Thursday, 22 September 2016

Low water magic

I love a really low tide.  It reveals rarely-seen marvels, and no more so than at London Bridge Natural Arch in Torquay.  When we arrived at the beach it looked as though someone had pulled the plug out.  The conditions were perfect, a calm blue sea, and as we approached London Bridge I spotted a 'new' cave - well more of a slit actually but exciting none the less -  that I'd never seen before because I've not swum here on such a low tide before.  Allan and I swam in and saw brilliantly outlandish Dead Men's Fingers, a form of soft coral that look more like Dead Men's, ahem, something elses, and then to our great excitement saw a beautiful array of pink life forms that we later discovered were Jewel Anemones.  We then swam on through the majestic arch, and into a double-entranced cave with more exotic marine wildlife including Elephant Hide Sponge and Devonshire Cup Corals.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Some summer highlights

Anstey's Cove, Torquay
South Milton Sands
I've been so busy there hasn't been much time for blogging so I'm just picking out a few memorable swims from the last couple of months.   A blistering afternoon at Anstey's Cove when it felt like Greece.  Several stunning swims at Goodrington where friends have opened a brilliant new bistro, Cantina.  Numerous dips in the blissful balm of the River Dart, where the latest temperature was about 17.5 degrees.  And a lovely swim with Kari and friends at the National Trust watersports festival at South Milton Sands, complete with spider crab.
River Dart 

Monday, 20 June 2016


Image by Avigail Kahana
It's been a busy few weeks, hence fewer blogs.  Why? Well my great pal Matt and I have been launching our new book, Wild Swimming Walks: Dartmoor and South Devon. We kicked off with - even though I say it myself - a rather stylish event at Delamore House, a stately pile on the edge of the Moor.   It's owned by the lovely Nicky and Gavin Dollard who didn't bat an eyelid when we asked if our guests could swim in the lake - in fact they thought it was a brilliant idea.   So one May afternoon lots of people turned up, swam to the strains of a wind-up gramophone on the bank,  and then looked at the amazing art in the gardens and house (and also consumed some Prosecco).  Then, a few weeks later, our wonderful friends Queenie and Kate who are starting a new restaurant in Paignton, Cantina, hosted a pop-up bistro for us at Goodrington Park, right by the sea.  It was the hottest day of the year and we celebrated with the most delicious swim and even more delicious paella cooked by Kate. Happy times.

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Dart Slither

Setting out
One Sunday morning at 0745 hours we rendez-voused in New Bridge car park in our guerilla gear: head to toe neoprene accessorised with boots and gloves. The plan: to swim/scramble/slither all the way down the Dart Gorge from Dartmeet to Newbridge.  There was much speculation as to the time it would take. (Walking it takes about 4 hours). The party having assembled, we squashed into one car and headed up to the start.   We set off down the path by the river and walked to our usual first pool.  We stayed in the water and started our descent. We went through channels, climbed over boulders, and dragged ourselves through narrow cascades, discovering that goggles were essential to spot looming rocks.   We soon realised that swimming was going to be the least frequent activity; but when we hit a pool, ah the relief!  Some of the 'swooshing' was quite hair-raising. At one point I got wedged as the water pinned me to a rock; fortunately my natural padding prevented me from getting hurt. Halfway down we stopped and feasted on sodden Marmite sandwiches: our supposedly waterproof rucksacks had not proved up to the job.  Eventually, 6 hours later, we arrived at New Bridge; even the dogs were totally exhausted.
The first pool 

Negotiating boulders

A much-needed stop

Broada Steps
The sodden Marmite sandwiches

Friday, 20 May 2016

In pursuit of a pool

Watching a wren by the waterfal
A lot of my swim expeditions involve trying to find a place that I've built up in my imagination, often having found it on a map and speculated about what it might be like beforehand.  (an activity which often results in disappointment I might add).  But on this occasion I was setting out to try and find a pool I'd found by accident over a year ago, and hadn't had time to stop at.  I remembered it as the most idyllyic small pool with a rowan tree hanging over it.
The remains of a Bronze age house
.  Alex and I returned to the Merrivale area, and I was pretty sure I knew where the pool was, having noted it was by a fence which was marked on the map.  Anyway, the whole walk turned out to be absolutely wonderful, taking in Great Mis Tor, described by Victorian travel writer John Murray as the grandest hill in England, and from which we could see the coast all the way around from Torbay to the South Hams and finally to Plymouth where we could even see the Tamar Bridge.  We then did a big circle, going to a waterfall on the River Walkham, before walking downstream to find the pool, which was as lovely as I'd remembered it.  We then finished our walk by weaving our way through an extensive Bronze Age village which was fascinating.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A very special sunrise swim

