wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “sharrah pool”

Foaming Sharrah

Foam Art

Foam Art

Painfully cold water at Sharrah Pool today. The recent heavy rain has left natural foam flecks, marking the meandering flows through the eddies in Australian Aboriginal art. It’s a map of the river; unseen spirit currents materialised in ectoplasm.

I’m forced to stand for a while waist-deep in biting water, till I swim upstream. A man sat on the bank smiles and waves, I manage to gurn back. The others perch on elephant rock, past which the tongue of the cascade roars. We each have a go, swooping in ruffled bubbles before spinning out at the bottom.

Allan has a second dip at Black Rock, but it’s too cold for the rest of us. He shivers hard as he dresses.

Cascading

Cascading

Gollum on Elephant Rock

Gollum on Elephant Rock

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Flaming Sharrah

She hasn't Even Been In Yet

She hasn’t Even Been In Yet

Another visit to the deep south west by Fiona and the Urban Fox Terrier, and also by Helen’s Mum Anna. We had promised a trip to Sharrah, and so that’s where we went. In another of those nature-based sense conflicts Holne woods is aflame and bespattered in a pointillist celebration of hot colours. Aish Tor rises like an over-proved loaf behind Wellsfoot, rusted with autumn bracken. The water, meanwhile, is chilling rapidly. Today it looks almost black.

Sharrah is icy and voluminous. We gasp and swim staccato to the rapids, which we descend in clouds of foam. Our newbie cold water swimmers do well to get in at all. 8ºc, but it somehow feels colder. Perhaps that’s the effect of fiery autumn woods raising our expectations. Anticipatory thermogenesis, one of JJ’s pet theories, certainly came into play today.

Into the Foam

Into the Foam

Whooosh!

Whooosh!

Whooshing

Whooshing

Pointillist Autumn

Pointillist Autumn

And Sharrah Again…

The End of the Dive

The End of the Dive (photo Aquatic Ape)

Kari Sinks Beneath the Cascade

Kari Sinks Beneath the Cascade

Today Kari and I have a special guest from the Big Smoke; none other than Mr Aquatic Ape (blogger of some repute, Tooting Bec Lido ice swimmer, afficionado of post-swim cakes, and endurance sea swimmer). Kari knows AA of old, but we’ve never met in person before. We talk rather a lot on the way to Sharrah, then enjoy a lovely swimming and photography extravaganza in the golden water; the normally camera-shy Kari needs photos of herself in various aquatic environments for an interview she’s giving,

I adore swimming with Kari who treats swimming as an art-form, but there are disadvantages because her artistic focus and unique coaching skills have previously resulted in some near-death experiences. (‘You don’t have to breathe’ she says. Or: ‘I’m planning to swallow-dive off that huge rock into the sea as a performance art piece, it’s only thirty-seven feet. Who’s coming to high diving lessons?’). So she wrestles the camera from AA and we are forced to spend some minutes underwater while Kari photographs us. In my case she wants to capture the shadowy zebra stripes on my body from the surface ripples. Then I have to dive in several times until Kari gives up and AA manages to capture the event in chronophotography.

Later, Kari and I chat on the rocks while AA swims some more and Kari notices his left foot still kicks at an angle some ten years after she taught him to swim properly…He escapes with a talking to.

We eat crisps and shortbread, then wander back talking some more. A lovely day out.

http://musingsofanaquaticape.wordpress.com/

http://swimclinic.squarespace.com/ (Kari’s Swim Clinic website: Kari will transform your swimming and your enjoyment of the water, whatever your level or need, I promise!)

Kari and I Underwater

Subaquatic Dance: Kari and WWS (photo Aquatic Ape)

Aquatic Ape Being Aquatic

Aquatic Ape

Aquatic Canine (Bun Bun)

Aquatic Canine (Bun Bun)

Hot Naked Men and Cool Dartmoor Water

WWS Pummelled by the Sharrah Cascade

WWS Pummelled by the Sharrah Cascade

Baking hot, oppressively hot, heavy air that’s hard to inhale. Horse flies, midges, salty, sticky skin. Laura and I slide into cool, rippling water and sink under gorgeous jacuzzi bubbles. After a while in Salter’s and Horseshoe we steam up the track through the woods where even the boggiest patches are solidifying like overcooked chocolate Brownies. It’s cooler as we climb in the shelter of the ancient woodland, and the usual breeze funnels up the Sharrah glade.

