Holne Weir

I have now adjourned lock, stock and towel to Holne Weir and made it for 12 sunrise swims here on the trot, a run only broken today by torrential rain.  Whilst some might say that shows a lack of imagination, I’d paraphrase the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy “When you are tired of Holne Bridge, you are tired of life itself.”  What’s more as time has allowed I have been here 5 or 6 time maybe in the evening too.

What gives it such drawing power?  It is very easy to park on the road and only a 2 minute walk to the water, there are lots of places to get changed and I now have a peg on a holly tree with my name on it.  It is the simplest thing to step off the weir and swim to a little beyond the bridge, which is outrageously scenic.  On the downside it can get popular because it is just beside the road and the opposite bank is a campsite.

As for the swimming there is a deep water channel up the middle of the main pool about 3/4 of the way after which you need to swim directly to the rope swing, passing about 2m off the white rocks on the right bank and missing the very sharp rocks in the placid shallow water on the inside of the turn that you would otherwise have swum smack in to.  Tight in to the bank under the swing turn left and swim towards the larch tree on the far bank, turning in mid-river and swimming upstream heading about 1m off the rocks on the left.  Drift to the right and you will hit sharp rocks again as the channel is deep but narrow here.  Then swim directly for the middle of the span of the bridge head after which head straight up the middle of the river aiming at the rock in mid river at the start of the rapids.  It is 340m from weir to rock and following this course misses everything underwater.

The swim varies in intensity depending on river flow.  If the weir is water bank to bank I can barely make progress beyond the ½ way point of the weir pool.  As the level drops from there as it has over the last 2 weeks it reaches a point where the bridge is achievable and though you won’t know it as you set out it is just possible to reach the rock at the rapids when it is just clear of the water.

The river bed adds to the fun however, the channel shallows and narrows so that the approach to the rope swing is quite push.  Under the swing is the deepest part and almost still water.  From there the river bed begins wide and shallow but it funnels, deepening and narrowing to the next rocks and passing them is a push until almost at the bridge.

There the channel is as wide as the span of the bridge and maybe 10 feet deep, certainly enough that people will jump from the bridge above.

Above the bridge the water is chaotic, fast flowing and large rocks on the river bed create sideways currents and counter eddies.  Each swirl opens a space in the flow that is immediately grabbed by another.  Simply being in the water adds to the chaos and sweeping my arms and kicking my legs creates a new set of eddies so that at one moment the water is piled against my face but with the next sweep of my arms a bow wave pushes ahead of me getting drawn upstream by the flow with an urgent rushing sound.

The water shallows about 3m down from the rock but there is a patch of dead water and you can simply float forward over the hidden boulders.  It is only recently that I have noted the profile of the rock is somewhat reminiscent of cleavage and that perhaps I should be gentler when landing my hand on it each time with a slap as a measure of achievement.

Then comes the downstream rush, keeping to the same line but duck diving into the water to scoot along the sand and pebbles of the river bed or twist over the bedrock where it has been worn into flutes.

It is a 20 minute round trip; 12 going, 8 returning and my aim is to do it twice if the current allows.  It will be interesting to see what the flow is tomorrow morning.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming


Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall


The Brown River

Glendun is a valley cut deep into the hills by the small river that flows out to sea at Cushendun.  Even the last couple of days with the seemingly endless rain and with the river in flood it is hardly a torrent so it seems incredible that it has carved this valley through hundreds of meters thickness of durable basalt.

I spotted the little meadow with the series of cascades two days ago.  There is a bit of grass beside the road that has been pressed flat by someone stopping in a car and a tiny stile across the fence.  A small temporary path has been pressed in the long grass.  It leads down to the water and along the marshy bank to a piece of the bank that has been levelled with a pavement of stones under a twisted alder tree.  It is the perfect changing place right beside the largest pool.

Even with the extra flow of rain water the pool is however little more than waist deep and the stones on the river bed are treacherous with a thin layer of slime.

