Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day swim

The sausage and sprout sandwiches were packed, the parsnip soup was safely in the flask, and we were ready to set off for Mothecombe for a festive swim. The sun was shining and it felt great to be out. There were hugs and kisses as we rendez-voused in the car park; we then headed down to Coastguards Beach. We'd been hoping it might be calm in the estuary, for a contemplative high tide swim, but no such luck. Large waves pushed us around all the time and then a big black cloud came along and rained all over us. Coming out we noticed some new graffiti on the wartime pillbox; at first I thought it was exhorting us to "Meditate" but closer inspection this turned out not to be the case. The only disappointment of the day? The sausage and sprout sandwiches. We won't be making those again.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Historic bathing

Despite the cold, I felt in strong need of immersion, so set off for Anstey's Cove in Torquay, where the water is usually flat calm and where, it is said, Agatha Christie used to swim. The afternoon sun glowed over the fairytale pinnacles at Long Quarry Point; this promontary is home to Devonian limestone which is around 400 million years old. I slipped off the rocks into the water and was immediately drawn out of the humdrum and into the seascape.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Father Christmas is here

Every year Santa brings his sleigh to Ashburton, with generous sponsorship from the local Rotary Club. On Saturday mornings he brings Christmas cheer to the shoppers, and in the evenings he travels round the town broadcasting carols.

Pants come to Ashburton

The latest addition to Ashburton's retail offering is a lingerie shop, in an enviable position next to the public toilets and the bus stop. It comes hot on the heels of the tattoo parlour which opened a few months ago. Are we moving away from the antiques and chintz?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Bountiful Bellever

Not much swimming to report recently due to lurgy. At the least the rain has now stopped and it feels properly like winter. We went to Bellever Forest, in the middle of Dartmoor, to gather greenery for festive festooning. It was cold up there but the sun, gleaming through the trees, was glorious.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Angry river

They say the Dart claims a life every year. Well it claimed a life this weekend - that of a canoeist. He was trapped between his canoe and a tree on one of the most inaccessible sections of the river, below Mel Tor. The Dartmoor Rescue Team had to walk for hours, climbing down into the gorge, to bring him out on a stretcher. Today the river was still boiling with rage.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Swimming through fairyland

Tor Bay has always been a place where ships shelter. Today, despite all the gales, it was serenely calm, and there was a magical sense of otherworldliness, a paused dimension, as we entered the water. We swam from Elberry Cove to Broadsands, past a series of crinkly, pointed rock formations that looked as though they should be home to mythical creatures. My very knowledgeable friend Sue tells me they are the fossilised remains of corals which grew here 360 million years ago, when the sea was shallow and tropical. There were caves and little inlets and channels to swim through. It felt like another kingdom.

Let's go fly a kite

A big storm has been rampaging through Devon. Roofs off, fallen trees etc. Perfect conditions for kite flying. We headed for Bonehill Rocks on Dartmoor. The kite was alive. Here, there and everywhere it went; at one point I nearly got decapitated as it zoomed down in a kamikaze nose dive.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Fungal fruitin'

The 'shroom season has been a little disappointing. It started in a rush of excitement at the end of August, with lots of chanterelles, but the Indian summer, lovely as it was, stopped the fungi in their tracks. The good news though is that the hedgehog mushrooms go on for much longer than most. Today my friend Amanda (shown with handsome specimen) and I took a fledgling forager out to 'show her the shrooms'; fortunately we managed to sniff some out.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

A pressing engagement

Apple day in Ashburton. A friend's orchard, a small tractor, a crusher and a press. And last but not least, a (mostly) willing gang. The bottles weren't especially elegant, but that's the reality of recyling.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The kingdom of Yarnia a place bursting with wools in rainbow colours. It's where knitting novices are welcomed with kind hearts, cups of tea and endless patience. We went 'into the wardrobe' at Spin a Yarn as knitting virgins. Half an hour later, we were ensconced in their workroom, cuppas at hand, and already onto the third row of our first knitting assignment - dishcloths.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Adventure down the Avon

It was the third time I've swum down the Avon estuary, from Aveton Gifford to Bantham, and each time has been different. Today it was overcast and there was a strong wind constantly pushing us back. But halfway down the estuary it calmed, and we floated on our backs by the bank, under gnarled old oak trees, gazing up at the leaves and watching them fall delicately into the water. We then stopped on some mudflats in the middle and sucked on some samphire. At one point we saw the most enormous gathering of swans - I counted thirty three, with nine cygnets. In the final leg of the swim the tide raced and we were swept onto the beach.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Penny bun

