Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Twelve Swims of Christmas

So far I have swum on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and now today (the 27th)...so I reckon I'm well placed to aim for the Twelve Swims of Christmas.   So far all the dips have been freshwater and, ahem, very fresh, at around 7 degrees...but today we went to Westcombe Beach, where the sea was a much more forgiving 11 degrees.  It's one of my favourite coves, with pink and grey striped rocks in all sorts of sinuous shapes, and all manner of caves and rock pools.  It's a wonderful place to wander around and explore, especially at low tide, and you lose yourself in a weird world of rock.    After a good explore I then had a swim, saying hello to a seagull which was bobbing about nearby, and looking over to Burgh Island in the distance.  Pix by Alex Murdin.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Another trip to the Hindu Temples

Approaching the first cave (photo Aaron Kitts) 
I never tire of swimming at the Hindu Temples in Torquay.  They are a set of interlinking caves in the sandstone cliffs at Livermead; the writer Charles Kingsley described them thus:  "the fantastic rocks of Livermead, scooped by the waves into a labyrinth of double and triple caves, like Hindu Temples..." They are an extraordinary natural feature. On Saturday morning we arrived to find the sea calm and a stunning petrol blue.  The dark entrances of the caves beckoned us in and rock doves cooed above, roosting in the crevices, as we swam into the gurgling depths of the first cave.   The water swirled around in the second cave and I got a bruised knee, but I never mind a few bruises after a swim like that.
Stuart and Olivia 

Mark inside the caves

Monday, 28 November 2016

Pottering around at Heybrook Bay

We set off to explore the coastline between Wembury and Heybrook Bay.  It's a bit of the South Devon coastpath I've never explored before, and what a revelation.  The path is pretty much at sea level, and you walk along marvelling at the beautifully intricate pattern of rocky outcrops and numerous little bays, like natural lidos .  At Wembury Point, we saw a display board which said there was a holiday camp here in the 30s - complete with a man-made lido, the remains of which we could see.   The sky changed constantly, as it does on winter afternoons, with the 'eye of God' - the sun's rays - giving a dramatic appearance to the Mewstone offshore.   In Heybrook Bay, the water was incredibly clear and we had a deliciously refreshing swim, in which we explored in and around the numerous channels and pools.  A lovely afternoon out.

The old lido

The remains of the old lido today

Natural lido
Heybrook Bay from coastpath

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Seal Adventure

Mum - pic by Ju Lewis
When I was a teenager I absolutely loved the Willard Price books.  They were all called Something Adventure, eg Whale Adventure, Volcano Adventure, and South Sea Adventure (to name but three). They were about two teenage brothers who travelled the world collecting exotic animals for their father's zoo, having exciting exploits and encountering loathsome villains on the way.  Well today (Saturday 15 October) we had our own animal adventure.  It all started as we were walking down to a remote beach in Torquay.  As we slipped and slid down the uneven path, we heard an eerie wail/howl which echoed around the cliffs.  Ju thought it might be a seal, and sure enough, as we got closer to the beach, we saw two in the shallows.  Down in the cove, we sat down at a distance to watch them. One of the seals started to hightail it up the beach (as far as a seal can high tail it - it was rather a slow and inelegant process), with, it seemed, quite a sense of urgency.  As she neared the high water mark we suddenly realised there was a white fluffy pup up there.  It was brilliantly camouflaged.   Later, when we returned after exploring the rest of the beach, the mum and the pup had come down to the water's edge.  The pup hauled itself into a rock pool where it repeatedly dipped its head in and out - I guess it was experimenting with the water. We felt so privileged to have seen this seal family.
Pup - pic by Ju Lewis

Can you spot the 3 seals?

