Quarry swimming possibly sparks more debate in the outdoor swimming community than any other topic apart from wetsuits (wear one, don’t wear one, wear one sometimes but not others, who cares?  Quite a lot of people actually, well they have opinions but whether they care or not is a slightly different thing.)

On the one extreme is the school of thought that says if you swim in a quarry you will surely die.  On the other hand there are those who think that a land (water) owner who puts up a fence and signs to keep you off their property and out of potential harm is infringing their freedom.  Swim and be damned may as well be the second groups motto.

Quarries can be hazardous, who knows what has been dumped in there from wrecked cars to toxic chemicals.  There is a quarry in Derbyshire called the Blue Lagoon which looks lovely but the water has dissolved caustic soda from the land around and it will blister and burn skin.

Quarry water can also be cold.  This may not be so much of a problem for those who swim through winter but it can be unexpected.  The top 18 inches of Left Lake a few days ago was quite pleasant, maybe 15C, but reach down to arms length and there was a sudden temperature thermocline to sub 10C.

Perhaps then the advice should be ‘approach with extra caution’.

I had my eye set on the small granite quarry on Caradon Hill and after a couple of hours walking around the mines in the blazing sun I was set for it.  Then the sound of a swing shovel working drifted down to me and as I crested the rise I could see the sun glinting off the arm.  Approach with double extra caution.  The machine is working down the slope and I can slip through the rocks to the flooded bit without being seen and remain unseen so long as I change amongst the jumble of rocks.  Guerilla swimming.

The water is very clear with a deep blue tint, there does not appear to be much rubbish and there are familiar plants in the shallows.  The quarry is small, barely 20m square but the sides drop away steeply into the blue, it is evidently very deep, I will stay at the surface.  The breeze is caught by the bowl of the rocks and scurries this way and that whipping up ripples that run after the wind, colliding and splashing.  The breeze drops and instantly the surface is like glass.  Then the breeze and ripple return again.

I circle the pool twice in each direction.  Reaching down with my toes there does not seem to be a sharp temperature change which possibly means the water is flowing and is possibly the source of the stream that feeds the mine reservoir further down the hill.

I am drying and having a staring contest with a sheep and completely fail to notice the sound of machinery has changed.  The bulk of the bright yellow dumper rises into view 20m away and I hope that the man driving it is watching where he is going and not looking at what is probably for him the overly familiar scenery.  Against the sun reflecting from the pale rock I am probably quite effective hidden in plain sight.  He drives on, I get dressed , now if anyone comes I can always just claim I was paddling my feet, so long as they don’t notice my dripping wet hair.

Ten minutes later back at the car and I am roasted again.  Three hours later after prowling the airless burning desert of dumped spoil at Phoenix United mine I am melting.  Fortunately Golddiggings Quarry is only 15 minutes walk across the open moor where there is at least a breeze.  The quarry is busy with a bit of a party, several people are jumping from the highest point whilst two others are circling the water in blow up boats.

The water is less clear than at Caradon but still pleasantly warm though the breeze whips up the water in places.  I make a couple of circuits but my days of mad jumps are far behind me now, so it is time to head for home.

Driving along with the windows down my hair is very nearly dry by the time I reach Callington.  On a whim instead of turning for Saltash I head off towards Gunnislake and Kit Hill. There is time for another quarry whilst the sun is shining.

About the same size as Golddiggings, Kit Hill Quarry is however more enclosed and now late in the day about 1/2 is in shade.  This is a popular dog walking place and I can’t help but feel that may have something to do with the grey-greenness of the water.  It is however warmer than either of the others and I do a slow circuit in the dwindling sunshine.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

It has been a day of contrast and in 3 weeks I’ll be back this way once again.




Intergalactic Towel Day

The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy has much to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

Clearly anyone who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where their towel is, is clearly a person to be reckoned with.

The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

Towel Day
Intergalactic Towel Day

My towel was given to me when the galaxy was still young, small furry animals from Alpha Centuri were real small furry animals from Alpha Centuri and the Hitch-Hikers trilogy was as yet a radio show in two series.  It did not however come from the Salisbury branch of Marks and Spencer.


