As I walked through the middle of town the rain got steadily more persistent. Well, that at least put paid to mowing the grass, but with swimming you will get wet anyway and at least it was warm rain.
Though still overcast, by the time I reached New Bridge the rain had stopped but the few cars hissed by with the peculiar sound of rubber peeling from a wet road. The 2 miles to Sharrah Pool flew by under my feet taking just a fraction over 20 minutes and though I did once make it in a few seconds under 15 minutes a lot of water has flowed down this river in 5 years.
I was already wearing swimming kit so all I had to do was kick off my shoes and peeled off my running top and I’m river ready. And with that the last of the clouds drifted over the hilltop leaving the pool bathed in sunshine.
From the top of the big diving rock I can clearly see the stones and sand of the river bed picked out in fine detail by the sunshine whilst at the same time being given a peaty orange colour rinse. A moment later and my outstretched fingertips tear apart the surface and through river misted vision I swim upstream as far as I can though it’s not far against the current.
A single pond skater dances across the water’s surface as I stagger through the shallows. The water is noticeably warmer than last weekend and I’m going to dive in again and make the most of it. Up the pool, down the swoosh, on down to the very foot of the pool and around again, duck diving into the churning storm of bubbles at the swoosh or the languid eddy in the lee of the diving rock. I finally pull myself out of the water after 2 more dives and nearly 25 minutes swimming without feeling the slightest chill.
Two more swimmers have arrived and as I run back down the valley I pass more and more people; Sharrah is about to get busy.
I had not planned to go back on Sunday but it was a morning of light air and sunshine and there’s been a real lack of that so it was just too irresistible.
The air in the car park felt cooler and there was a little bite in it as I jogged up the path, enough to make it catch slightly at the back of my throat.
At Sharrah I caught the last 5 minutes of the sunshine before a streamer of cloud blocked it. The water seemed clearer, enough so that it was possible to dive from the little rock where the pool is deep enough but the direction of the dive is a little more critical with rocks all around.
Swimming in circles wishing for sunshine turned out to be a futile exercise, the cloud was streaming by but in a long bank that kept the sun above me obscured whilst Bench Tor was bathed in sunshine beneath a forget-me-not blue sky.
After 15 minutes I gave it up, but not quite able to drag myself away I stood for a moment on the big diving rock and in the clear water there was the unmistakable silver flash of a salmon heading upstream, as sure a sign of impending summer as anyone could wish for.
I’m more used to running the lane to Lud Gate and the gate on to the open moor in September than April but out of nowhere there have been a few days of scorching sunshine more common in September than April and there you have the reason. The lane beneath the leafless trees is a strange experience but the open moorland where the bright yellow furze flowers provide the only colour in a landscape of dull winter grey-green and last year’s scorched dun grass could almost be a foreign land.
Over Puper’s Hill and down to Huntingdon Mine, then over the hill past the Mound of Sinners and down to Broad falls, before the final climb to Red Lake the dried grass crunches underfoot as I run and the leaves clatter together in the slight breeze. However though the grass may be tinder dry (and there have been some large moorland fires already this spring) the soil is filled to capacity with water. Everywhere water trickles through the moss and at each footstep it wells up around my feet and sends jets of peaty much up my legs. The sun is relentless even at after 5 n the afternoon and I am a hot glowing heap when I reach the lake.
The wind laps the black surface of the water and standing in the shallows in little more than knee deep water my feet have vanished into the peat stain.
The water is bitterly chill and for the first couple of swimming strokes I have to bite my lower lip to hold my breath in. I finally let it go with a loud gasp and swim across the lake puffing and blowing. I’m not sure it helps but it feels like it should.
In the lee of the high bank there is a discrete corner of mirror calm water and I bob in its glassy smoothness where the undulating waves I send out echo back with a slap from beneath the overhanging reeds and grass on the bank. Otherwise apart from the sough of wind in grass there is not a sound not even the nearby chirp or distant cry of a bird. Unusually, back at the Walla Brook clapper bridge, I did see someone walking but they were heading away from my route and I imagine in every likelihood there is no-one for 3 miles (the nearest house) in any direction.
I’m cold and dress quickly. The heat has gone from the sunshine and the wind has picked up, the sky is no longer uniform blue but is hazed with thin cloud that surely heralds a change in the weather for tomorrow. Even so I run first to the top of the spoil heap from the clay pit. The moorland rolls away in every direction and is in essence the same in every direction, whilst the spoil heap sits in a slight depression in the landscape, the horizon climbing in every direction up to the sky. For a moment as I scan the empty moor I imagine that I am caught in a freeze frame photo where a drop of water has landed in a pool and I’m stood on top of the upsplash in a spreading saucer of water. It is too chilly for further musing and I begin the splash and squelch back the way I came.
It takes me about 45 to 50 minutes to reach Red Lake yet only 35 to get back to the car and I arrive neither out of breath nor more than slightly warm in sharp contrast to the outward run.
I must do it again soon, when the lake has warmed a little maybe, but I know that it will most likely that won’t be until September again.