Sometimes you come across things when you're not looking for them. We were out in the woods, finding lots of hedgehog mushrooms but none of the elusive penny buns. On the way back to the car, Alex reached up to pick a small specimen by the path - and nearly trod on a beautiful plump penny bun as he did so.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Spot the starfish

What camouflage eh? We found this handsome specimen on the beach at Bigbury. After this we swam around the fringes of Burgh Island and carried out a guerilla raid on the hotel's private Mermaid Pool - a gorgeous tidal pool with a wooden diving platform in the middle. Sadly I have no photographic evidence of this daring feat, but can confirm we did indeed dive off the platform before making our exit.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

In the underwater jungle

There are sometimes days when familiar surroundings feel like uncharted territory. It was hot and still, and the sea around Burgh Island was smooth and benign. The water was calm and clear; we could see every frond of seaweed as we swam over rocky mountains and chasms below. It was so still that we were able to go in and around the rock formations that surround the island, venturing through channels and into coves and caves. At one point we came up against a vast, chunky, almost geometrically carved cliff face that looked, as my friend Anna said, like something out of Lord of the Rings. We were truly in another magical and mystical world.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

One mile swim

Organisation. Precision. Timing. This was the Hospicecare charity one mile swim at Roadford Lake near Okehampton. It was a distinct contrast to other 'organised' swims I've done, which have been anything but. We were colour-coded according to the 'wave' we were setting off in, and then herded into pens before the start. Although the competitive, serious swim isn't really my thing, there were some lovely people there and we had some nice chats.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Postcard puzzle

Rummaging around a charity shop in Paignton I found an old postcard that stopped me in my tracks. On the picture side, there was a photo of the Avon estuary at Bantham. On the other were charming drawings, illustrating a romantic account of a family's sailing trip in their boat Kipper up the river on the incoming tide, during which they stopped by an old kiln and made a camp fire. A true Swallows and Amazons adventure. Read the full story here.

Dart downstream

Autumnal afternoon sun, as well as a desire for the refreshing balm of the Dart, drew us to the river. Rather than just swimming around we felt like going from A to B. We went in at one of our favourite places, which we call, unimaginatively, the Big Rock. Well, it is in fact a noticeably big slab of rock. We then floated, swam, crawled and slithered down the river towards Spitchwick, going through various little waterfall junctions en route. The water was particularly clear and beautiful, probably because there hasn't been much rain in the last week or two.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Foray to Fowey

It's a classy swim when you get medals AND cakes.
I had heard on the swimmers' grapevine (well, from my friend Sue actually) about a charity race across the Fowey estuary. So a small group of us headed over the Tamar, where we found a brilliant trio of women dressed in old-fashioned swimsuits and flowery caps organising the event. It was a rare chance to swim in Fowey Harbour, which is exceptionally pretty; swimming there is normally banned. 86 of us, accompanied by canoes and various craft, swam to the other side of the estuary and back. We all got big gold medals and scrummy customised cupcakes afterwards. The latter courtesy of a local firm called Big Buns.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Round The Island Race

The Burgh Island Race is a wonderful event in the great tradition of British seaside swimming challenges. A mile around the dramatic rocky perimeter of this beautiful half-tidal island, it is a fabulous swim. The event was brilliantly jolly, with Deborah, the owner of the Burgh Island Hotel, announcing instructions via a megaphone. The winner was of course one of the lifeguards. Afterwards we sat outside the Pilchard Inn eating a delicious barbeque supper which was kindly provided free by the Hotel to all the competitors.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Saucy cep

Delight today at finding not just my first Penny Bun mushroom (or cep) of the season, but one shaped like the front of a woman. Don't you just love Nature sometimes?