Ticks – the small crawling kind

It is tick season and for the next 3 months they are likely to be out in force up along the river banks and for some reason they find me irresistible. I plan to spoil their fun.

Some obviously grab on to my clothes as I push through longer grass or bilberry plants which seem to be a favourite and that is sort of unavoidable.  Some I’m sure drop onto socks and shoes in a similar way, they are going to hang on there and get me later. But I am sure some also find out clothes etc. whilst I’m off swimming.

I have adopted strategies in the past with varying degrees of success, such as standing on rocks surrounded by water to get changed and hanging all my clothes in a plastic bag from a tree whilst swimming.  Those have been somewhat successful, but if one is caught on the outside of clothes and you put them in a bag it’s not long before they are on the inside of the clothes.

No matter how thoroughly I check after I get home there are always one or two that get through and the first sign I’ve been bitten again is usually there is an itch at the site of any previous bites.  Then the search is on.  If you find them quickly enough they can be eased out with either a very fine pair of forcep tweezers or one of the special tools you can buy on-line or from vet surgeries and that is usually that.  If it’s later and they have properly got a hold then there will often be a little, itchy scab for weeks after.

That is unpleasant enough, notwithstanding that I do not want Lyme Disease.  Look it up, it’s nasty and whilst Dartmoor has been mostly a low risk environment so far, Lyme Disease is more common on Exmoor and it cannot be long before it moves south.

There are pesticide sprays for clothes but I’m not keen on the idea of that when some will inevitably get on my skin.  However there are also many suggestions for natural deterrents based on smells that either put ticks off or mask the smells that attract them.

The #1 recommendation is rose geranium oil.  Thereafter the popular choices are peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, lemon, citronella or rosemary, singly or in combination.  On the upside, and I’ll smell better too.

Now, because I want to not only protect myself but also mask my clothes and bag etc. I am taking the view that a spray before a run applied to shoes, leggings, bag and towel would be as well.  However, for spraying I’ll need to get the oils into the mix and they don’t dissolve in water.  With a little experimentation I have found that a blend of 15 drops of each of eucalyptus and citronella form a stable suspension in 100ml of 50:50 water and alcohol.  I have heard a suggestion to mix them into vodka which has a 40% alcohol content so I could see that being quite effective if expensive.  Blending in vinegar is also a suggestion, but what exactly will that leave me smelling like?

If you visit the cosmetics/haircare aisle of your local retailer of choice you will find spray bottles with contents for a small cost.  Pick something you will use (children’s hair detangler £2 works for me) and you are ‘quids in’.

Now all I have to do is put it to the test and also order some rose geranium.

The Return of the Infinity Pool

Though there has not been a great deal of rain and much must have soaked into the parched moorland the river Dart is nevertheless a foot deeper today than last Tuesday.  Horseshoe Falls is a swirling cauldron and much of the beach at Wellsfoot has been swept smooth, whilst the river at Sharrah Pool crashes down the cascade and spits foam and bubbles from the swoosh.  It was definitely a good move to get here in the early morning as the cascade is lit by bright sunshine and the beach is bathed in warm sunshine as I change.

I am swimming back up the pool, quite hard work against the flow until I get in the lee of the big rock, to run the swoosh a second time.  Looking up I see there is a heron stood at the top of the cascade in the dappled light under the oak trees.  We stare each other down, it’s not often you can get this close, but he ‘blinks’ first and flaps in the untidy way of herons everywhere into the air heading away from me.  He evidently didn’t go far as a moment later he sweeps by just above treetop height, still struggling for lift and then he’s gone down the river.

I shoot the swoosh again and then follow the heron downstream, a second dip already planned, I am interested to see what the river level is at Holne Weir.

A month ago the water level covered the concrete of the weir from bank to bank, a few inches deep at the bank and 6 inches or so in the middle.  The effect whilst floating in the water is that of an infinity pool.  However, when I stopped by last week the water was flowing entirely within the central spillway having dropped steadily day by day which rather spoilt the effect.

The water has risen sufficiently after the rain and once again covers the weir from bank to bank.  Unlike further upstream however the water of the pool is completely calm, like water on glass reflecting back the blue sky, clouds and freshly greened trees.  The only give away that the water in the pool is flowing at all is the little eddy around the fallen tree, until of course it comes crashing over the weir.  The best view however is from the pool itself.

