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. 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Afterdrop

My brother James was down so we decided to go for a swim at Meadfoot Beach in Torquay. It's particularly lovely because of its islands, and its stark, geometric rock formations.   It also has a cafe which is always a big plus.  To our surprise, when we arrived, we saw SAND on the beach; in the old days it was known as Meadfoot Sands but in recent years it's been all pebbles.  So over the winter, somehow, some sand has arrived from somewhere.  As we waded in we could see the water was incredibly clear; such a refreshing change from the last few months when it's been constantly murky.  We swam out and around Triangle Point, passing a protruding rock that looked just like a pig's head. We were having a great time exploring but then I looked at my watch and realised we'd already been in a quarter of a hour.  We swam back in and went up for a mug of tea and very welcome slice of Victoria sponge in the cafe, at which point James started to shiver.  Yes, it was the dreaded afterdrop: the moment, roughly twenty minutes after you come out, that the cold reaches your core.  We drank up and headed for the car and drove off with the heating on full blast.

Wind-whipped at Wonwell

 There was no getting around it. It was a foul day.  But sometimes you just have to stick to your plans. And so it was that Rachel, Lynne, Tara and I (plus our canine compansions Honey and Tapper) set off from the remote village of Kingston in the South Hams to walk down to Westcombe Beach, then to Wonwell Beach at the mouth of the Erme estuary, and back to the village. In the old days there was lots of smuggling down here, and the track we followed from the village to the beach felt very well worn - and was extremely muddy.  At this point we were pretty well sheltered from the wind but when we got to Westcombe there was no hiding from it.  The waves foamed constantly on the shore and our faces got a veritable whipping.   The facial massage continued as we ascended the coast path (virtually vertically!) and around to Wonwell, where we bravely entered the water for, in my case at least, a very short-lived swim.

Friday, 27 March 2015

The excitements of Dartmoor

Sometimes it's just non-stop thrills.  Today on Dartmoor we had waterfalls, plunge pools,  real live soldiers letting off explosions and firing guns, and mysterious underground chambers.  We set off from Okehampton up the brilliantly bubbly East Okement River where we frolicked in the numerous frothy pools, before heading out onto the Moor past the Nine Maidens stone circle and down to Cullever Steps. Here we found a military exercise in progress, complete with bangs and smoke (although they were firing blanks).  Then it was up and over into the next valley where we lolled around in the peaceful waters of the River Taw whilst gazing up at mountainous Steeperton Tor above.  Then, on the way back towards Belstone we noticed what looked like a sunken bunker, with strange glass and metal hatches.  Imaginations immediately started running riot with thoughts of waterboarding and other nefarious uses, but a little research showed this was an ill-fated attempted in the 1950s to extract water from underground. Thanks to Lynne for the photo of me swimming.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Dimpsy swimming

Today started dull, but by the afternoon the sun was out, and it was warm and hazy, and everything felt alive and zingy with the promise of Spring.  I even started to get rather hot.   Of course the minute this happens one's thoughts immediately turn to a nice swim, and I wanted to be on top of the Moor, out in the sunshine.   By the time we got up there though, although there were a few pink streaks in the sky, the opportunity for a sunset swim had passed, and the temperatures were falling rapidly.  It was still beautiful though. The lake was wreathed with hazy mist and it was a most magical, if rather chilly swim.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Swimming in the morning mist

We met up for a breakast swim in Torquay.   The sun was rising through the mist, an eerie, almost smoky greyness was everywhere, and it felt magical and blurred.   

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Swimming on the radio

In my day job I am a reporter for the BBC, and today we were doing an outside broadcast based in glorious Brixham, looking at tourism and the wonderful things to do here in Devon.  Well naturally a 'live' outdoor swim seemed like a brilliant idea, and so 7am found me down on Breakwater Beach with the radio car, clad in my swimmers whilst wearing headphones and talking into a microphone. (Undoubtedly the most unusual get-up in my professional life so far). Fortunately I had some lovely chums who'd agreed to come down and wax lyrical about the joys of wild swimming, after which we ran down the shingle and into the water; all of which was relayed live to the listeners of BBC Radio Devon.  (at this point I left the equipment on the beach to avoid electrocution). 

Monday, 9 March 2015

Swimming out to sea

It was a dank old morning on Dartmoor, and as I drove over towards Torquay I was bracing myself for one of those rather overcast and dull swims.   But as I got nearer the coast, the sun started to come out, and by the time I met Jackie, Anne and Kay at Maidencombe it was feeling positively spring-like.  As we walked down the steps to the beach the sea spread out like a vast blue blanket, and I could see a splash of yellow primroses growing half-way up the cliff.   We got in, and swam along the northerly arm of the beach, past the intricate geometry of the red sandstone blocks which cluster the bottom of the cliff, and out to the edge of the cove, where we could see all the way up the coast to Shaldon.   I've never swum out to this point before, and when I looked back I had a whole new perspective on the beach.     Thanks to Jackie and Anne for their pictures.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

A swift Spring swim

Outside my window the blossom is out.  Birds are singing.  The sun is shining.   Inwardly, I am letting out a huge sigh of relief, because it finally seems that Spring is here.  Today, Anna and I were finishing our session in the Torture Chamber (aka the gym) and we emerged, at about five fifteen, to glorious sunshine and LIGHT.  Spontaneously, we decided on a swim, and popped to our nearest pool on the Dart, the one we call the SSS (the swift swimming solution).  We arrived to find the dwarf daffodils out, and the water smooth and inviting, with golden reflections of the clouds above.  We were unprepared, so wore socks (plus in Anna's case, trainers) to keep our feet warm, which were surprisingly effective, so much so that we wondered why we bother spending money on wet shoes.  The water was achingly cold on our unprotected hands,  but delicious.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Traces of history

Anna and I set off along the coast path, hoping to swim at Bugle Hole, but the swell was rather daunting so we decided not to risk it.  We returned to the main beach at Mothecombe where we were both a little nervous about getting in, having just returned from the balmy waters of the Red Sea.   We dodged the rollers as we gradually submerged, and then headed over to the ruined tidal pool that we'd spotted from the cliff path above.   As we explored it, overshadowed by the old WW2 pill box, it occurred to me that we were swimming in an interesting archeological site.  The beach and the local area are part of the Flete Estate.  The estate's website explains that the pool was built in 1875, but that unfortunately the Home Guard blew a hole in it before they left at the end of the war.