Friday, 12 May 2017


Swimming is a  way of losing yourself in the vastness of the landscape.  On Sunday I swam at Slapton where everything is enormous - the sky is huge, the sea stretches as far as the eye can see and the shingle is an endless line.   It's a very abstract place, in three colours, three stripes ahead of blue, dark blue and brown, the sky, the sea and the shingle.  The water was clear and I let it move me up and down the shore.  Then I floated and looked up at the sky.  It's that Hardy-esque feeling of being microscopic in the immensity of the world, and it's a feeling I crave at the moment, perhaps to try and make my loss less.  In the last few days I've been in Snowdonia where I climbed a large part of Cadair Idris in a quest to reach a glacial lake called Llyn y Gadair which lies in a bowl under the towering cliffs of the mountain.  It was breathtaking, and I felt a sense of relief on getting there and plunging myself into its icy waters.  

Friday, 5 May 2017

Why I've been silent

At Leftlake, Dartmoor
On March 9th my darling, beautiful son Felix died, aged 20.  He had epilepsy and his death has been put down to SUDEP - Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, something which is little understood.    His death has been like an earthquake through our family and although I have found swimming helpful in the aftermath I have not had any desire to blog about it.  Since March 9th everything in my life has been, and will continue to be, refracted through the prism of his death.  I will certainly blog about wild swimming again but my posts will probably, for some time at least, be preoccupied with swimming and how it aids the grieving process.  I have been trying to get in the water as often as possible and it definitely helps.  You can find out more about Felix and donate to SUDEP Action here.

By the River Dart

In Greece (Felix was never a fan of cold water!)

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Up the creek

Judy has just moved, albeit temporarily, to Tuckenhay, a gorgeous village nestling by Bow Creek, off the Dart estuary, so it seemed only right to go and test out the water.   We walked along the bank admiring the elegant Jane Austen style houses on the hill on the other side, everything in muted February tones:  greys, browns and dull greens.   The water seemed to be heading out fast but when we got in there was actually not a very strong current (apart from in the middle) and we enjoyed swimming upstream and then floating back down.   The friendly curves of the hillsides down to the creek created a sort of secure feeling as we bobbed around in the middle.   It was chilly, at 8 degrees, though warmer than the Dart further upstream, on Dartmoor.  Afterwards Anna tested out her new rucksack, inherited from her father, which ingeniously combines a seat.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Swimming the stacks

 Looking at a friend's pictures on Facebook I could see the sea was flat calm and gleaming like a mirror: perfect conditions for a swim around the weird and wonderful sandstone stacks of Ladram Bay.  An impromptu plan was hatched, and a group of us met up in the car park of the local holiday camp and sauntered down to the beach, where it was indeed lovely, the sea was shiny and inviting and there was even some January sun.  We plunged into the beautiful clear water and swam round the headland into Wonderland.   The stacks stand like sentinels off the coast, rocky remainders of small promontories. One had a hole through the middle, through which we climbed and then jumped out the other side.  After about 15 minutes we started to get cold and swam back to the beach, leaving the magical kingdom behind.    
Pic: Ron Kahana
Pic: Ron Kahana

Pic: Ron Kahana

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Twelve Swims of Christmas

So far I have swum on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and now today (the 27th) I reckon I'm well placed to aim for the Twelve Swims of Christmas.   So far all the dips have been freshwater and, ahem, very fresh, at around 7 degrees...but today we went to Westcombe Beach, where the sea was a much more forgiving 11 degrees.  It's one of my favourite coves, with pink and grey striped rocks in all sorts of sinuous shapes, and all manner of caves and rock pools.  It's a wonderful place to wander around and explore, especially at low tide, and you lose yourself in a weird world of rock.    After a good explore I then had a swim, saying hello to a seagull which was bobbing about nearby, and looking over to Burgh Island in the distance.  Pix by Alex Murdin.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Another trip to the Hindu Temples