Diving in below the bridge the strong current in the narrow channel whooshes me downstream and it takes a brisk bit of swimming to regain the step in the rocks to do it again.  Then it is simply a case of letting the current take me down under the fresh green leafed trees that were all bare sticks just a month ago.  The mandarin duck pair hesitate, they are becoming more familiar with me but in the end they skitter down the water, not really getting airborne and then dropping back in.  There were 2 females for a while, maybe one has eggs or chicks.

Nearing the weir the infinity effect takes over, the river looks as though it runs straight up into the trees and the line across the top of the weir is smooth, even and unbroken, it is only close up that the dimple where the sluice is shows up.  The real give away is the spray rising in billows from beyond the watery horizon catching the sunshine and sparkling though not quite enough to produce a rainbow.

More rain is forecast, maybe the infinity pool is here to stay for a few more days yet.


Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

Friends on the Road

I ran up to Sharrah Pool yesterday and was actually quite pleased with myself.  A few years ago I was doing this run at least once a week and could fly it, but I have been struggling to keep fit, and so after a quite energetic period recently I had made it non-stop.  Not with anything like the speed of previously but nonetheless.

I had expected to have the pool to myself and in a sense I had as the other person was packing to go.  The water was crystal clear and shafts of sunshine picked out the crystal mosaic of deeply sunk granite pebbles.  Leaning forward from the point of the big diving rock, I bounced up on my tiptoes and touched down on the water.  As I flew along the river bed waves of sunlight refracted by the broken surface raced away from me lost to sight as I surfaced, blinking madly in the sunshine.

The other visitor, now blurry through eyes left teary by the cold water called me.  Andrew was having a mini Dartmoor adventure.  We chatted briefly then he headed off and I dropped back into the water to ride the swoosh, splash in the bubbles and chase the trout.

Today I found myself at Clevedon Marine Pool.  I had planned to visit last New Year but it was closed for repairs, but now driving by on the motorway it was only a short diversion.  I’d never met Richard but I do know the smiley swimming hat design so I mentioned it and quickly realisde we have spoken on-line so we chatted briefly.  I was on the way in and standing in my swimwear in the biting breeze straight off the Severn and he was drying and chilled after his swim so this was no time for hanging about.

The pool is to be drained again soon as there is a persistent leak.  Anyway, a change of water would not go amiss as it is grey-green and was not inspiring me.   It was however pleasantly warm and I gently swam up and down twice, a token gesture, whilst trying for a few pictures with an unsuitable camera under an uncooperative cloudy sky.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

Swimming in salt water is strange enough, I think it must have been two months since I was last at the beach, that’s what happens when the river warms up.  Stranger still is the thought of the steep drop beyond the retaining wall and line of sight to the pier.  What, I wonder, happens if the leak becomes a flood and the pool with me in it drains into the Severn?  Whilst occupying myself with that thought I swam into a crab line discarded in the water and it wrapped itself round my throat and tangled in my hair.  Reluctant as I was to put my feet down for fear of discarded bottles or other hazards I didn’t really have a lot of choice in the matter.  The crab line was duly rolled up and stuffed down my swimwear, they can come in handy.

And so I find myself jogging back to Sharrah Pool after work.  It is deserted today and the water feels cooler.  However I have brought my goggles all the better to chase the trout.  Or not.  They keep effortlessly out of arm’s reach and I speculate that dynamite may be the way forward! The chill breeze is still there and I’m gently shivering by the time I’m dressed again.

Jogging down the path I almost sweep into J, A and M, who I knew had plans to head to Sharrah but later than I could afford to be.  Once again I stop and chat.  It has been an eventful and friend filled couple of days and only to be expected I suppose amongst a small but sociable group of swimmers.


Recycling Beach Finds

One thing I have found to do with some of the pot buoys salvaged from the beach (and it doesn’t matter if they have a puncture or a split) is turn them into unusual garden lanterns.

Splice (it’s fun to learn and here’s a stepwise instruction, but tie it on otherwise) a bit of beach found rope to the eye of the buoy.  Remove the valve stopper with a screwdriver and drill out (6mm should do) the valve just wide enough to slide an old piece of electrical appliance flex into the buoy; vacuum cleaner flexes are good as they are nice and long and usually have a moulded on plug too.