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Coryton Cove

Looking up at the tunnel
cheeky seagull 
Smugglers' Tunnel. Pic by Ray Girvan
There was a last-minute post on Facebook from Gilly that she was swimming at Coryton Cove in Dawlish.  I leapt in the car and decided to join her and Charlotte and Michelle who also came along. I arrived first and waited with a gull who was cheekily perched on top of a beach hut.  The sea was not exactly attractive.  It was brown and the beach was absolutely covered with sea weed, brought in by the persistent Easterlies.  Of course once we were in, it was lovely, if a trifle bouncy, and we swam round towards the twin peaks - or 'horses' of Horse Cove, and Gilly showed us the extroardinary smugglers' tunnel half way up the cliff.  Someone has even bothered to build brick stairs inside it. Sadly we didn't get a picture up close. Gilly was the only one who managed to climb up to the tunnel (I got nervous and chickened out)  but was still getting to grips with her camera and didn't manage to get a shot.  However she did manage to take a pic of me looking up at her from the beach!  Meanwhile, a little research on the internet shows that there was an alarming cliff fall here back in 1885 in which three people died.  A disturbing thought, and of course the cliffs are still very unstable today.
Gilly with the 'horses' behind

Monday, 17 October 2016

Beautiful Burgh

We'd put a Burgh Island circumnavigation in the diary for October, hoping against hope that the conditions would be right.  With persistent strong Easterlies up to the day (9 October) I wasn't optimistic.  But amazingly, the weather came good.  The sun was out at Bigbury-on-Sea and we kept marvelling at how warm it was.  We started our swim about half an hour before high water, and the conditions were simply perfect.   The sea was clear and calm, and we went round anti-clockwise. The swim through the big cut-through gully at the back was simply stunning.  The sun glinted off the stark sides of the chasm, and I looked down to the stripy rocky sea bed below.  Then, to top it all, we saw a starfish.   Exhilarating.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Dart Slither (Part 2)

Having completed part 1 of the Dart Slither earlier this summer - between Dartmeet and New Bridge - it was time to attempt Part the Second.   And so bright and early one Sunday morning Anna, Rachel, Judy, Ellie and I slipped in under the majestic arches of New Bridge, ready to swim, slide and slither down the Holne Chase section of the Dart, to the weir below Holne Bridge. The river runs mostly through private land, so we were setting off into virgin territory.  The first bit - Spitchwick - was familiar, and enlivened by some great mushroom spotting from the water, of some splendid Penny Bun specimens (which we returned later on to pick).  Then, past Buckland Bridge, we started getting into waters new. The river ran over a series of stickles - this, according to the writer Eric Hemery, is a Dartmoor word for rapids - and then opened out and we passed a fishing lodge, complete with antlers around the door.   We then came across a cascade, which I believe the canoeists call "The Washing Machine" where we braced ourselves against the water and got head massages.   Then we passed under Lovers' Leap - a spectacular cliff, where, legend has it, Wilfred, a young monk from Buckfast Abbey, jumped to his death along with his lover Rosine.  It was a relief to get to Holne Bridge, where the river is deep all the way down to the weir; we were carried along gently by the current and emerged on the bank, four hours after we started.
The washing machine

Lovers' Leap

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Low water magic

I love a really low tide.  It reveals rarely-seen marvels, and no more so than at London Bridge Natural Arch in Torquay.  When we arrived at the beach it looked as though someone had pulled the plug out.  The conditions were perfect, a calm blue sea, and as we approached London Bridge I spotted a 'new' cave - well more of a slit actually but exciting none the less -  that I'd never seen before because I've not swum here on such a low tide before.  Allan and I swam in and saw brilliantly outlandish Dead Men's Fingers, a form of soft coral that look more like Dead Men's, ahem, something elses, and then to our great excitement saw a beautiful array of pink life forms that we later discovered were Jewel Anemones.  We then swam on through the majestic arch, and into a double-entranced cave with more exotic marine wildlife including Elephant Hide Sponge and Devonshire Cup Corals.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Some summer highlights

Anstey's Cove, Torquay
South Milton Sands
I've been so busy there hasn't been much time for blogging so I'm just picking out a few memorable swims from the last couple of months.   A blistering afternoon at Anstey's Cove when it felt like Greece.  Several stunning swims at Goodrington where friends have opened a brilliant new bistro, Cantina.  Numerous dips in the blissful balm of the River Dart, where the latest temperature was about 17.5 degrees.  And a lovely swim with Kari and friends at the National Trust watersports festival at South Milton Sands, complete with spider crab.
River Dart 

