Monday, 29 December 2014

The pink passage

Bugle Hole is one of my favourite places to swim (though it has to be admitted there are many).  Just along the coast path from Mothecombe, it is a keyhole-shaped inlet that fills up at high water to make a perfect natural swimming pool.  Today I visited at low water - when it becomes a location worthy of the adventures of the Famous Five, complete with caves, smugglers passages and treasure.  I climbed down perilously slippery rocks, while my two boys sat in the sun and read books and played on their devices. Once down in the 'hole' I did a bit of cowrie-hunting, and found three of the little pearl-like shells, before getting changed into my swimmers and heading off to explore what I call the Pink Passage.  It's a secret tunnel from the inlet through to the sea outside, and I imagine could well have been used by smugglers.  Walking through I was hit by a succession of sensations of colour and sound, the pink, green, purple and white of the rocks, and the water constantly gurgling, groaning and booming.   Once through I swam through a dark green channel of water and out into a more open area of sea before swimming back into the Hole through another passageway through the rocks.   Watch "Pink Passage: the Movie" below!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Festive swims

Swimming in devilishly cold water is the perfect antidote to all the slobbing, sitting and scoffing that goes on at this time of year.  On Christmas morning we met early on the banks of the Dart for a bracing plunge, adorned in Santa hats and tinsel, before heading back to our various families and festive traditions.  Then on Boxing Day, Anna, Yaara and I had a dimpsy dip in the pouring rain.  Today, there was frost on the ground and ice in the puddles as we met again at Spitchwick.  As I stood in the water preparing to immerse it felt as though a thousand tiny daggers were plunging into my legs.   The water was a perishing 5.1 degrees by my watch - but 3.8 by Judy's.  "Why do you do it?" I hear you ask.  Well it's a bit of a cliche, but like most cliches it's true:there is something so invigorating and revitalising about the cold restores you to your factory settings.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Solstice swimming and hangover cures

We have an emerging tradition which involves a carol singing party on the Saturday before Christmas - known as "Carols and Carousing" followed by a swim at Sugary Cove in Dartmouth  the following day.  Also part of the tradition is Queenie and Kate missing the party, but managing to get to the swim.  Last year they got the wrong day, this year, Kate felt lousy; we're already speculating what next year's excuse will be.  Still, they made it to Sugary Cove, where it was generally agreed that this was the perfect way to cure the hangovers and celebrate the shortest day of the year - or rather, the start of days getting longer.  In fact it turned out to be a day of double dipping, as Rachel and I also went in the Dart earlier, where it was a chilly 8 degrees.  The swim was enlivened by a naturist who joined in, and did some bracing stretches on the bank into the bargain.  At Sugary Cove the sea was three and a half degrees warmer, and we had a glorious swim through the channel to Castle Cove, before scoffing Queenie's delicious home-made mince pies, still warm, on the beach afterwards.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Scottish sojurn