Wild Swimming Recycling
Wild Swimming Recycling
Turn the buoy eye down and mark 3/4 of the way around a circular object placed on the buoy; a 1 litre paint tin works for me.  Now cut a 3/4 semicircle (I know but you get the idea) in the other end of the buoy to create a flap just enough to get your hand in.  The plastic is quite easy to cut with a fresh ‘Stanley’ knife blade but look out for your fingers.

Pull the wire through, strip 2 inches (50mm) of the sheath from the flex and 1/4 inch (5mm) off the ends of both the blue and brown wires (cut away the green and yellow earth wire to the sheath of the flex).  Wire on a pendant light fitting (unscrew the 2 parts of the pendant, thread the wires through the ‘cup’ part, fix one to each terminal of the bulb holder part (it doesn’t matter which way round) and hook the wires under the lugs on the bulb holder before screwing the two parts back together).   In an ideal world there will be no wire showing from the pendant only the sheath of the flex, but it’s often a matter of practice to get the wires exactly the right length.  Attach a cable tie to the flex 2 inches (50mm) or so above the light fitting to stop the flex pulling out of the buoy or the wires getting strained and fit a low energy bulb.
Wild Swimming Recycling
Wild Swimming Recycling
Draw the flex back and cable tie the electrical flex to the rope. Change the fuse in the plug to 3amp.

Now hang the buoy up and use silicone sealant to seal around the flex where it enters the valve of the buoy making sure you get the sealant right down around the flex.  Leave it unmoved and allow 24 hours for it to cure and ta da!

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming
Obviously if you are unsure about wiring the lamp holder yourself get some help it really requires only a low level of competence, though a qualified electrician will probably not want to put their name to the project.  And even more obviously and this is only common sense, if you are going to use these outside put a circuit breaker between socket and plug and don’t let (rain) water get to the electrical connections.  I have had these outside all through winter in all weather and they have been just fine so I know if the job is done thoroughly it will be just fine.

Summer’s Here

It was a dull grey morning, cold, breezy and without promise.  But I hadn’t been standing around on Dartmoor at 5am yesterday morning with the local morris dancers singing up the summer not to have confidence.

“Hal-an-Tow, jolly rumbelow,
We were up long before the day, oh,
To welcome in the summertime,
To welcome in the May, oh —
For summer is a-coming in,
And winter’s gone away, oh!”

Lunchtime and the blue had out paced the clouds and as the breeze dropped there was more and more blue eventually leaving not a cloud in the sky.

I was just changing in the gloriously warm evening sunshine when J arrived having been looking at the swimming options further downstream.  Spitchwick it has to be said is rarely my first choice as there are usually too many people and too much litter.  On a day such as this however I know the sun will be absolutely perfect for an evening swim at the top pool, though not so the bottom pool where it will be down behind the trees already.

The transition in the water is remarkable.  Ten days ago it had that bright zesty lime green tint.  Last week it had gone almost clear again.  Today it is dark orange after the rain on Monday washed peat off the moorland upstream and that is the colour it will stay until October.

J has not swum here before and it is ideal for that, easy to walk in to the water, easy changing, the water is slow moving and deeper under the cliff.  It does have it all in some ways.

The ‘new’ second hand wetsuit arrived this morning, it’s a little tighter than the previous ‘identical in every way’ one I have worn out, except the tightness of course and the feel that it is made with slightly thicker neoprene.  It is most certainly tighter and keeps the water out until I am waist deep, or maybe it is just that the other is full of holes, the worlds first fishnet wetsuit.  It’s not a pleasant thought.

We share the water for 15 minutes and in the end it is only the lateness of the day that forces us out.  The water is only just over 10degC but I always feel that sunshine adds several degrees especially factoring in the black wetsuits which absorb the sunshine.

We change and chat, talking about other places to swim and non-swimmer’s reactions to the whole idea, but as J says, ‘it is so invigorating’.

With a hope we will catch up again soon we head off to our respective cars as the sun nudges ever closer to the horizon and shadows draw out across the grass.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall