One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “night swimming”

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


Tara Adds Magic








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)


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

Super-Moon Gazey: Bugle Hole, Mothecombe

Super-Moon Gazey (Photo Allan Macfadyen)

Waves Spill into Bugle Hole

Super-Moon Gazey (photo Allan Macfadyen)

Super-Moon Gazey (photo Allan Macfadyen)

I’ve cancelled today’s swim, which was rather too exciting and not something I felt able to plan and execute just yet. A group of us have met up this evening mostly because we want to see each other and talk and remember JJ in a place where we feel his spirit. The Super Full Moon lends enhanced significance.

Wild Bugle

Wild Bugle

Bugle Hole in early evening on a high spring tide and with a sporting swell is simply awesome. It looks like nothing as you meander down the cliff path, but once you’re in you’re swept along, hugged in the bosom of the sea, pushed and squeezed and pulled and splatted against rocks if you fail to pay attention, as I did.



Waves crash and foam, rocks grow taller and shrink like Alice in Wonderland, and the Blow Hole at the end gurgles like a giant with IBS, despite being gob-stoppered by a buoy. Well worth the giant bruises.

Helen Leaps into Bugle Hole

Helen Leaps into Bugle Hole

Afterwards, we amble back to Mothecombe and collect driftwood for a fire. Then we lay out our lavish picnic and await the great event; the rising of the Full Super-Moon above the headland. Allan and Kate’s boys do a grand job with the fire, which has been carefully and anally constructed by Rachel, who then assumes responsibility for predicting the appearance of said Super Moon using her Android app. We learn random facts about planets elicited without the aid of specs and including that there’s a planet called ‘Sooth’, which turns out to be ‘South’. Of course JJ would have used a far superior iphone5.  We eat and chat and laugh, and Baa, Lou, Helen, Linda and Michele construct a moon from pebbles and driftwood on the sand as a kind of  incantation, while slate clouds mass behind the beach.

Rachel's Digital Moon Gazing

Rachel’s Digital Moon Gazing

Suddenly, she’s here. Rising orange and dribbling a wandering reflection across the damp left by the receding tide on the sand, glowing and pregnant with our emotions. We toast our Full Super-Moon and our dear, lost friend JJ with sparkling rosé wine. Then we change into wet kit and run into the sea, Michele and Helen do cartwheels and we all body surf and dive and play in the breakers in the moonlight. The black clouds roll over, but JJ’s Moon forces cracks of light, incandescent through the darkness.



Moon Hiding

Moon Hiding

Driftwood Fire

Driftwood Bonfire



A Midsummer Night’s Wet Dream With All Kinds of Shenanigans

Faeri Rachel Doth Not Take the Officer of the Law With Due Seriousness

Faerie Rachel Doth Not Take the Officer of the Law With Due Seriousness


Faeries Lesley, Jane, Tara, Tara’s Mum, Debs, Michael, Charlotte, Rachel, Geoffrey, Helen, Lynne, Oakley and Honey.

An Officer of the Law


A Young Surfer Dude

A Mostly Silent Man But For Fair Swearing

Faerie Lesley Wafts

Faerie Lesley Wafts

Act 1

New Bridge Car Park, close to the great river Dart, on a Mizzled and Gloomy Midsummer’s Eve. Water Faeries are wafting and gathering wild flowers and ivy for to adorn their faerie heads. Wings are sprouting willy nilly.  A chequered Vauxhall Estate of yellow and blue enters stage left, driven by an Officer of the Law. The Officer of the Law winds down his window and beckons to Faerie Rachel. 

Officer of the Law: ‘Fair spinster, I think you be what I seek’

Faerie Rachel (a Faerie of a certain age, posing appealingly): ‘What, Faeries in the woods?’

Officer of the Law (scoffing openly): ‘No, fair spinster I seek the Ravers of whom I have heard tell from the great Baron of these Woods, who in his turn heard this tale from a former serf who overheard some yoofs discussing it in the local hostelry, the name and location of which I have forgot’.

Faerie Rachel: (pouring a cup of elderflower tea and dropping in a couple of soluble Es which fizz and emit an enchanted greenish glow) ‘Verily Officer I know not who or what might be this Raver of which you speak. I am Faerie Rachel, a Faerie of A Certain Age and these be my Wild Band of Merrie Water Faeries. I have not raved for many Super-Moons, and indeed may normally be found tucked up in my Faerie bed at so late an hour as this’.

Officer of the Law: ‘Faerie Rachel I see those eyes are ringed with darkness, and so I presumed you had not seen your bed for many Super-Moons indeed. I had not clocked that you was a Faerie of a Certain Age, since you has tresses the colour of the sun what shines over the Moors in the early morn, and a face near free of crow’s feet and other give away lines’.

Faerie Rachel: (attempting to scowl through her botox and lobbing a handful of Faerie Dust through the window of the car, which Faerie Michael blows off-course towards Spitchwick): ‘What art thou trying to say, oh Officer of the Law? Dost I look like a Raver? A hex on you! I wish you a particularly horrible and endless night shift involving a gaggle of drunks and a complicated mix-up over a parking ticket’.