The next pool down is beneath a cascade where the water drops 3 or 4 feet in several flumes and curtains with water that is the colour of molasses.  Right beneath the falls the water spins and churns in a fizz of bubbles and it is about neck deep with limited scope for a swim so I kick about under Gerald’s watchful eyes.  Drifting downstream and I run aground on a fallen branch so it is back out on the bank and down to the next pool.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

The pool has an impressive weir at the top which creates and almost unbroken natural curtain of water but again the cut away at the foot of the cascade is disappointingly shallow and small.  There is one final pool with a small step of inflowing water but it is barely knee deep, though I lie in it briefly anyway for the satisfaction of having done it.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

As I walk out from under the trees heading back upstream the sun finds a gap in the clouds and there is nothing for it but to slip back into the deepest pool to see the water dark brown and backlit in all its glory and looking ever more like syrup.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

It was the following day when I swam again at Cushendun that I discovered the river had turned all the sea water in the bay dark orange too.

Flash Flood

There was tragic news earlier in the week about 9 people killed by a flash flood in Arizona.  They were enjoying a sunny day at a popular swimming hole unaware of the torrential downpour miles upstream.  Apparently the first anyone knew of the changing conditions was a rumble like thunder and then a wall of water came down the river and was on them in seconds.  As is clear from the video in the above link it is not only the water but the debris in the water that causes such tragedies.

People say the River Dart is a ‘flashy’ river though it is not immediately obvious how that can be.  Yes there are relatively big flood waters but normally from looking at data on the Environment Agency River Level Monitoring Site it looks like the levels rise and fall relatively slowly.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

Flash floods do happen here: Lynton and Lynmouth in 1952, Boscastle 2004, Coverack last week, but are thankfully uncommon.

As far as the Dart goes yesterday brought what was a borderline flash flood as recorded on the above Env. Agency website.

Wild Swimming Still Pool
Wild Swimming Still Pool

On Thursday evening I swam my usual twice up and down the 300m pool near Dartington.  The river chattered over the stones and was still perhaps an inch or so higher than the typical summer low after Tuesday’s showers and just touched the last of the steps near the swing which hangs 6 feet clear of the placid, clear water of the main pool.  I swam with a girl who had stopped off on her run, 2 boys were messing about with snorkels in the shallows by the sandy beach and the 2 girls were taking turns on the swing.

The forecast was for rain.

When it came it was torrential hammering deafeningly on the tin roof at work.  I had to go and take a look at the river.

Beneath the bridge the shallows and banks of pebbles where the heron had been stalking yesterday had vanished.  However, the water might be just an inch deep, a covering and with no marker there was no knowing.

At the pool though it is obvious the level is up about 4 feet if not more.  Tree branches drag the surface and the steps have gone along with the little step from which I dive and the concrete ledge is being washed over.

Stepping into the water at the edge of the beach it is waist deep where yesterday there were dry stones and I wade out to the trees where dark brown water slooshes around the willows.  The water here is however barely flowing, dammed into a little pool by trees and bank.  Walking back along the bank it is clear that in just a few minutes the level has risen to fill the hollow under the leaning tree trunk and back at the steps the ledge has gone.

The water in the enclosed corner stirs gently, there is less flow than in the mainstream on a normal day and I bob easily in the surprisingly warm water keeping place with just gentle flicks of my hands and feet but with nowhere to go there is no point in staying in longer than to take a few pictures and watch the world quite literally pass by.

Hauling myself out using the small tree it is clear the water is rising fast.  It has now breeched the last of the rock and the oak tree roots are awash leaving just a few inches of the tallest rock poking above the surface and even that get swamped once in a while.  As I dry off I see a tennis ball whisk by and several plastic bottles and a surprising amount of potential firewood.  A long heavy length hitches on some trailing tree branches hauling them down until the log is released and the branches spring back with a crash.  The log broadsides the next branches and sticks creating a dam and a noisy gurgle of water.

The last of the rock is finally covered and at the same moment the water catches the tail of rope at the swing and sets it dodging and rocking, the water pulls one end in, flips it up and the other end is dragged in.  That is a rise of 18 inches in 30 minutes.

What looks like a honeydew melon in terms of colour and size spins past.

I’d like to stay and watch (as it turns out the level will not peak for another hour and the monitoring station upstream shows another 10 inch rise yet to come) but instead I’ll come back in a day or too and look for the tide line of debris on the all but submerged fence beyond the vanished beach on the far bank.

More heavy rain is however forecast.