My 100 swims at 100 different places in 2016 did not quite work out. I was 18 short; two a week was clearly being overoptimistic but even so it still worked out at a different place every 4.5 days and more importantly I got to some new places and some rarely visited places.
Where to go in 2017? I have swum all of the River Dart from both sources to the sea (50 miles) and from Dartmouth every inch of the way to Teignmouth (30 miles). To be honest I don’t think I need another challenge immediately. Perhaps the challenge should be to enjoy swimming more, swim for the fun of it and be with other people rather than trying to get to obscure parts of Dartmoor or the coast that no-one else in their right minds wants to.
In that respect the day with A and J between Christmas and New Year when we (I) finally got to Hipples, a beach that had been on my radar for a while and that it was stunningly gorgeous is certainly incentive enough. But new places and new adventures are not what everyone craves and indeed I have lost count of the number of times I have set myself up to go to a place, made the effort and then found it is not suitable for swimming (certainly one of the downsides of ‘trail blazing’) or arriving but then abandoning the intended swim due to weather or just not feeling it is the right moment. Twice last year I stood on the beach at Aberystwyth and twice the weather was most certainly against me. It’s a fine line between adventurous and missing in action presumed dead.
Some friends are perfectly content with swimming day after day from the same bit of beach and given the changeable nature of tide, winds, sunrises, sunsets, long summer days, early winter evenings each swim can be something new in and of itself. I do the same thing too. Last year I must have swum at Holne Bridge over 50 times, more than that in all probability as I swam there 9 times in one particular week.
Beginning in late March there were the daffodils all along the bank, spring sunshine held to earth. Those gave way to wood anemones, nodding their delicate white flowers in the slightest breeze as the fresh green beech leaves fluttered overhead. In April for reasons I am not able explain the water in the Dartmoor rivers and streams takes a zesty lime green tint, but then in early May as the oak leaves take their turn centre stage the water slides back towards its typical tea stained orange tint as more peat enters the flow higher up on the moor. April also sees in the salmon and sea trout and in the clear water they often flash by like silver bullets, though the year was a bad one for fish numbers. June, July, August and the river flows slower and slower as if it too wants to embrace summer. At 7am the water can be like glass in the pool above the weir and in that quiet post dawn moment before cars begin to rush by beyond the tree line, the herons, kingfishers and ducks prepare for the day ahead along the bank. Otters have been here too. The concrete of the weir is cool and I trail footprints back to my towel. They are already blurred and fading by the time I tuck my towel under my arm and of course they are gone by evening, returning a blank canvas deserving a fresh set of prints. As September advances there is a distinct chill in both air and water. Early fallen leaves are draped in a tide line along the banks, a few fallen crab apples from Spitchwick way bob past, the sun is lower each morning, the mist a little more substantial, the light a little more diffuse. More leaves fall, a harvest of mushrooms springs forth overnight along the banks for those who know their penny buns from fly agrics. For just a few days and no more in early November the beech trees glow overhead like copper or bronze and then just as suddenly there is sky latticed by twigs and branches. And finally the year draws to a close to the plop, plop plop, of acorns hitting the still water, not a breath of wind nor a squirrel’s footfall but still they fall. The oak tree beside the weir shakes its branches, yet not a breath of wind ruffles to water, the tree shakes again sloughing off redundant curling brown leaves, dropping them down to an accompaniment of fat dew drops that glisten on leaf tip and spider’s web.
Rushing to the far corners of the moor undoubtedly has its moment but so does taking time to apparently do nothing except stop and stare. So 2017 may be less rushing, more staring, more friends and more cake, the last two go hand in glove.