Faerie Jane: (Now changed into a winged wetsuit and flirting shamelessly) ‘Have you seen my beautiful Faerie wings, oh Officer of the Law? Don’t you wish to stroke them? They have glitter on them and everything!’

Officer of the Law: (Sticks the blues on and drives away, muttering) ‘I fear tis not safe for a youthful and lone Officer of the Law in these enchanted parts…’

Faerie's Tara and Tara's Mum

Faerie’s Tara and Tara’s Mum

Act 2

The Car Park at Spitchwick.

Faerie Lesley: (Wafting yards of netting) ‘But soft, I hear drunken mooing, has yon Faerie Rachel been Faerie dusting again’?

Faerie Rachel: ‘Forsooth I mooed when I gave birth, yet verily there was no such dust around in those days of yore, when we had simply gas and air. You may be mistaken that my Faerie Dust has blown astray, fair Water Faeries’

Bottom: (wetting himself, swigging many quarts of cyder and mooing some more) ‘I know not where I is,  mine friends is gone away with the Faeries, take me home, pleeeeeeease, and bring me my beautiful cow for I am truly in love!’

Faeries: ‘We be going for our Midsummer’s Eve swim in yonder great river, but verily several of us might fall helpless in love with you, dear Bottom, for tis an enchanted eve this eve and we are dressed to Rave. Though of course yon dark and dangly depths of enchanted water be most chilled, and forsooth will dampen the ardour of all but Faeries Jane, Michael, Charlotte and Deb who are attired in Faerie Neoprene With Glittering Wings’.

Bottom: (Sobs, moos yet more) ‘I know not what I be doing, I know not where be mine friends, I know not what I be doing, I love this fair cow, see her lashes and her brown eyes like the pool in which we shall swim!’

(Faeries flutter away towards the pool, wings dripping in the mizzle)

Faeries Michael and Charlotte

Faeries Michael and Charlotte

Act 3

The Pool at Spitchwick

(Faeries waft up and down the pool, Faerie Honey frolics with a ball beneath the bank, Faerie Oakley steals Faerie Honey’s ball)

Enter Young Surfer Dude, friend of Bottom, attired in orange board shorts

Young Surfer Dude: (Slurring and posing) ‘Hey, so be you Faeries of Wild Swimming? What be your purpose in these beautiful parts? Know you why we be here, me and my friends, who have vodka and stuff and a boy-racer car with twin exhausts and a thundersome box and are camping in these enchanted woods on this enchanted eve, and did you know I can verily jump into yon pool from the very very pinnacle of yon cliff, which is of course but a quarter as high as the many cliffs off what I have leapt in my time, what with me being verily a yoof and a surfer, and also I hail from the magic land of Kernow’?

Faerie Helen: (raises eyes to heaven) ‘Yoofy Surfer Dude I am interested not in your great feats of manhood, but rather what you may have secreted in yon board shorts. Be there flap jacks in there’?

Young Surfer Dude: ‘Faerie Helen just you watch and you will be complete unable to resist my displays of manhood’! (Dips toe into water, undips toe, runs away)

Faeries: (Guffaw, swim up and down, chatter and giggle, waft a bit more, float some flowers downstream)

Enter Young Surfer Dude again, wearing a 7mm wetsuit. (Leaps into water, climbs cliff, leaps from top, over and over again sending giant waves of enchanted water across the pool).

Faerie Lesley: ‘Dratted Surfer Dudes, now I am wetter than ever and mine sunflower has bedraggled’.

Faerie Jane: ‘Forsooth I am most grateful for these wings, what have glitter on them and everything, for otherwise I should verily have sunk without trace’

Faeries Charlotte and Debs: (faint with admiration for the enormous size of the enchanted waves, and discussing the purchase of surf boards on ebay) Wooo Hooo!

Faerie Helen: (screams) ‘Shark’!

Weaving Watery Spells

Weaving Watery Spells

Act 4

Faerie Michael: ‘Forsooth, I am without neoprene and my suit of clothes has vanished! What enchanted woods are these? I and Faerie Charlotte shall depart for the lovely hostelry of which we have heard tell, though we know not where it be’

Bottom: (Some miles away) ‘Moooooooooooooooooo! Moooooooooooooooo!

Silent Swearing Man: ‘Shut the f**k up!’

Surfer Dude: ‘Silent friend let us take off to our hidden tent, and let us make merry with this bottle of vodka while leaving Bottom to moo. For verily he is driving me away with the Faeries also, and besides he has a new friend who is a rather winsome cow, perchance a belted Galloway. And I rather fancy mine chances with you…for your swearing hath aroused me something rotten.’

Exit stage left, pursued by a Mooooooo!