One of the joys of swimming the whole of the River Dart from sources to sea was finding well hidden and less well hidden swimming holes. Some are sufficiently difficult to reach that the reward is not necessarily worth the effort, whilst others though are hidden in plain sight.
The car is pulled off the road but only just and passing cars make it rock slightly. The river bank occupies no more than 30 feet between river and road, down a soft muddy bank between tree roots and onto steps of black, river polished stone.
The river does not look like much. Upstream is a low-humped stone bridge. A car crosses it slightly too quickly, brakes sharply and makes the 90 degree turn before racing away. Across to the far bank and down stream the river the surface is buckled by small waves, each balancing a noisy crest of bubbles giving the impression that to all intents and purposes there is little but rocks and shallows hidden below.
I rest my bum down on the flat rock almost at water level, dangling my feet to find the narrow ledge that if I were to sit on it would leave me just head out of water. I push away with my arms and drop in missing the ledge. Despite the chill I hold my breath and vanish beneath the surface, the water closes over the top of my head as my outstretched toes tap the river bed.
The pool is not big, maybe ¼ of the way across the river and 15 feet upstream but it only shallows slightly in every direction before the river bed rises sharply to just a little below the water’s surface. What quirk of the river bed and eddies off the bridge keep it from filling with sand and gravel I can’t imagine but I am glad of those eccentricities in the flow.
Another car crosses the bridge, slowly, admiring the view no doubt and not rushing to be home, nevertheless I don’t expect they saw me, or expected to see me as I must be almost invisible with just my head showing. Another week or 2 with more leaves on the trees and this will be as obscure a spot as any pool in the river on the farthest part of the moor.
I enjoying diving into water though I have no desire to do it from a great height, 5 or 6 feet is about my limit and I’d rather do that 5 or 6 times than go for one big one. And diving even if you are already stood a foot deep in water is fun too.
I find it helps to pick a spot on the water to aim at, a leaf or a little bubble, about a body length and a half away and then it’s just a case of trying to hit it with your fingertips and it all seems to happen quite naturally.
Hesitation is what ruins it and makes it hurt. You have to keep your arms out, head tucked in and legs straight. If you try to peek at what you’re aiming at your head will tilt back and you’ll smack your face in the water. Similarly if you don’t keep your legs straight there is a tendency to bend them at the knees, especially if you feel you’re slightly out of control, it’s almost like trying to use your feet as brakes, only that doesn’t work when you’re mid-air but what does happen is you smack your calf muscles into the water and that hurts.
Obviously it goes without saying that you should:
1) Make sure the water is clear of obstructions. There may have been nothing there yesterday but something may have gone in the water since, check every time. Unless you are absolutely sure of the depth keep your dive shallow.
2) That said, make sure that there is enough width of water that you can come back to the surface before hitting the far side be that a river bank or rocks.
3) Be extra careful when diving into an oncoming flow of water. I did that once at a place I’d dived often before only there was a bit more water flow and as I hit the water the flow tilted my head down and I hit the bottom and broke 2 fingers.
If you are in any doubt, DON’T. The water will still be there tomorrow, so it is best to make sure you are too.
With the Polar Bear Challenge laid to bed it’s on to something new.
Swim Bingo has only two things in common with the PBC: a 200m minimum distance and swimming, obviously.
There are 35 challenges which spread over 7 months is a challenge a week give or take so I have put a line through the rules that you can claim no more than “2 challenges per swim and no more than 5 per day” and modified that to only claim 1 challenge per swim. This is not a race.
It cannot be a race anyway as one set of challenges is a swim per month and October is not going to move about the calendar any time soon. And as with the PBC there is nothing to say you have to claim a challenge simply because you did it. For the PBC it was 2 swims per month and I probably did 15 each month that qualified, but I claimed on swims that were specially notable or enjoyable.
With that in mind I made up my own bingo card and after considerable juggling came up with an arrangement that places one more tricky challenge into each line and column. That should serve to draw the process out, but also forces some forward planning. No doubt the planning will be different for other people but what I will have to keep an eye on is the night swim (because I can’t be bothered with swimming when you can’t see anything) and the lido swim (because the nearest is in Plymouth: Tinside Lido). There are ‘jokers’ to cover those but that seems to be a little bit of a cop out. It’s supposed to be a challenge, if you can’t do the challenge, don’t legitimize cheating.
6 years ago starting at about this time of year I set out to swim the stretch of coast from Kingswear to Teignmouth. Not in one go as it’s about 40 miles and I was doing it by myself and some of it is actually pretty inaccessible, so it was a bit here, a bit there. And what with then getting side tracked into starting the same process and swimming the whole length of the River Dart it was the end of the following summer before I connected all of the bits into a continuous line. I was very careful though to make sure every bit overlapped so I can honestly say every single inch got swum.
On one bit I collected a lobster pot buoy that had been washed ashore and got wedged in the rocks along with a length of rope. And as I was towing it along this seal came to see what was going on, getting closer and closer until no more than 10 feet from me.
Eventually I finished swimming the river too, from both its sources to the sea, another 50ish miles, though obviously some bits were too shallow to swim.