Honey Above the Cascade

Honey Above the Cascade

Cascade Close Up

Cascade Close Up

You can’t see the cascade current below the big rock, and the water in most of the pool is apparently flowing up hill in a series of slow eddies speckled with foam. We are able to swim straight up and into the falls, wedging in and feeling the full force without being snapped in two. It’s usually impossible to get this close. Muscles loosen; atomised water mists our view.

When we get chilled, we prostrate ourselves on the flat rock on the far side and allow the heat to radiate through our bodies, moving periodically to a warmer patch. Dragonflies and Damselflies swoop among the whizzing midges above the surface, a series of deaths marked by plops. Small striped fish float silver and grey above bronze shadows in yellow ochre water.

We slither back down the silty slab and glide back upstream; a naked man swims past and we converse casually about the best pools and how to get to them. He gets out and is replaced by another, younger one who ignores us. Leaves rustle louder than the river.

Laura in Horseshoe

Laura in Horseshoe

Under Sharrah

Under Sharrah

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

A Medley of Pools on the Far Side

Allan from the Gods

Allan from the Gods

Jackie, Allan, Honey and I are scrambling through bright sunshine and delayed-spring bluebells along the Poundsgate side of the Double Dart. The track is rather more suited to goats than humans and in places it’s a mere foot-width across, hanging above the precipitous Dart Gorge by threads of roots, scree and loose soil. The bluebells are slightly faded but their scent is still tangled with the roar of the river and the bright green leaves that oscillate and flicker the light so that I feel a physical shiver.

Underwater

Underwater

We dip first below Mel Tor in one of the beautiful pools fed by falls that become part of the rapids in spate. There’s a luteous tinge to the water and splodges of acid green leach from the trees. It’s almost warm.

Jackie Below Mel Tor

Jackie Below Mel Tor

Wandering on, we stop of course at Sharrah, and plunge in from the rocks below the cascade. The northerly wind funnels down the gorge and ruffles the surface which shows its temperament of currents and eddies in a pointillist paisley of foam, like wrinkles on a face.

There’s a mucky and slippery climb and descent over pink, polished rocks before we float into Lower Sharrah, a pool that’s invisible from the Holne side of the river. It’s a beautiful, fairyland place, heavily shaded by the high gorge on the far side. We step in to the puddle of light by the bank where the sun pours over the oaks above like a waterfall. A cave is secreted at the bend, trailing with ivy and protected from swimmers by the force of water from the cascade.

Finally, we stop at Bel Pool where Allan uses the rope and iron ladder to climb down from the track and leap in from the rocks. Jackie, Honey and I watch from the gods as he swims, diminished in size like an insect in amber. On our way back we are mesmerised by a fluttering of butterflies and moths, brimstone, orange and blue, around bluebells and wood anemones. The May trees are finally beginning to bloom, a month or so late.

Honey Finds Sharrah Cascade Fascinating

Honey Finds Sharrah Cascade Fascinating

Allan and Jackie, Lower Sharrah

Allan and Jackie, Lower Sharrah

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lRW0C9g7Ns

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=535AMDiVNEg

Sh Sh Sh Sharrah

Honey CheatsWe’ve had several days of positively spring-like weather, and so we set off for Sharrah Pool warmed intermittently by sunlight through the bare branches. Following the late freeze there isn’t so much an unfurling of leaves as a tentative peeking of leaf buds which continue to hug themselves just in case.

JJ in the Cascade

The Double Dart is not too full for the time of year and her depths are clear and amber, although there is still a suspiciously chilly-looking greenish-blue tinge around the rapids. We have two temperature takers who say 9°c and 8°c, but it feels colder than that to my stunned body which attempts to shrink inside itself as I slide in. Several of us shriek. Honey cheats by wearing her fur coat.Cheeky Gale

I swim up and am more or less acclimatised by the upper cascade, where JJ forges across and clings to the far side. The water is gorgeously foaming and sparkling in the sunshine. I go in off an incredibly slippery rock and flail past in the rapid grinning and sinking as the energy fizzes through the needles of icy heat in my skin. I pass everyone else on the way up, faces dancing with light reflected from the choppy surface, hair ruffled by the cheeky gusts of wind funneling down the gorge.

Afterwards we scoff a trio of cakes: gin-soaked lemon drizzle courtesy of JJ, chocolate from Helen, and Jackie’s colourful dried-fruit fest. I’m grateful for the warmth of my lovely Mammot hoody until Rachel, wrapped in a capacious white robe and carrying a Lightsabre, tells me I resemble a sperm.

Cake HuddleCold Hurts!