Monday, 20 June 2016


Image by Avigail Kahana
It's been a busy few weeks, hence fewer blogs.  Why? Well my great pal Matt and I have been launching our new book, Wild Swimming Walks: Dartmoor and South Devon. We kicked off with - even though I say it myself - a rather stylish event at Delamore House, a stately pile on the edge of the Moor.   It's owned by the lovely Nicky and Gavin Dollard who didn't bat an eyelid when we asked if our guests could swim in the lake - in fact they thought it was a brilliant idea.   So one May afternoon lots of people turned up, swam to the strains of a wind-up gramophone on the bank,  and then looked at the amazing art in the gardens and house (and also consumed some Prosecco).  Then, a few weeks later, our wonderful friends Queenie and Kate who are starting a new restaurant in Paignton, Cantina, hosted a pop-up bistro for us at Goodrington Park, right by the sea.  It was the hottest day of the year and we celebrated with the most delicious swim and even more delicious paella cooked by Kate. Happy times.

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Dart Slither

Setting out
One Sunday morning at 0745 hours we rendez-voused in New Bridge car park in our guerilla gear: head to toe neoprene accessorised with boots and gloves. The plan: to swim/scramble/slither all the way down the Dart Gorge from Dartmeet to Newbridge.  There was much speculation as to the time it would take. (Walking it takes about 4 hours). The party having assembled, we squashed into one car and headed up to the start.   We set off down the path by the river and walked to our usual first pool.  We stayed in the water and started our descent. We went through channels, climbed over boulders, and dragged ourselves through narrow cascades, discovering that goggles were essential to spot looming rocks.   We soon realised that swimming was going to be the least frequent activity; but when we hit a pool, ah the relief!  Some of the 'swooshing' was quite hair-raising. At one point I got wedged as the water pinned me to a rock; fortunately my natural padding prevented me from getting hurt. Halfway down we stopped and feasted on sodden Marmite sandwiches: our supposedly waterproof rucksacks had not proved up to the job.  Eventually, 6 hours later, we arrived at New Bridge; even the dogs were totally exhausted.
The first pool 

Negotiating boulders

A much-needed stop

Broada Steps
The sodden Marmite sandwiches

Friday, 20 May 2016

In pursuit of a pool

Watching a wren by the waterfal
A lot of my swim expeditions involve trying to find a place that I've built up in my imagination, often having found it on a map and speculated about what it might be like beforehand.  (an activity which often results in disappointment I might add).  But on this occasion I was setting out to try and find a pool I'd found by accident over a year ago, and hadn't had time to stop at.  I remembered it as the most idyllyic small pool with a rowan tree hanging over it.
The remains of a Bronze age house
.  Alex and I returned to the Merrivale area, and I was pretty sure I knew where the pool was, having noted it was by a fence which was marked on the map.  Anyway, the whole walk turned out to be absolutely wonderful, taking in Great Mis Tor, described by Victorian travel writer John Murray as the grandest hill in England, and from which we could see the coast all the way around from Torbay to the South Hams and finally to Plymouth where we could even see the Tamar Bridge.  We then did a big circle, going to a waterfall on the River Walkham, before walking downstream to find the pool, which was as lovely as I'd remembered it.  We then finished our walk by weaving our way through an extensive Bronze Age village which was fascinating.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A very special sunrise swim

I hate getting up early but sometimes it really is worth it.  Today was a case in point.    Swimming slowly in the silky soft sea, seeing the horizon getting pinker by the minute, and finally the moment when the sun popped up, in its dazzling glory, above the Imperial Hotel. We were in Torquay, by the Hindu Temples caves, which get miraculously lit up in the morning sunlight. Jackie was swimming with a waterproof bag, in which she had secreted a breakfast 'starter' of cream cheese and smoked salmon, which we ate on a sun-drenched rock in front of the caves.  We swam around for a while afterwards, revelling in the magical dawn, and then repaired for a cooked breakfast on the sandstone headland.