves as they break, or shoot up to the top and push and plummet off the back. I grin through the constant rumble and hiss of crashing waves and foam, imbued with stormy energy. As we swim beyond the surf, we hit the crazy choppy area where wind, tide and currents meet. We’re walloped and whipped and flung. There’s a whiff of sewage from the Point.

White horses break as we crest, and spindrift runs towards the shore in the squall that hits us around half-way to the Mewstone. Small wrinkles cover bigger wrinkles in the gusting wind. Rain splats into my face and partially washes the sticky brine from my skin.

Slicks of uprooted weed marble the sea, and I hit one as I swim. It slows me and pulls at my arm. I’m breathing on the downwind side, swimming at an angle to the waves, and timing my breaths for the point where I feel myself dropping off the top. But this time I’m slapped by a witch’s hat wave that smacks me in the face just as I inhale; I cough salty water through my abraded throat for a couple of minutes before I can breathe again.

I decide to make my way to shore, while JJ and Hugo continue on for a few minutes. I keep my eye on the Church and head back against the tide which is now retreating. I’m quite scared as I watch the backs of the breakers rush the beach, and I know they’re too strong for me to body-surf. I decide to swim hard and look out behind as I breathe.

When a wave is about to break it towers up and steepens while its lip teeters before curling into a sneer, after which, like a school bully, it gets you.  So I stop, face it and dive underneath to avoid the washing-machine effect. They come at me fast in the breaking zone and It’s hard, frantic work for a couple of minutes, with barely time to catch a breath between.

Suddenly I’m through, and I can surf in where the worst of the energy has dissipated. I stagger to the shore and look back to spot Hugo and JJ who appear after a few minutes. Hugo is wiped out by a huge wave, loses his prescription goggles and has his body bent in ways it’s not supposed to bend. The sun appears and lights the foaming surface so that it gleams like fish-skin.

Spring in the Sea

Today we met at Wembury again – it’s become the regular, winter sea-swim for some of us. Spring is in the air and the sea, and the sun has real warmth, burning through the mist by lunchtime. We swim hard out towards the Mewstone, visible in three dimensions in the bright sunshine but never seeming to get any closer. This will be our big planned swim for when the sea warms. We cut back towards the Yealm side, and feel the power of the reef reeling us in. It’s easy to imagine ships coming to grief here as the waves build, break and suck with the funnelling effect of the submerged rocks.

Later, we change and play ball with Honey and Mary the Bull Terrier. There is a dog-hater on the beach, identifiable by her chilling laser-stares at any canines and their humans who dare to venture within half a mile.  Mary spots her at once, shoots over with her comical gambolling canter, and sticks her head into Mrs Dog-Hater’s takeaway box – which quite possibly contains minced dog burgers.

We wander along the coast-path to Heybrook Bay, which allows us a closer look at the Mew Stone from Wembury Point, a mere half a K from here, but with a strong current through the narrows.  The fields behind the path are dotted with plump rabbits and Oyster Catchers, mingling as though at a cocktail party.

There was a moon in the pub (by a Welshman excited by a team try on the televised match), and then on the walk back a slim crescent moon rose in the sky, Venus visible as a bright point of light alongside. Or it might have been Saturn. We’re still arguing.

With thanks to JJ and Stephanie for the photos – WWS’s camera has broken!

Wembury

A chilly, still, slightly overcast afternoon and a very low tide. The scent of seaweed and fish. A dog charges round, chased by increasingly frantic owners, playing with a long-dead rabbit. The peach-coloured light brings out the steely blue-greys of the sea, and the sun forces her way through intermittently with wondrous effects. Beams of light splay around the Mewstone, and the horizon is briefly lit by a line like burning phosphorous.

The water is cold, around 7.5ºC, and my face freezes painfully. Several people are seriously under-dressed for the occasion, and even Pauline grimaces for several seconds before launching into a solo synchronised swimming routine. Joh, on the other hand, appears to be entering the water wearing a puffa jacket while the Ninja Elf is recognisable only by her squeals, muffled through the balaclava.

We swim out, then return fairly quickly with cold hands and numb toes. A fast change and we refuel with two types of cake. As we leave, we’re enveloped by the distant sounds of kids laughing and the slap of Honey’s feet as she gallops along the wet sand.

 

 

WoooHooo Wembury

An onshore wind and a rising tide on a mostly overcast day. The blue-grey light flattens the Mewstone into a predatory shark’s fin on the horizon, and a stand-up paddle-boarder seems to walk on water like Jesus. Surfers ride the breakers towards the reef below the Old Mill. The cloud breaks briefly over the sea leaving a silver puddle shimmering like a net full of mackerel in the distance.

We leap through the surf wooo-hoooing; every so often we wimp out in the teeth of a monster wave and dive under, chilly water surging down through the necks of our suits. I hear white noise, and the roar of the big rollers reaches a crescendo as they break. Ducking under, I am surrounded by the same sounds muffled through my swim hat, mingled with bubbles as I exhale. The water is a dull greeny-turquoise, murky with smashed fragments of green-brown seaweed.

We swim for around forty minutes, buffeted by the crazy sea, rising then crashing back into troughs, lips shrivelled with brine. I can feel the wind ripping the warmth from my head. The Mewstone mermaid is calling us, but we’re cold and it’s way too rough for even JJ and his fins to obey. We’ll save that swim for the spring.

Fellow Swimmers

JJ, Stephanie, Helen, Joh

Shore Team

Dan, Finn, Honey and Dexter Doodle Posh Poodle.

Painting of the Mewstone

Turner (JJ can be seen to the left of the ship)

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