Misty Magic

 

Jackie, Honey and I wander through dank woods and mist to Sharrah Pool. The deep water is slow and black through splatters of orange and yellow still clinging to the trees. The pool is less cold that we were expecting, and we swim gently upstream in water the colour of an old penny; its usual paisley pattern of foam is accented by fallen leaves. The rapids glow the colour of urine. All about is a blueish mist, heavy and veiled, through which the woods burn with autumn flames.

The Intrepid Cormorant of Mel Tor Pool

Stef, Honey and I wander up past Sharrah towards Mel Tor Pools. As we pick our way through the undergrowth, Stef exclaims and points: ‘Look! A Cormorant!’ I’m slightly confused, thinking she must mean a Heron…She sees my disbelieving look and tells me she’s wearing her contacts.  I look again, and perched on a rock in mid-stream is indeed a rather handsome Cormorant. He throws a few poses as we creep up on him, cameras at the ready, and begins to vibrate his throat and exercise his impressive hooked beak. Stef tells me about her friend who had his hand badly lacerated by a Cormorant while swimming wearing a wetsuit; the bird probably mistook it for a fish. She puts her hands in her pockets.

We check our Cormorant over; although they do come inland, I’ve never seen one this far from the coast. He doesn’t look unwell or injured and is apparently sunbathing. These birds look black in the sea, but here I can pick out his beautiful grey and tan plumage, his orange 1960s lipstick, and the fish-scale markings on his wings. Eventually, having worked his way through his full repertoire of model postures and improbable yogic neck-manoeuvres, and had his photo taken from every angle, he flies casually upstream.

We dump our kit on the bank and wade across the river in swimsuits and bare feet. The water is pretty heavy and Honey struggles to stay away from the cascade so I have to keep grabbing her. We make it across and scramble up to the main pools over squidgy leaf-mould, occasionally stopping to remove a holly leaf from a foot. The water is unfortunately too high so we climb back and shoot down the long pool with the current. Our Cormorant, who I think I shall name Livingstone, is again perched on his rock; as we approach he flies off, downstream this time. I swim back over with Honey and keep nudging her upstream so she makes it safely to the bank.

We stop to play at Sharrah on the way down, of course. A couple of Yellow-Banded Dragonflies swoop overhead, bright against the blue sky. On the far bank where the gorge rises sheer above the river is a small grotto where water still pours after the recent rain. It drips from the hanging vegetation, while light splays from the river’s surface and reflects in dancing ripples on the wet rock. ‘Beautiful Desmoiselle’ damselflies scoot above the glowing amber water in the sunlight, metallic turquoise wings flashing. A yellow wagtail bobs on a rock nearby.

Crazy Wild Sharrah

 The morning deluge is long gone, but the moorland rivers are still rising at tea-time when we meet. Kayaks are spread around the car park, a rare sight in the summer. We peer over the parapet as we cross New Bridge and are scared. Walking up through mud and dripping trees, we hear the river seethe; it’s creamy with foam and the colour of dark chocolate. Parts of the path have fallen away over the summer with the constant rain. 

Foam maps the movement of water in Sharrah pool, and there’s an eddy I haven’t seen before on the far side; the current from the cascade reaches three-quarters of the way down, and the eddy circles in a spiral back up the far bank, like stirred coffee. Usually, there are rock-studded shallows at the lower end of the pool where you drift gently aground before the river is forced in a rapid through the narrows, but today the surge completely covers the rocks and there’s a real danger of being swept over. No swimmer would survive that trip. The water is relatively still at the near bank below the entry spot, and we decide we can safely return and exit here. I scan the river for fallen trees, but it looks clear.

We enter the beautiful, chill river and swim with difficulty upstream. It’s like being jostled by beefy Emos in a mosh-pit; arms and legs are bashed in different directions while our bodies vibrate with the roaring bass notes of the falls. I whack my foot on a rock, having not realised I’d been pushed so far over. We collect foam Rocker quiffs and Village People moustaches on the way up to the big boulder where we are able to balance and experience the upper cascade. The energy suffuses me; spray and surging water pulse in time with my blood. I dive forwards and feel like a surfing dolphin in the boiling chocolate water, sinking now and again as I lose my buoyancy. 

I return to the top but this time stay longer with the flume and try to enter the circular eddy, but am ripped past. I have to swim flat out to escape to the near bank, my body bending like a banana. I’m panting with effort and exhilaration. Huge raindrops hit my head, and I float on my back in the eddy while the rain forms little fountains on the surface and the oak overhead bends and rustles its leafy tambourine in the gale.

We barbecue in the rain, talk, and drink wine and beer. A couple of kayakers stop for a chat on their way past.  We wander back through the pitch black woods well after nightfall. The foam on the surface of the river glows and illuminates its passage down the dark gorge.

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