Monday, 14 July 2014

Starfish and chips

White Beach: pic Claire Bunker-Fellingham

For me, the best swims are when I go on a journey and find hidden places that only an aquatic adventurer can get to.  At Watcombe today we did just that - in petrol-blue seas, alongside terracotta cliffs and into starfish-studded caves and gullies. It was low water on a big spring tide, and as we arrived at the cove we could see out to a beautifully flat sea; Mike in the cafe told us they'd seen dolphins swimming past the day before.   We swam out, over a luxuriant kelp forest, and northwards along the coast where we passed White Beach and a fisherman checking his pots.   On we went, and into a cave where we found an edible crab sheltering in a perfect crab-sized niche.  The dark slit of a swim-through in the rocks ahead we swam, where we found the most amazing array of starfish.  There were hundreds of them, in all shapes and sizes, all over the rock faces.  We carried on to Bell Rock and through the 'eye of the needle', gazing up at the high water mark metres above us, the kelp swinging over our heads.  Back at the beach, we feasted on Mike's beautifully thin French fries with mugs of tea, while a friendly chap regaled us with his fishing stories, including an amazing one about how, when casting off the rocks for mullet, a dolphin swam past, and rolled on its side where its suckling baby was visible.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The secret swimming pool

When we arrived at Anstey's Cove it was picture perfect.  Emerald sea like a pond.   Sun sizzling on the horizon.  The mysterious stone pinnacle - aka the Witch's Hat - beckoning us.   We swam across the bay, chatting, and enjoying the warmth of the water, towards the secret entrance to the hidden cave.  Last time we tried to get in, there was too much of a swell, but today the sea was calm.  As we swam into the gulley towards the cave the colour of the water intensified.  We climbed through the gap, and there was the secret pool, with its skylight above.  We floated, our voices echoing, and then dived down to look at the pebbles below.  Thanks to Richard Lowerson for the pictures.  And you can see a video below.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Carnage on the river bank

After another sweltering day we were enjoying a refreshing dip in a glorious stretch of the Dart, overhung with greenery and bordered by delicate cow parsley.  Suddenly there was triumphant barking from Buddy, Yaara's permanently excited black labrador.  He was on a big rock in the river, with a huge fish in his mouth.  We rushed over, to find him with the remains of a two foot long salmon -  all that was left of it was the head and the skeleton.   It was like one of those cartoon fishes in Tom and Jerry - pretty much all of it  had been eaten - but what remained of the flesh was a beautiful pink colour. Just to the side of the rock was evidence of the crime - fish scales and bones were everywhere.  We assume the fish had been killed by an otter - it must have been quite a fight to witness, as they were probably about the same size.  My brother Matt says the skin peeled back but still attached to the fish is characteristic of an otter kill.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Building bridges

Ever since I've lived on Dartmoor, there's been a rickety bridge to Wellsfoot Island on the River Dart, with a notice saying "Private Bridge Keep Off".  Despite that, people have always used it, but it's been getting more hazardous, increasingly resembling one of those jungle bridges that swing precariously over a chasm below.  Anyway, imagine our surprise when visiting the island tonight, to find a new bridge, constructed some time over the weekend.  It's more of a decking walkway, but perfect for the job, and how nice of someone to build it.   We took great delight in christening it, crossing with ease over to the island, and then on to the beach on the other side, where we swam in the gorgeous oval pool.   The setting sun came and went through the trees like the beam from a light house.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Research on Dartmoor

In the last few months I've been on a mission to find new places to dip on Dartmoor.  It's because my pal Matt Newbury and I have been commissioned to write a book about the Moor's amazing swimming places.  There have been a few disappointments and false dawns along the way.  Like the lovely looking blue spot on the map which was indeed a pool, but was surrounded by slurry and also had a dead sheep in it.  But in recent weeks we've had some successes.

Monday, 26 May 2014


Redgate Beach is one of the most beautiful in Torquay, but now officially out of bounds because it gets cut off by the tide.  In the old days there was a concrete walkway which enabled access, and old postcards from the 60s and 70s show the beach absolutely packed.  You can still get there if you're prepared to walk the sheep path down the cliff from Walls Hill, or to scramble around the rocks at low tide, but if you swim of course the beach is open all hours.  A gang of us arrived to find it looking stunning: fine sand, pink rock and most of all the sea stretching out in front, a wonderful juicy green.  We climbed down the rocks from Anstey's Cove next door, and were soon swimming in the protective curve of the cove, bathed in sunlight and sparkles one minute, then shrouded in grey the next, as the clouds came and went.  The sea was changing colour all the time, and although it wasn't completely clear we could still see rocks and seaweed - and Carole and Helen who did a bit of underwater diving.Jackie and I decided to swim to Long Quarry Point which forms one arm of the cove. We were hoping to go into a cave behind the pinnacle, which has a secret swimming pool. However as we approached, the sea started to get more choppy and there was too much swell to get into the cave.  I suppose that's one of the frustrations - and joys - of swimming in the sea.  You never quite know how a swim will turn out.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Swimming in the rain

After the heatwave comes the rain.  Drops hammer the river, and freshness descends. The river is framed with a tracery of acid green leaves and the water flows darkly.  As we swim we see the stone sentinels on guard by our pool. They glisten in the wet as the river roars past.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Bliss in the river

We are blessed with a mini heatwave at the moment and it is just so refreshing to go for a post-work dip in the river.  As we walked along the bank amongst the fading bluebells and garlic the sun was bouncing off the surface and crowds of insects swarmed above the water.  Miggy spotted a sea trout sitting quietly above the weir.  We swam upstream, almost blinded by the sun. The current was strong but I was determined to get to a little island I've called Hairy Rock on account of the weed which grows on it, which, underwater,  looks uncannily like human hair flowing in the wind.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Round the rugged rocks

As we gathered on the beach at Elberry Cove the sun was out and the sea was sparkling.  The water is finally starting to clear after the murk of the stormy winter, and as we waded out, Jackie and I remarked on that delicious feeling of anticipation of all the summer swims ahead.   We pottered along the crinkly coastline towards  Broadsands, swimming through lagoons and channels, and looking up at miniature cliffs, packed with exotic shapes in the limestone.  As Jackie said, it was Gaudi-esqe .  We then came across an arch that we swam under.  It was like being in fairyland.   Thanks to Jackie for the pictures.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Secret swimming

It is natural to want to share lovely places, but sometimes the sharer wants to keep them secret, which is totally understandable.  One evening recently I was taken to a new place, and told, under pain of death,  not to reveal its location. We swam in the setting sun, with Buddy the bouncy labrador, in the wide and wonderful river.  It felt good to be alive. Thank you to my secret sharer!