Sharrah Pool: a weekend of opposing halves.

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.

wild swimming
wild swimming

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.

wild swimming
wild swimming

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.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

Advertisements

It’s all uphill!

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.

wild swimming
wild swimming

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.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

The Pool Below the Bridge

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.

wild swimming
wild swimming

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.

 

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

Diving In

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.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

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.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

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.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

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.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

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.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

 

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

Swim Bingo

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.

Two weeks down and this is my progress.

wild swimming
wild swimming

 

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

The Last Polar Bear

I did my second for March and therefore final qualifying swim of the polar bear challenge back in the first week of the month and there have probably been 10 or more since.  However, it has been a poor swim month due to the weather, notwithstanding swimming at Sharrah Pool in the snow, another qualifier.  However I claimed the first official swim of the 2017/18 challenge just after dawn on 1st Nov and figured I’d try to claim the last with a sunset and blue moon swim.  Again the weather had other ideas.

It had been blowing and raining pretty much since Thursday and all the while I’ve had a nasty cold too.  Some people say you shouldn’t swim with a cold, but both running and swimming I qualify that by saying just so long as it’s only a head cold you’ll be fine.  You may feel awful, but you’ll be fine.  I feel awful, but the clouds are clearing a little and awful is not going to stop me.

The beach beneath Hope’s Nose is of course deserted though the fresh boot marks in the mud of the path tell a tale of someone coming and going.  The shore is sheltered from the breeze and the water slides softly on and off the pebbles and rocks.  I’ve walked to the far end of the beach and have begun a pick up of plastic bottles and other trash when I spot the boat fender.  And it’s a nice one, nearly new, in a dark blue jacket with new rope too, someone is wishing they could tie proper knots; this should be worth an exchange for a bottle of wine.

I soon have a bag full of rubbish.  The clouds are obviously not going to clear but the skyline over Torquay is a brightly glowing yellow band which leaves Thatcher Rock as a striking silhouette.  And thankfully the seal that was lazing just off the rocks appears to have gone.

Across the bay and back, that’s the plan, considerably more than the 200m required of the challenge (about 5x more), but if you are going to get wet you may as well get decently wet.  At first the water is dark beneath but once the sea bed falls away the water infuses with a clear green tint and though the wind is in my face I’m soon nearing the far headland.  Two seagulls are perched on a rock and I have decided that when they fly off that’s me done.  The first takes to the air whilst the second shuffles its feet nervously.  I’m looking at the people silhouetted on the next headland I guess with my bright pink Swim Secure tow float they can see me too and then the gull raises its wings, lifts off without a wingbeat and glides past me with an angry squawk.

Instead of just turning around I swim out a little towards Thatcher Rock to see the fading sunset and I spot a bird I don’t immediately recognize.  It lets me swim quite close before diving under the water.  It’s a shag, with a very pronounced crest of feathers, that’s what threw me.  I am mid-way between shore and Thatcher Rock and seriously contemplate swimming out but the light is already fading from the sky.

With the breeze behind me it is a more pleasant swim back and I go a little faster which is just as well because my left hand has got very chilled.  I swim in to the rocks and wade up the inclined slope of one large flat boulder to my clothes.  That was a great way to finish the challenge, roll on November, but not too quickly.

wild swimming
wild swimming

It turns out the fender costs about £45 new and the jacket £25 so even with a little hole in the jacket, the unblemished fender must be worth more than a bottle of wine.  Ebay it is then.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

My Little Piece of the Mediterranean

The last few feet onto the beach are the trickiest down a steep slope of solid packed mud with a veneer of loose gravel flakes poised to slip away from beneath a foot which would send me tumbling into the rocks.  There used to be a much easier way but that bit of hillside slid down to the beach a few years ago.  But I’m there and it is worth it every time.

wild swimming
wild swimming

The beach is small and the warm sand has that sea salt smell whilst a scent of pine drifts down the hillside from above.  It is the dark pines that give this bay its Mediterranean feel and I know of no place else along this coast that matches this distinct appearance.  I strip down to my swimming kit draping my clothes over a sand polished tree trunk whilst squinting out over the blue water to the banks of billowing clouds.

wild swimming
wild swimming

Into the water and I swim out past the headland.  There is more breeze out here and the water whips into my face whilst the swell flings gouts of foaming water into the gaps between the jumbled boulders.  A yacht is sailing into the River Dart estuary, heeling over, slowing righting then being battered down once more by a fresh gust.  That lurching I know from experience is not pleasant sailing.

I swim in the clear green water across to the far side of the bay where two oyster catchers come circling low over the water making their piercing cry before swooping down into a nook between the rocks.  Maybe they have a nest.  That reminds me that I should try and get a look in at the cormorant nest at Elberry, the hen bird was sat on eggs a few weeks ago and I am guessing there should be chicks now.

Drawing my swim out far longer than I actually have time for I zig-zag a course back towards the beach until finally the water becomes cloudy with stirred up sand and the swell lifts be onto my feet and onto the beach.  I grab my shoes and clothes and dry and change on top of a rock where I can dangle my feet into the waves to rinse the sand from between my toes.

Finally I stuff my bag with litter, mostly torn and shredded plastic bottles but with a few chunks of polystyrene too and I’m on my way again.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall