Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Seek and ye shall find

I spend a lot of time dreaming about swims, but also looking longingly at the OS map trying to find new places.  For some time I've been curious about a waterfall at the very northern end of Slapton Sands but never got around to checking it out (partly put off by the long walk).  Finally, on a dreary autumnal day, Alex and I set off to find it.  The environment down there is bleakly beautiful.  Sea and shingle stretch for miles, unusual, silver-green plants grow, and the cliff - aptly named The Slide - rises starkly behind.  As we started on the long trudge to the end we saw a flock of goldfinches feeding on swaying seed heads. Finally, we reached the end, but no sign of the waterfall.  Alex stopped for a vape break, but I kept on going, and then heard the sound of rushing water.   There, hidden in the rocks, was a twenty foot waterfall pouring down from the cliff above, into a small pool, like a mystical crucible.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Indian summer

As it turned out, it was the last day of the Indian Summer.  The date was November 2nd, and our lovely friend Charlotte (one of the Scottish Swimming Lassies) was visiting.  Talk about the weather behaving in her honour. We arrived at Cellars Beach, Noss Mayo, to find sparkling clear sea, and I think you'll agree the pictures (taken by Charlotte)  look just like summer.   We got in the water,  swam around the rocks and made our way up the estuary, weaving in and out of channels and marvelling at the clarity of the water.  Anna spotted a starfish, well camouflaged and clinging to a cleft in the rock.  Numerous little white winkles sparkled like fairy lights underwater.  The dogs had a rather hazardous time keeping up with us from the shore, slipping over the ledges and making inelegant jumps.  In all we stayed in about half an hour;  the sea was warm and it just didn't feel like November .

Monday, 9 November 2015

Swimming in the suburbs

Just because a beach is in the middle of a conurbation doesn't mean it's not wild.  Anna, Ellie and I set off for Armchair Cove in Paignton, which you can get to via a suburban street and a short walk past a holiday camp and under the railway line. You emerge into a green and blue heaven, a grassy cliff top with the sea spread out in front of you like a magic blue carpet. Armchair Cove is tucked away under the cliff, a small oasis of calm fringed with exotic, Gaudi-esque rock formations.  The water was very clear for the time of year, and warm, at 14.7, and we swam around, heads permanently down, marvelling at the beautifully coloured seaweeds and intricately twisted rocks.  Then there was a shout. "Green anemones" cried Anna, and there they were, snakelocks anemones rippling in the water, green ones and pink ones, surrounded by a kaleidoscope of pinks, purples, browns and greens.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Silly at Shilley

Shilley Pool, near South Zeal, is the perfect aquatic playground.  It comes complete with a huge water slide, and an infinity effect, all set in a very pretty corner of Dartmoor.  We walked there via the scenic route, which involved a lot of climbing uphill, and also some unnecessary climbing uphill due to, ahem, a map reading malfunction.  However it was all worth it for the views, and for an absolutely magnificent triple stone row which we went to see before descending to the pool for a well-earned plunge.   Thanks to Ron for the water spouting photo!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Back in the swim

Winter swimming has a rhythm that summer swimming doesn't. The summer is full of events, there's no routine.  I love it,  the weather is (relatively speaking) good, and you're out there all the time. In winter, it's tougher but there's more ritual and more regularity.  Every Sunday morning throughout the year a group of us meet to swim in the Dart, and today I got back into that routine.   The season has changed, and it's much colder, so there was the paraphernalia of boots, gloves, warm clothes for afterwards, hip flask etc, to consider.  There was the ritual bankside speculation about the temperature of the water, the ritual noises on entry, the ritual commentary on the nature of the cold.  Although it was undeniably cold, at 9.9 degrees, we had a beautiful swim and stayed in for about quarter of an hour.  There was a delicious purity about the water which set me up perfectly for the day.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Ooh er Reverend

