À bout de souffle

It is just about 7am as I take the bridge over the River Dart at Staverton.  The low sun casts long shadows, but even so it is apparent that the river level is still high after recent rain as the shoal of pebbles is fully covered by water.  As I walk down though the trees the sound of the river seems more urgent that usual and it cannot be the sound is carried by the breeze as there is none of that.

It is rare that there is not some breeze, today is that rare moment.  The water is unruffled except where the flow that is indeed at least a hand’s span up on summer ‘normal’ surges over rocks that have been unseasonably submerged.  Not a single leaf twitches, the rope swing hangs motionless and even the sunlight reflected from the water fails to dapple the undersides of the leaves.  Totally still and almost totally silent.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

Diving from the rock there is very little light in the water under the tall oak tree but out in the middle of the river there is a sudden change from shade to sunlight which reveals the sand and pebbles out of reach of my fully extended toes.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

The river bed has been changing in recent years.  There used to be a beach and the sand used to slope gently out into mid-stream except when it collected a coat of sunken leaves which bubbled when disturbed.  But the floods of 4 years ago and since have set in train a reconfiguring of the profile.  Some of the bigger logs were dislodged which exposed the longer buried more rotten wood and that has put up no resistance to the river.  Now the beach is barely 1/2 the width it was and beneath the water the edge is a vertical drop off into water deeper than I am tall.  What’s more the exposed face beneath the water is just more compacted twigs, branches and sand, so I expect the erosion to continue.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

The water is chilly despite the sun and each time I breathe out I leave a thin, white cloud hanging above the water.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

Climbing up the bank and looking back the river has been reset to ‘still’ and there is as yet no hint of a breeze so that all there is to tell I have been there are a few splattered watery footprints.

 

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

Shifting Seasons

The equinox and solstice are of course astronomical events that whilst marking a very precise moment in the orbit of the Earth about the Sun (Eppur si muove as they say) are somewhat variable in their timing in relation to an Earth bound calendar.  This year the vernal equinox was yesterday at 10:29 in the morning local time.

Nevertheless on that Earth bound calendar the equinoxes and solstices are used as the marker for winter into spring, or spring into summer etc., as was the case yesterday, but it’s completely arbitrary and has little to do with boots on the ground.  If it were otherwise and marked a genuine environmental change then I feel confident that my boots on the ground would not have met frost this morning.  I am looking for something more.

Yesterday could not have been the beginning of spring.  If spring = sunshine then driving cold rain from a leaden sky does not a spring make.  Today though there is sunshine and bright white fluffy clouds against a blue sky and if I hunker down behind the rocks where there is shelter from the scything wind that carries more than just the memory of the frost this morning, then this could just about be the beginning of spring.  Close enough at any rate.  Why exactly I feel the need to mark these totally arbitrary days with a swim is beyond me.  It’s not like there won’t be more swimming.

The sea is calm under the low cliff out of the breeze, but further out cat’s paws turn the sea into a scratching post and further out again white horses rear against the horizon.  The water is crystal clear by local standards and from my vantage point I’m looking down on a fronds of seaweed waving about a submerged rock that I know to be 6 or 7 feet down and beyond that the seabed glows white, with each pebble clearly seen.

Three, two, one ….

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

There are a number of schools of thought about the best way to get into cold water, many centred on what cold water shock can do to you.  Which is make you drown in case you were wondering.  Most advocate the ‘gently ease your way in’ approach, possibly by splashing your face with the water which apparently helps.  My approach remains, just bloody jump in and remember not to breathe when my head is deep under water no matter what my reflexes may be telling me.

Woo hoo! My yelp echoes back from the encircling rocks.  It would be a shame not to go again. And again.  And 4th time for luck?

The rocks here, though probably not unique, are unusual; dissolved or gouged away by current or marine creatures I don’t know, but they have become pocked and fluted into a many faceted landscape.  Though an absolute sod to walk on they appear distorted in the shimmering sunlight as if in a hall of mirrors.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

Fifty meters across the water though there is a small sea arch. It dries out at low tide but today it is just and just submerged.  Diving down under it my head is put in an ice-cream head vice until I emerge puffing and blowing into a lagoon of still water, where the sea bed is all bright white pebbles.

Two walkers are looking down on me.

‘Isn’t it a bit cold?’

‘It’s not warm’ is the best reply I can offer.

Actually now they’ve mentioned it, I am starting to feel it and I have the swim back yet.  Predictably I am distracted by the opportunity to swim through another sunlit channel in the rocks and dive down to the shimmering seabed again before I have to face walking over the barnacle encrusted knives to my towel.

I shiver my way back to the car and my teeth chatter on a mug of tea back in the office.

Nevertheless I have captured a moment of spring, propitiated to the spirits of sunshine and evoked the glamour of summer.  Not bad for an hour’s work.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall