Over the last week my walks to my Dartmoor swimming spots have been getting increasingly slow and meandering, as I keep getting diverted into thickets and under trees by the siren call of the mushrooms. It seems to be a brilliant year. Our hotter than average May, June and July, followed by a damper than normal August seems to have created the perfect conditions. In particular, I've found more Penny Buns (aka ceps and porcini) than ever before. The Chanterelles are looking good, and thanks to Yaara's son Tom, we found the biggest haul of Wood Blewitts ever. Each swim seems to come with a fungi bonus!
It was an isolated sunny day amidst the downpours and Rachel and I set off for Kelly's Cove near Kingswear. The hedges were packed with blackberries and sloes, and the sea off Dartmouth was similarly packed with boats, because it's the Regatta. Kelly's Cove is not really a cove, but a series of rocky inlets; you climb or jump in off ledges and it's a great place to explore. On past swims the water has been gin-clear but today it was a milky green - I guess because of all the rain and wind we've had. Rachel and I bobbed about and swam round to another little cove where we found a bright orange buoy; we spent some time trying to dislodge another one but it was wedged into a great tightness as they usually are.
Today pre and post swim faffing reached new and quite ridiculous depths. David and Tamara were down from London, to do the new Pub to Pub Aquathon with Kari and me. This was supposed to be a swim from the Pilchard pub on Burgh Island to the Sloop at Bantham, across the bay and up the river on the incoming tide, with a short run to the pub at the end. Cue, before the event, all manner of mind-boggling logistical preparations, involving three cars, clothing, money, and trying to work out where all these three should be and at what time. In the end it all went off brilliantly, er, apart from waiting around for one and a half hours at the end trying to find the person with the key to the car which had all our clothes in....still, in the meantime Kari managed to sweet talk the pub into giving us Pimms on credit. The swim itself was slightly constrained by Hurricane Bertha, in that the strong winds meant we couldn't start the swim at the Pilchard, and had to set off at the river mouth. The unexpected bonus was we got a hair-raising ferry ride to the start in the lifeguards' RIB, zooming out over the surf. Then, once the race started, we were swept up the river in the 'whoosh' of the incoming tide....we
sped past the pink boathouse at Jenkins Quay and on up to the thatched
harbour master's office where we got out to claps and cheers from
onlookers, before puffing up the hill to the finish. What a great day,
and thanks to the organisers Ruth and Patrick.
you ever tried bog swimming? Well I can heartily recommend it. We set
off for Taw Marsh from Belstone, on the northern side of Dartmoor, in
search of a ford where the river bends and there is apparently quite a
large pool. Well there's not been much rain in the last few months and
when we got there the pool was, ahem, quite shallow. The river then
meandered enticingly into the distance towards the mountains through
reeds and flowers so after a bit of wallowing in the pool we decided to
follow it upstream. We felt like explorers going up a minuscule
version of the Amazon. We half swam, half crawled along, at nose level
with the bank, the reeds, the spagnum moss and the odd
foxglove....totally immersed in the boggy environment. At this point I
remembered I'd read somewhere there were leeches here. Oh well, too
late to worry now. We carried on and then came to a deeper bit where
we had another wallow, miniswim and chat, before pushing on into the
heart of darkness (well that's what it felt like). We were effectively swimming in a bog, but you have to remember this is not just any bog, it's a clean, clear, Dartmoor bog.
I've been in Morocco, dodging waves in the desert surf, so was looking forward to some calmer seas for swimming
explorations back home. I haven't been to Thurlestone Rock for ages, so
Anna and I set off, planning to swim over the reef and out to the
Arch. I'd looked on the webcam, and all looked calm, but when we got
there it was pretty lively, with a westerly wind creating white horses
across the bay. We got in to lovely lukewarm bathwater temperature
sea, and swam around channels in the reef, admiring the seaweeds' coats
of many colours before heading out the the Arch where it started to get
quite lumpy. The swell was exhilarating though and as it pushed me
'through the eye of the needle' it was just wonderfully exciting to be
dwarfed by the majestic rock towering above me. Once through I was in
shadow, but swam around back into the sunlight to do the whole thing all
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 beckoned....in 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.
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.
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.
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.