I've always been fascinated by the Parson and Clerk rocks at the northern end of Teignmouth beach.  The name, their position, the arch which cries 'swim through me' and the mystery of what is on the other side, all conspire to draw me towards them.  So it was unfortunate that the day we wanted to swim to them (and through them) there were Easterly winds, meaning the sea was choppy and brown.   Still, I was determined to give it a go, and the lovely Martin came too.  Although the sea looked a little daunting from the shore, in fact once we were in, it felt fine, it was just incessantly bouncy with waves coming at us constantly. We ploughed on and eventually reached the gap through the Parson, where we were swirled around like clothes in a washing machine.   It was exhilarating, though I am looking forward to going back on a day when there is flat calm and crystal clear sea.  Here's a short video.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Birthday luck

Birthday tradition dictates that I MUST swim around Burgh Island if at all possible, but it's always a toss-up as to whether it happens.  In past years we've had driving rain and huge swells, but this year, well, we  lucked out.  The sea was flat calm and we pootled around the island, clockwise, which is controversial but my favourite way of doing it.  As we approached the chasm at the back, the cormorants lined up to salute us.  There was a bit of scrambling towards the end of the gulley, but then it was out and through and into the most diverting maze of channels and slowly swirling seaweed.  Towards the end we saw carpets of snakelocks anemones covering the rocks, almost like pink moss.  I have never seen them in such profusion. Back on the beach we warmed up in HOT sun, so welcome after a lot of dreary weather, and ate oodles of cake.   Perfect.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Where has the summer gone?

Near Start Point
North Teign
Well, I know where it's gone, I've been busy swimming, and working on a new book of wild swimming walks with my pal Matt Newbury, assisted by all our amazing Devon swimming friends.  It's been an uphill task at times, as the weather has not exactly been helpful.  Trying to find routes and look at ancient Dartmoor monuments in thick fog - in August - well, we had to give it up as a bad job in the end, but not before getting a dip in  (we're made of stern stuff).  At other times the sun shone and we had great times camping, getting burnt and finding new routes along the incredible Devon coastline.  Here are a few (unedited) photographic highlights which I think illustrate the vagaries of the Great British Weather. I hope to resume normal blogging service soon.
Woodcombe Sands

Red Lake
Home turf: the Dart

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Thundering falls, deep calm pools and Dartmoor's answer to the Venus Fly Trap

Out on the western side of Dartmoor, it feels at times like the Lakeland Fells.   We clambered up the West Okement and got an exhilarating pummelling in a double waterfall amongst huge boulders lined with ferns.   We then had an 'up close and personal' nature moment in a bog, where we found a beautiful insect-eating plant, the sundew.  Next stop was ancient Black-a-Tor Copse, before a climb up to Black Tor and spectacular views over to High Willhays, the highest point on Dartmoor.   We then hiked back in the hot sun and had the most delicious, languid and welcome swim in magical Meldon Pond, where the temperature in the water was 19.5 degrees.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

In search of the Holy Grail

My friend Rachel has been trying to find a hidden waterfall on Dartmoor for at least fifteen years, after a friend told her about it in glowing and rather mystical terms.  It's called Shavercombe. She's had at least two aborted attempts; the latest was with me, a couple of months ago, when the weather was so wet and awful we had to give up our quest after getting stuck in bogs and failing to ford a river.  Today, after a long dry spell, it seemed the right time to try again, and we set off full of anticipation, but trying not to get too excited, in case fate intervened again to prevent us reaching our Holy Grail.  The Moor was beautiful.  Larks were everywhere, flitting around down low as well as high above us, and clumps of bog cotton dotted the wetter areas.   We found the stream and made our way up it.  It was tiny, and it hardly seemed possible there could be a waterfall, especially in the rather featureless Dartmoor landscape.   But suddenly, up above, we could see a patch of green, and sure enough, there was the waterfall, enclosed by a network of branches, like a moss-lined room.  It was enchanting.