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. 

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.