I hate getting up early but sometimes it really is worth it.  Today was a case in point.    Swimming slowly in the silky soft sea, seeing the horizon getting pinker by the minute, and finally the moment when the sun popped up, in its dazzling glory, above the Imperial Hotel. We were in Torquay, by the Hindu Temples caves, which get miraculously lit up in the morning sunlight. Jackie was swimming with a waterproof bag, in which she had secreted a breakfast 'starter' of cream cheese and smoked salmon, which we ate on a sun-drenched rock in front of the caves.  We swam around for a while afterwards, revelling in the magical dawn, and then repaired for a cooked breakfast on the sandstone headland.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Signing and swimming

It's quite an exciting time at the moment, as the new book I've written with my pal Matt Newbury is out.  It's been a real collaboration, not just between Matt and me, but between all our wonderful wild swimming friends too, who have helped us with the research, tested out the walks and swims, taken photographs and generally been incredibly supportive.  We got our hands on the books this week and so have been meeting up with people to, frankly, flog the books but also to go swimming!  Today we met up at New Bridge where it was really good fun seeing everyone, chatting about the book, and then heading off for a swim in nearby Ladies Pool which was teeth-chatteringly cold at 7.5 degrees. Thank you to Avigayl Kahana for the photos.

Bouncing through the chasm

Most swims rarely turn out as expected.  My ideal swim at Sugary Cove involves gin-clear azure sea, blazing sun and flat calm, so you can enjoy a serene passage through the dramatic gully.  Well on this occasion we certainly had the sun, which was marvellous, but there was quite a swell, and far from a peaceful glide through the chasm, we got unceremoniously swooshed in, bounced along and then spat out. Not what I'd set out wanting, but totally invigorating and fun,

Monday, 28 March 2016

An unsatisfactory swim. But a v satisfactory walk.

Where I tried and failed to swim
This Easter weekend the weather has been all over the shop.  It was a beautiful warm sunny day on Good Friday (when I was working, natch). Saturday, Sunday, and now Monday have seen hail, sleet, sunshine and angry downpours.  On Sunday we set off for the coast near Coleton Fishacre, and as we approached the sun was shining but there were black clouds threatening.  We parked at Coleton Camp and made our way down past fields of sheep and January King cabbages to Scabbacombe Head.  We headed towards Pudcombe, because I wanted to try swimming at Ivy Cove, where fellow blogger Chris likes to go.  Well that proved quite challenging as it involved quite a bit of rock climbing, and there were strong winds and a rough sea so in the end I wimped out.  I was determined to get a swim though, so we decided to walk back to Scabbacombe Sands, via a different lower path.   This turned out to be quite a detour as there were numerous hairpin bends, but it was all worth it because we saw a gannet. Miracle of miracles I had my binoculars with me and so got an amazing view of it bombing along parallel to the shore, beating its great ink-dipped wings   It was a steep slide down a muddy field to the beach.   As I was getting ready to swim somebody up there decided to go apoplectic, hurling down rods of rain.  So it was a quick dash to the water and a skinny dip, but the swell was considerable, and I wasn't wearing shoes, and kept slipping on rocks underfoot, so didn't manage to get properly submerged.  Some days things just aren't meant to be.  It was a beautiful walk on a stunning bit of coastline though. Oh, and we saw a seal.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Springtime green

We're having lots of spring-like sunny weather this week, and when I went to swim in the Dart with Yaara on Monday afternoon we were astounded by the zingy-green clarity of the water.  The river doesn't often look like this, and from memory, it seems to be like this only at this time of the year.   Sometimes it's like lime soda, today it was more of a minty green.   As we plunged in, with the sun sparkling through the water, we felt completely alive. Gingerly, we put our faces in and the view below was equally invigorating:  an underwater landscape of green and grey rocks, seemingly scrubbed clean of any dirt.  I remembered Sharrah Pool looking like this once, and looking back at my photos I see that this was in February 2014,   Perhaps all the rain washes the riverbed clean towards the end of winter,  and then when the sun comes out in Spring it lights it up in all its new freshness.

Sharrah, Feb 2014