I've just returned from a magical weekend with our friends the Scottish Swimming Lassies and Lads, in which we sailed the seas and swam with starfish.  Anna, Yaara and I flew to Glasgow and then drove up past Loch Lomond,  Loch Fyne, and finally Loch Sween, before finally arriving at Carsaig Bay, on the Sound of Jura.  It was dark when we got there but we couldn't resist a night-time dip off the jetty in front of Charlotte and Duggie's house, before settling down to a hearty dinner and chats in front of the wood-burning stove.  The following morning it was so exciting to wake up and see the mountains of Jura across the sea.  Iona arrived and we went down to the jetty where we got into Sea Pie, a little dinghy, to row out to Wild Rose, Duggie's absolutely beautiful yacht.  He built her himself over five summers and we felt so privileged to be allowed on board.  We couldn't wait to explore, and were particularly delighted to find a cosy fire burning in the cabin below.   Frequent cries of "this is the life" were heard (and in fact were heard throughout the entire weekend) as we sailed out of the Bay, and headed south past an island and down towards a very craggy part of the coast that Charlotte and Duggie call "Raven's Nest".  We leapt off the boat (or rather, inelegantly lowered ourselves down the ladder) and into the beautiful dark green water for a delicious swim amongst the kelp gardens, with lots of wrasse darting about below us.  Duggie was an absolute gentleman and after his swim came back with Sea Pie to collect us, so we didn't have to haul ourselves up the ladder back on board.  The next adventure was the hot tub on the shore - another of Duggie's brilliant creations.
 As dusk fell we decadently wallowed in the tub while drinking wine and nibbling cashews, occasionally punctuating the indulgence with a shock-inducing sea-dip.  Sunday dawned sunny, and so followed another unforgettable day.  We met Iona again, and also Martin and Fraser, at Danna, at the mouth of Loch Sween, where the water was unbelievably clear and we saw starfish.  In the afternoon we again went out in Wild Rose, sailing north this time into the Sound, where we spotted George Orwell's house on Jura, and all had a go at the helm.  On the way back we had a swim in a channel near Carsaig Island, where we spotted two seals.  They came into the water but did not approach us, which for me was an enormous relief as I find the Devon seals way too friendly.   As we started back towards home a most vivid sunset started to take place over the Paps of Jura.   We put down the anchor and watched the sun set and the moon rise, and Duggie and Yaara had a swim in the twilight.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Feeling the love

Swimming seems to create such a bond.   It brings together people of different ages, beliefs, sizes and outlooks.   And yet they seem to share an indefinable something: a lust for life, a joy in the water, a spirit of adventure, a sense of humour, and a love of cake.  Today was a day when all that joy came together.  It started back in May, when Jackie got married to Gordon, her partner of twenty years.  Lesley had the brilliant idea of making her a wedding present from all her swimming friends.  We all knitted squares, and some really creative people made beautiful applique'd ones.  Several months and several meet-ups to sew them all together later,  we ended up with a blanket and a wall hanging. All that remained was to jump out, Jeremy Beadle like, when she went for a dip at her favourite swimming spot, Torre Abbey Sands in Torquay.  Well as you can imagine she was totally overcome as were most of us.  It felt just as good to be giving as receiving.  We then went for a mass dip - I lost count of the heads when I reached 25 - followed by a slap-up lunch.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The perfect moonlit dip

Well, how about that?  An absolutely magical moonlit swim. Usually the clouds rain on our parade, but tonight it was cold and clear.  It was very exciting arriving at our swimming spot, Oddicombe Beach in Torquay, as I could glimpse the glimmering whiteness of the moon beckoning me through the trees as I drove down the winding road.  On arrival at the prom - well - there was a simply stunning  moon casting an enormous white pool of light onto the sea, and lighting up the cliffs behind the beach, creating a silvery amphitheatre.  As we stood on the shore we felt very cold,  and I was dreading getting in.  But the sea was a delicious, welcoming surprise.  It was warm and I felt comforted and enveloped as we moved around in the soft, smooth water, as it gently lapped against the shingle. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sparkling swimming

It was the first day of November and the red rocks  of Livermead were soaked in sun as we got changed on the ledges.   Aquatic Ape was down from London with Mrs Ape, as well as Fiona,  so we were keen to show them the beauties of Torbay.  First stop, the caves at Livermead, aka the Hindu Temples, which, as Jackie said, never disappoint.  The sea was a brilliant turquoise as we plunged in off the rocks and swam towards the alluring arches in the cliff.  Then were were into the first cave, where we marvelled at the intense blue glow of the water as the light bounced in and off the cave walls.   In one recess the water gurgled particularly menacingly.   After an exploration through the rest of the caves, watched by the resident pigeons, we went for lunch at the Meadfoot Cafe, before heading over to Anstey's Cove where the water was flat, beautiful and green, and where we had another swim. 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Bouncing through the chasm

