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.

Temperatures are rising

The weather has been glorious for the last two weeks, and the water temperatures have been soaring.   In the East Dart at Bellever I wallowed, watching an eel, in a shallow pool where the temperature was an astonishing 17.5.  During the last week we've been swimming most nights in the SSS (swift swim solution) pool -  where the temperature has averaged between 15.5 and 16 degrees.  And in a lake on the Moor one night it was 19.5.  Plus, the chanterelles are out, with great pickings, especially for June.  And by happy coincidence, they grow near our swimming places.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Back to the 70s

Black forest gateau, pineapple upsidedown cake, crimplene, psychedlic prints, brown towelling and a particularly lurid pair of orange trunks all made star appearances in our 70s splashmob at Redgate Beach in Torquay.  My pal Matt had the idea, after feeling sad that the beach, which was packed in its heyday, is now officially out of bounds - according to the council at least - because there's no safe way of getting to it.  Undeterred, we climbed around the rocks at low tide, armed with lilos, beach balls, and other paraphernalia, and set up camp on the beach.  There was a 70s spread of egg rolls, quiche, and pineapple and cheese on sticks, as well as the aforementioned cake. Very obligingly the sun came out - just like the heatwave of 76 - and the swimming was divine, in calm, warm water. 

Friday, 12 June 2015

In my father's footsteps

In 1938 my father Roger and his brother Barry went with their grandparents to stay with a fishing family on a very remote part of the Devon coast, at Ivy Cove near Start Point.  It was very different then, with its own little fleet of fishing boats.  I have a little album of snaps his grandmother took with her box brownie, and I decided to go and retrace their steps, and try and recreate some of the photos in the present day.   As we approached Ivy Cove, we came across a couple and their grandchildren and got into conversation.  It turned out he was the local farmer, so I showed him the album, and told him how Dad used to stay with a family called the Logans.  "Oh Bill Logan still lives there" was the response, and apparently I'd find him working in his garden. Sure enough, at Ivy Cove, there was Bill tending his broadbeans in his veg patch overlooking the sea. I introduced myself and it turned out Bill had a photo of my great grandfather - except he'd never known who he was.    We then went down to the beach which was truly beautiful: shimmering white shingle, crystal sea and a raised platform of rock laced with gullies and chasms.   It was so strange to think of my father and his brother fishing, swimming and diving here nearly 80 years earlier. Tragically Barry was killed in the final stages of the war just 7 years later, aged 23.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Drizzlecombe by name, Drizzlecombe by nature

Setting off to see one some of the most spectacular stone rows on Dartmoor in heavy mist is not very clever.  But we did it anyway, amid dreary dampness; perhaps the name should have given us a clue. Well it certainly drizzled, but in fact when we finally found the stones they looked rather haunting, shrouded in the mist which lifted and sank again, bringing them in and out of view.  We then headed down to the Plym for a swim in what I call "Warhorse Pool" - because it's just below the old farmhouse at Ditsworthy Warren, which played the part of the family farm in the Steven Spielberg film.   The river was running high, the colour of cola, and as we swam upstream we could see the large terminal stones of the row standing like eerie figures in the distance.

Sunday, 26 April 2015


I have always wanted to swim at Sandy Hole on the East Dart, and today I got my chance. Judy led the way as a group of us set off from the car park at Postbridge. The surroundings grew gradually wilder, in sepia hues, as we hiked out onto the High Moor.  At the top of Broad Down the 360 degree views were spectacular.  We could see the East Dart below, and in the far distance the little gorge that is Sandy Hole Pass.  The perfectly round pool is downstream of the pass, and was created by either  people cutting peat or by tinners.   As we got in our feet sank into silky smooth mud, and we were surrounded by black earthy walls, topped with grasses and occasionally fringed with minty green reeds.  The sky was vast above us.  I loved the feeling of the mud and rubbed some of it into my skin. I'm definitely going to head back there in the summer for a full Dartmoor mud treatment.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Voices at the river

I now find my usual Dart swimming sports rather dull (heresy, I know) having made a journey into the heart of the Dart Gorge, to its inner sanctum.  We set off from Dartmeet on a dazzlingly bright day, with sunbeams bouncing off the river beside us.  At the start there was a pastoral feeling, with almost lawned areas by the water, perfect for picnics, but gradually the surroundings grew wilder, with massive moss-covered cliffs, and huge granite pavements.   The river grew more turbulent, with cascades rushing through chutes and channels, and thundering waterfalls.  The water foamed with bubbles, like lime cordial, so fresh and silvery.  We stopped to swim at the most beautiful place which I have since learnt is called Broad Stones, or Broada Stones, because of the vast granite ledges which make up the river bed in this pool.  This place is the origin of the legend of the "Cry of the Dart", because when the wind blows through the gorge, it produces a strange high-pitched sound which is the amplified by what is effectively a natural speaker; the gorge itself.  Broada Stones is very near Rowbrook Farm, scene of another Dartmoor tale: that of Jan Coo, a farmhand who was said to have been lured away by the pixies.  He kept hearing someone calling his name, "Jan Coo, Jan Coo!" and went out several times to investigate.  The final time he never returned.  Perhaps it was the Cry of the Dart that lured him; unfortunate for him that his name sounded like the calling cry of the river. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Swimming back in time

We seem to be having a premature summer at the moment; long may it last.  It was the perfect day to walk from Beesands to Hallsands, and from there to swim to the ruined village - known as Old Hallsands (this is the only way to get close to the ruins).  This was a tiny fishing community that was obliterated in a storm in 1917 when the houses were washed away....apparently because of dredging which disrupted the protective shingle bank.  As we walked along the coastpath from Beesands it could not have been more perfect: blue sparkling flat sea stretching for miles, primroses and violets  everywhere, and tantalising glimpses of empty beaches out of reach below.  Once at Hallsands, we swam into beautifully clear sea, around a small headland with some still occupied houses teetering precariously on top.  Then it started to get quite surreal.  One house hung off a cliff with a seventies-swirled blue divan and a chair still there in a room.   As we got further down the coast the houses got more ruined, until eventually we got to the last which stood like a stark cardboard cut-out with its windows like vacant eyes.