One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “river Lyd”

Strip in the Lyd



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



Skinny Dunk at Black Rock

Ready to Dunk

Ready to Dunk

The tempestuous weather continues unabated, and although I like it wild it’s playing havoc with my swimming. There’s wild, and there’s WILD. Today, Honey and I stomp through black peaty mud the texture of molten chocolate. We make  squelching noises that resemble a liquidised meal being chomped by an octogenarian with badly-fitting false teeth. The pool at Black Rock thunders and the edge of the dam has been washed away. I strip and wade carefully in before plunging under and popping back up like an ice cube in a whisky and soda.  I daren’t swim across.

Skinny Dunking

Skinny Dunking





Dartmoor Lemsip

Cleansing Bubbles

Lemsip Bubbles, Without the Nasty Taste


Modigliani Heads

Modigliani Heads

I’ve just completed a run of busy shifts and am dog tired with a heavy cold. Several months worth of Dartmoor winter fog has congealed around every cell in my head and chest. Honey and I head off for the Lyd, but it’s struggle to walk down the track towards the clam into the wintry headwind. Usually a trotter, today I’m plodding at the pace of a townie handbag dog.  The scent of sheep wee worms through the snot and the bleats of lambs swirl around with the agitated air, muffled through blocked sinuses.

Gold and Amber

Gold and Amber

We reach the pool which is dung brown and strung with wads of vegetation along its edge where the rocks have sieved yesterday’s flood water. I change and paddle in before leaping forward and under, surfacing between the twin stones that guard the falls like Modigliani heads. There’s a hearty but bearable nip and I feel a mind-shift as the bubbles surge through and tug at my hair. The effect on my psyche is akin to stained false teeth plonked into Steradent, or an ancient penny crusted with grunge that emerges gleaming from a tumbler of cola.

Sun splays through the wind-whipped water and refracts from the river bottom in shades of gold and amber. I have gills.


Medicinal Waterfall

Honey by the Pool


Snowy Dip on Dartmoor

FloatingI trudge, head down, through the snow and howling easterly gale towards the river Lyd. Honey goes loopy doodle and leaves yeti-prints in the drifts. It starts to snow again and I have to pull my hat down because the flakes are travelling so fast they feel like sand in my eyes. The view over Widgery Cross is breathtaking, and drifts blow to form knife-edged waves and ripples below the stone wall. Gorse flowers peek through puffs of snow like little suns.Snowy Dip

I change under Black Rock, but it’s not sheltered at all and the gale surges up the valley riffling and rucking the surface of the pool. I was hoping to dip in just a swimsuit and boots, but the wind chill is seriously dangerous (I estimate it to be around -23ºc) and Honey and I are alone, so I decide to wear a swimsuit, a rash vest, boots, gloves and a silicone hat. As I change my legs turn cherry red, which doesn’t usually happen until you’ve been in very cold water for a while.Honey Joins In

I take a deep breath and brace myself for the freeze, smiling broadly. At the risk of sounding like Uri Geller, it really is all about positive mental attitude. Strangely, it feels warmer in than out and I don’t get ice-cream anything as I swim towards the falls. Light reflects from the snow, and the amber water glows like hot embers beneath me. I plunge under and become a firework as my skin burns and the water sparkles and bubbles explode from the cascade. I pop to the surface and float on my back, giggling.Firework

I stay in for around three minutes, and although I’m tempted it would be foolish to swim some more. Slithering over icy rocks to leave the water the wind slaps into me. I’m completely numb.  I change rapidly, fumbling under my Robie. My little cotton mat is frozen to the ground and I have to pull hard to un-stick it. I dry Honey and we trek back the mile and a half to the car, by which time we’re almost warm-ish. There are no words to describe this exhilaration.Gale Ruffling Water

Gorse Shines Through

Wandering Back

Luscious Lyd

Dry heat rises in waves from the moorland track. Squadrons of skylarks take off from the gorse, dull brown, and rise slowly before suddenly letting rip, fluttering and singing their hearts out, higher and higher and higher.

It’s a thrill to slip into Witch’s Pool and wallow in amber water, surrounded by the tinkle of the falls and brushed by occasional gusts from a warm breeze. Honey rootles along the edge, apparently walking below the surface where it vanishes into infinity.

We jog down to the little cascade and I float face-down in the sparkling flume. As I roll over a kestrel flies directly overhead on arched wings. Two women seated on the Black Rock bench wave and smile at me while new, beaming-yellow gorse flowers waft their exotic coconut scent.

Lovely Lyd

Another stunning spring day, and I was foiled in my plans to food-shop thanks to the pathetic petrol-queueing mayhem that gridlocked Tavistock.  So off we went for a long walk and a swim instead – who needs food?

I love the moors on days like these: the hazy, dreamlike view of Brat Tor and Widgery Cross; the smell of sheep-wee; the bleats of the ewes just loosed back out to lamb; the intermittent early skylark songs; occasional bumble-bees on gorse flowers. 

I slid in on the shadowy side at Witch’s Pool and swam into the light to warm, golden water.  Rambling downstream, dipping in each of the sequence of tiny pools, pushed under by waterfalls and sinking through crystal bubbles, I drifted into daydreams.

Skinny Dip at Black Rock

Honey and I pootled over to the River Lyd this afternoon for a revivifying skinny dip in Witch’s Pool.  As we wandered upstream through the valley, Honey disturbed a young vixen who shot out under her nose from a gorse thicket and zig-zagged off up Widgery Tor, her brush going like a metronome to balance her flight. Honey continued to sniff excitedly in the thicket, having missed the entire escape.  I also forgot to take a photo, despite having my camera in my hand. We then saw an elderly man who reacted in much the same way as the vixen had, and shot off up the tor perpendicular to the track in order to avoid us.

We scrambled down the steep valley side and I stripped quickly, sliding into the chilly pool from a granite boulder.  I ducked under the clear brown water, and as I popped back up and floated through the familiar ache of cold skin, a skylark sang overhead echoing the tumbling course of the little river. Honey played in the shallows and the elderly man reappeared around a hundred yards away, freezing in a cartoon pose as he caught sight of me, before hurrying off back downstream. I dried by jigging on the grass to the clacking whistle of a Wheatear, although I couldn’t see him. I thought as I always do when we come here of the young  soldier whose verse, written during a leave shortly before his death,  is attached to Black Rock above a wooden bench:

Are we not like this moorland stream,
Springing none knows where from,
Tinkling, bubbling, flashing a gleam,
Back at the sun ‘ere long,
Gloomy and dull under a cloud,
Then rushing onwards again,
Dashing at rocks with anger loud,
Roaring and foaming in vain,
Wandering thus for many a mile,
Twisting and turning away for a while,
Then of a sudden ’tis over the fall,
And the dark still pool is the end of all.

Is it? I thought as I turned away,
And I turned away to the silent moor.
Is it? I said and my heart said ‘nay’,
As I gazed at the cross on Widgery Tor.

Captain Nigel Duncan Ratcliffe Hunter, of Lydford, killed in 1918 aged 23


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