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.