Fairies: (Drying off with Faerie towels and refuelling on flap jacks and gin-soaked lemon drizzle cake) ‘Let us go to yon hostelry which be up yon hill, past Bottom’

Bottom: ‘Mooooooooooooo! I be lost, oh take me home dear Water Faeries for I cannot be alone no more in this enchanted place and now mine cow have departed while I were somewhat indisposed and wetting mine pants some more’.

Faeries: ‘Bottom, move not and we shall find your friends for you’ (Faeries seek and search in vain, for at least a minute, before departing for the local hostelry)

Watery Faeries

Watery Faeries With Wings and Glitter and Everything

Act 5

The Local Hostelry

Faerie Tara: ‘Hail fine Land Lord, furnish me at once with a hot chocolate as big as my face, for I no longer care about the events of this enchanted midsummer eve. I need chocolate!’

Faerie Lesley: ‘Mine be a quart of your finest ale, mine landlord, and make it fast since the witching hour is almost upon us…’.

Faerie Tara’s Mum: ‘I worry about poor Bottom, all alone and with his loves departed. What should we do…’

Faerie Jane: ‘Fear not on this enchanted eve, for I have bewitched the Officer of the Law and have insisted that he shall seek and seek and seek through the mizzzle and the hawthornes and the crab apples till he be soaked through and chilled to them there bones. How dare he be so rude to poor Faerie Rachel of a Certain Age.’

The clock strikes midnight and the Water Faeries melt away…The Officer of the Law seeks Bottom endlessly in vain over a long and enchanted night, before eventually falling into a dreamy sleep after a lunch of a stale Co-Op donut and a bag of crisps.

All returns to normal on the enchanted Double Dart, where Water Faeries play and yoofs and Old Dears Rave…

Bedraggled Sunflower

Bedraggled Sunflower

Not That Kind of Moon Gazey

Sophie Covers the MoonThose of you who follow this blog will know that our numerous attempts at Moon Gazey swims tend to be scuppered by good old Devon weather. This evening we were somewhat optimistic, this being the Imbolc Moon that heralds the start of spring, the spawning of frogs and the lactation of ewes. The Met Office on-line map even showed a slither of moon peeking from behind a white, fluffy cloud at precisely the time of our swim.

And so it was that Honey and I stood in the car park near Venford in the dark. As our eyes adjusted, the pewter almost-glow of the water silhouetted the forestry evergreens that for some reason always clutter the shores of Dartmoor reservoirs – it’s as though someone decides that if there’s one man-made thing, no matter how beautiful, a few hundred thousand foreign trees sucking the life from the ground and the light from the sky and upsetting the ecosystem won’t hurt. Still, it’s only a National Park.

Sophie, Matt and Queenie arrived and we toddled through the trees to the shore, where we changed in the frigid air and wondered what the water temperature might be. Sophie told us it had been just over one degree in the Dart on the previous day. A brief glow on the eastern horizon elicited a Moon Gazey frisson that swiftly morphed into the headlights from an approaching car.

In the end, the moon was provided by Queenie, who with her wild-swimmer’s twisted logic had decided that it would be less hassle to skinny-dip. Honey paddled, snorting softly, while the rest of us sidled in. The cold was almost indescribable, and we all struggled and howled. In the absence of the Moon Goddess there was nothing to distract us from the pain of icy were-wolf talons of water shredding our thighs. I would honestly have got out had the others not been there to apply that all-important peer-pressure.

We swam for a couple of minutes, chuntering, and then changed in the gloom before hurrying back to the cars. Half an hour later as we arrived home I still had frozen feet and an internally-radiating chill.Dark and Damned Cold

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.

Moon Gazey Swim With Moon!

Following our lovely swim around Burgh Island this afternoon, Queenie, Kate, Honey and I stay chatting in the pub before driving down to Bantham at nightfall. There we find Sue who’s travelled all the way from North Cornwall for our Moon Gazey Swim. A faint smudge of light through the clouds on the horizon behind us, like a distant glow-worm, raises our hopes of the moon putting in an appearance.

There’s enough light to feel the shapes of the dunes and I sense the sea before I see it, swelling like molten pewter. The lights of the Burgh Island Hotel glitter in the distance. It’s high tide so the earlier surf has died down to a gentle swell, which is just as well since there are rips here. Kate sets up her chair on the beach while the rest of us strip in the chill air, splattered by occasional rain drops. Sue has no kit with her, so we trot naked to the sea. The sand is damp and hard beneath my feet and the cool breeze tickles my salty skin.

We wade in over smooth kelp. The water creeps up my body like an incipient shiver; the shuushing of distant breakers swirls around in the breeze so that sound and sensation are indistinguishable. I recently learned that the music of waves is created by thousands of bubbles of air which vibrate and ring underwater like little bells. I feel the bubble bells through my skin as I swim, and phosphorescence sparks from my arms. We are mesmerised, and wave our arms through the water with fingers splayed. Ducking under, eyes open, green glints blossom like tiny neon lights blurred through a rainy window.

We’re quite far out, floating between sea and sky.  As we turn back the moon creeps above the clouds and illuminates a trembling, silvery path to the shore.

Post Navigation