Approaching the first cave (photo Aaron Kitts) 
I never tire of swimming at the Hindu Temples in Torquay.  They are a set of interlinking caves in the sandstone cliffs at Livermead; the writer Charles Kingsley described them thus:  "the fantastic rocks of Livermead, scooped by the waves into a labyrinth of double and triple caves, like Hindu Temples..." They are an extraordinary natural feature. On Saturday morning we arrived to find the sea calm and a stunning petrol blue.  The dark entrances of the caves beckoned us in and rock doves cooed above, roosting in the crevices, as we swam into the gurgling depths of the first cave.   The water swirled around in the second cave and I got a bruised knee, but I never mind a few bruises after a swim like that.
Stuart and Olivia 

Mark inside the caves

Monday, 28 November 2016

Pottering around at Heybrook Bay

We set off to explore the coastline between Wembury and Heybrook Bay.  It's a bit of the South Devon coastpath I've never explored before, and what a revelation.  The path is pretty much at sea level, and you walk along marvelling at the beautifully intricate pattern of rocky outcrops and numerous little bays, like natural lidos .  At Wembury Point, we saw a display board which said there was a holiday camp here in the 30s - complete with a man-made lido, the remains of which we could see.   The sky changed constantly, as it does on winter afternoons, with the 'eye of God' - the sun's rays - giving a dramatic appearance to the Mewstone offshore.   In Heybrook Bay, the water was incredibly clear and we had a deliciously refreshing swim, in which we explored in and around the numerous channels and pools.  A lovely afternoon out.

The old lido

The remains of the old lido today

Natural lido
Heybrook Bay from coastpath

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Seal Adventure

Mum - pic by Ju Lewis
When I was a teenager I absolutely loved the Willard Price books.  They were all called Something Adventure, eg Whale Adventure, Volcano Adventure, and South Sea Adventure (to name but three). They were about two teenage brothers who travelled the world collecting exotic animals for their father's zoo, having exciting exploits and encountering loathsome villains on the way.  Well today (Saturday 15 October) we had our own animal adventure.  It all started as we were walking down to a remote beach in Torquay.  As we slipped and slid down the uneven path, we heard an eerie wail/howl which echoed around the cliffs.  Ju thought it might be a seal, and sure enough, as we got closer to the beach, we saw two in the shallows.  Down in the cove, we sat down at a distance to watch them. One of the seals started to hightail it up the beach (as far as a seal can high tail it - it was rather a slow and inelegant process), with, it seemed, quite a sense of urgency.  As she neared the high water mark we suddenly realised there was a white fluffy pup up there.  It was brilliantly camouflaged.   Later, when we returned after exploring the rest of the beach, the mum and the pup had come down to the water's edge.  The pup hauled itself into a rock pool where it repeatedly dipped its head in and out - I guess it was experimenting with the water. We felt so privileged to have seen this seal family.
Pup - pic by Ju Lewis

Can you spot the 3 seals?

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Coryton Cove

Looking up at the tunnel
cheeky seagull 
Smugglers' Tunnel. Pic by Ray Girvan
There was a last-minute post on Facebook from Gilly that she was swimming at Coryton Cove in Dawlish.  I leapt in the car and decided to join her and Charlotte and Michelle who also came along. I arrived first and waited with a gull who was cheekily perched on top of a beach hut.  The sea was not exactly attractive.  It was brown and the beach was absolutely covered with sea weed, brought in by the persistent Easterlies.  Of course once we were in, it was lovely, if a trifle bouncy, and we swam round towards the twin peaks - or 'horses' of Horse Cove, and Gilly showed us the extroardinary smugglers' tunnel half way up the cliff.  Someone has even bothered to build brick stairs inside it. Sadly we didn't get a picture up close. Gilly was the only one who managed to climb up to the tunnel (I got nervous and chickened out)  but was still getting to grips with her camera and didn't manage to get a shot.  However she did manage to take a pic of me looking up at her from the beach!  Meanwhile, a little research on the internet shows that there was an alarming cliff fall here back in 1885 in which three people died.  A disturbing thought, and of course the cliffs are still very unstable today.
Gilly with the 'horses' behind