It was the warmest Halloween ever apparently.  As Judy and I got changed on the steps at Sugary Cove, the sun beat down and it felt like summer.   However there was quite an autumnal swell in the water, and we had to dodge the rollers as we got in.   As we approached the channel which links Sugary to Castle Cove next door, the water foamed deliciously - and a little dauntingly.   But we bounced our way in, and bobbed though the chasm with the oak trees keeping watch overhead.   We made it through to Castle Cove where we bumped into another swimmer, Ruth, who had also taken advantage of the good weather and high water for an invigorating dip.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Wilderness in the suburbs

Hidden away between Paignton and Brixham is Armchair Cove.  I walked to it from a residential street, past a holiday camp, and under the railway line.  Coming out from the tunnel it was like emerging into another world.   A soft green clifftop with three bunnies hopping about, the odd parasol mushroom, and a pair of ravens perching in a tree.  You don't realise the cove is there until you get to the end of the field.  When I looked down I couldn't believe it.  Turquoise clear sea, just what I was hoping for after the dreary wet weather, but which I hadn't expected.  I swam into the lagoon and explored in and around the Armchair, fascinated by the fantastical rocks, which all seemed to have halloween-style faces.  The sun came out and the sea was warm - 15.7 degrees - it hardly felt like the end of October.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Leaf snow

"It's like leaf snow" said Angie as the leaves fluttered gently from the sky as we swam.  We were at the pool off Wellsfoot Island, below Holne Cliff, and the water had cleared since we swam there last week.   The leaves were all around us, like little gold coins, falling above our heads, collecting in drifts on the surface, and sinking gently underwater.  The water temperature has gone down about a degree - now at 11.8 degrees. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Warm river

My friend Judy swears the Dart gets warmer the nearer you get to its source.  Today I had the opportunity to test this theory, with two swims, one at Spitchwick and one upstream at Sharrah Pool.  It seems she is right, although an experiment on one random day is hardly very scientific.  It was 13.2 at Spitchwick, and 13.7 at Sharrah, a difference of half a degree.   However I'm not sure this as at all conclusive as the swim at Spitchwick was at 9am and the one at Sharrah was six hours later.  At any rate, both swims were beautiful, as we glided around in great swirls of natural foam..   The water is much clearer now too, having been been variously like cocoa, Bovril and tea in the last couple of weeks.

Monday, 13 October 2014

What a difference some rain makes

The Dart has gone from zero to hero - or perhaps the other way round - in a matter of days.  Just over a week ago we swam at Spitchwick; the temperature had plummetted to 11 degrees but the water was still the lowest it's been for a long time.  Within 24 hours, after a night of heavy rain, it was completely unswimmable.  Today, after more rain, it was like boiling Bovril, racing along and overtopping its banks.  As the rain pelted down, we gathered at the big bend at Spitchwick, the only place remotely possible to swim, and created a 'changing room' out of umbrellas; Anna declared that umbrellas are the 'new thing' in winter swimming, and that she's giving up waterproof coats forthwith.  We stood on the edge of the river, up to our ankles on granite slabs that are usually dry, and plunged into the brown water, which immediately froze our fingers.   We hugged the bend as we whooshed round to the next exit, got out, and repeated the exercise.  We all agreed that it wasn't the most pleasant swim ever, but 'honour had been satisfied'.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Round the rugged rocks

We set off to the South Hams coast near Mothecombe, to find a secret cove Anna had told us about.  We followed her instructions, and followed a little path off the main coast path, which did a sharp dog leg and then went down into a cleft between two great sides of rock.  It felt man made, and we concluded it was, as we then followed a vertigo-inducing staircase of ancient carved steps down to a rocky bay.   We swam out into a
 maze of channels, gulleys and islands.   In one inlet we found an iron ring concreted into the rock: perhaps this was a secret mooring spot?   We felt a strong sense of stories of past lives hanging in the sea mist around this particular cove.