I imagined that ultimately my long early morning river swims would be brought low by cold. The swimming is fine, it’s the shivering afterwards I can live without. It seems however that it will be rainfall that finally draws a line at the river as more and more often it is simply too flooded to swim. In that respect ‘Storm Brian’ has made the River Dart unswimable.
Fortunately there is the sea nearby and with some careful planning it is usually possible to find somewhere safe to swim no matter what the general conditions. The forecast for Sunday morning is strong and gusty westerly (ie blowing from the west) winds so in that respect somewhere under the higher east facing cliffs looks appealing. The sky is supposed to be clear and a sunrise has been ordered (though as I drive off in the dark it is raining which doesn’t seem promising). It will be high tide so the current will be flowing northwards, a spring high tide which means flowing quite fast too. The bay on the north side of Hope’s Nose is therefore an ideal location with one little note of caution. The tide will sweep by the end of the headland leaving the bay sheltered, but, when it hits Black Head on the far side some flow will be turned back into the bay so that swimming there and back is not as straight-forward as it seems.
The sun just lifts above the horizon as I walk down the hillside and that creates a prolonged sunrise as the two changes in relative position just about cancel each other out. The water however is grey in the shade of the cliff and a big swell surges over the pebbles though the surface is only a little choppy. It is quite chilly in the water and out with the wind coming northerly across the bay. Consequently my plan changes as swimming directly across the bay and head on into the wind and swell will be unpleasant even with or especially because of the current; wind over tide creates the worst in choppy water. I will instead swim close in under the cliff, into the current, but out of the wind.
I push my way along under the dark and somewhat foreboding cliffs. One thing is for sure there is no way out of the water along here as the first exit is a tiny beach towards the far end of the bay and a long flight of steps up to someone’s garden. As I reach the bay I also cross the meridian into the sunshine, my direction of travel now working with the rising sun. The cliffs light up and the sky glows blue above the trees. Two cormorants are winging towards me, flying into the sun and clearly they’ve not seen me. They are only a few meters ahead of me and possibly only 1 meter above the water when they suddenly swing one left and one right and I feel the downdraught of their wing beats.
Out by the point and I swim through a patch of dead water flecked with leaves and twigs and suddenly I am swimming forward at twice the pace I was as the tidal current catches me. I am going only as far as the point, another 30m or so, no further as I have to swim against this next.
The swim back is something of a chore especially once I re-enter the shadow of the cliffs and everything once more loses its vibrancy turning now to dull shades of brown and khaki with the trees black silhouettes against the sky. Returning to the beach is something of a relief. However no sooner have I stepped from the water and pulled a towel from my bag than I look down to the waves swirling around the rock and no more than 5m from where I am standing a seal is bobbing in the waves. At this close range I can clearly see individual whiskers and the stippled fur. We look at each other, then the seal ducks under, resurfaces 5m further out and then gently floats out of sight around the next big rock. I suspect this may be the seal that hangs about here and takes fish from the hooks of the fishermen and once he realizes I have no food he’s off to someone who might.
There is a moment now for a quick litter pick and it’s off home after an already eventful morning even though it is not yet 10 o’clock.