Monday, 24 August 2009

South Devon Tiger

We were eating dinner tonight when we noticed a colourful butterfly crawling on the window. It looked like some sort of Tiger Moth. My nine year old son got the book and concluded it was a Jersey Tiger. My immediate reaction was to scoff, saying they must surely only be found in Jersey, but how wrong I was. "Found in South Devon and the Channel Islands" said the book. So there you are, South Devon has its very own moth.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Doing the pools

The River Erme at Ivybridge has a series of pools and rapids. There is something for everyone. You can do your lengths in the pools, snorkel and watch the mercurial trout, or take the kamikaze route, canyoning down the waterfalls and chutes. The pools have rather romantic names, including Trinnaman's, Zulu and Head Weir. Today we swam at Trinnaman's, which is fed by a wonderful little waterfall. I was just in a swimsuit, and although the water was cold, it felt beautifully cleansing and refreshing.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

The mushrooms have landed

I can barely contain my excitement. After unexpected 'shroom discoveries this morning (see previous entry) I was inspired to go and see if there was any action in one of my favourite places. And yes - to my delight - I found lots of fungal fruiting. Chanterelles in abundance, some hedgehog mushrooms and bay boletes. Other species seen but not picked included panther caps (poisonous nasties), a larch bolete, tawny grisettes and various russulas.

Sunrise swim

I'm ashamed to admit I have lived on Dartmoor for nine years and never before bothered to get up to watch the sun rise. Well today I did. As we walked past Hound Tor the sun appeared in glorious pink and orange. We then yomped along to a favourite swimming spot, where we got limb-achingly cold doing our early morning laps, before cooking breakfast on my whizzy new camping stove. Oh, and a bit of a bonus - we found chanterelle mushrooms en route, which made an exotic addition to our bacon butties.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The waters of home

"Gee, but it's great to be back home. Home is where I want to be." The words of Paul Simon, and as I swam in the soft peaty waters of the West Dart today I kept humming his song to myself. My two year old niece was with us, who is obsessed with the Wizard of Oz, and we kept quoting Dorothy: "there's no place like home". We were at one of our favourite spots, which reminds me of the Hundred Acre Wood, because of the pine trees. The water is so yellowy that any blue colours we wore looked green.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Wild Welsh swimming

Ok, this entry is a little self-indulgent, as it's not about Devon, but I feel bad as I've not written anything for the last six weeks - mainly because of being away. One of the places I went was the area around the Mawddach estuary in Wales. It is stuffed with craggy mountains, tarns, waterfalls, lakes and rivers, and just captures your heart with its wild beauty. One of the many places we swam was in an old flooded quarry, where the water was blue and crystal clear.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Island adventure

Swimming around Burgh Island with a huge hangover is not a particularly good idea. Still, it never stopped me before and it didn't today. We were a large group, as we were joined by the Outdoor Swimming Society. The waves were, ahem, challenging, and although most of the group made it round, I took advantage of a kind offer by the lifeguards of a lift in their boat towards the end. Note to self; future circumnavigation of the Island requires both a flat sea and a clear head.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Fun run

Running three miles around Ashburton may not be everybody's idea of fun; nevertheless the Fun Run is an integral part of carnival week festivities. This three mile sprint/jog/walk/stagger is usually accompanied by storms and flooding; this year wasn't too bad, just an intense drizzle of rain which helped keep us cool at least.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Enchanted cave

When you are in the water, you are somehow paused in an otherworldly time and place. Today, at Start Point, the sea was turquoise and we swam over gently waving jungles of weed to a cave that felt like the central atrium of a fairy castle. It was full of white polished pebbles, and clear blue water, with shafts of sunlight dropping through.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Long March

You really have to want to go to Red Lake. It is miles from anywhere, in the middle of Dartmoor. We tramped over mire, marsh and ancient barrows to reach it. There are actually three lakes. We swam in the biggest first. The water was very soft and dark and peaty. Two of us, keen to christen all three, then went into the others; the smallest was very warm and surrounded by reeds and bog cotton. We felt enclosed and safe.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Catch of the day

It's always a bonus when you go out and come home with something delicious. My brother James and I were snorkelling off the coast near Kingsbridge, and enjoying swimming around the underwater forests of weed in rainbow colours, when I spotted a large spider crab sitting on a ledge. James dove down and grabbed it, and we took it home to eat. It weighed two pounds - about a kilo. We ate it with home-made mayonnaise and salad.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Adder encounter

Today we shared our swimming pool with an adder. We were cooling off in the Dart when we saw a snake swimming across our path a few metres ahead. It was about two feet long, and unmistakeable with its graphic markings. It was heading determinedly for the bank, where I managed to take a picture of it slithering up and away. After this episode you can imagine we needed a little calming down, which we did by floating around and swimming underwater.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Liquid refreshment

The heatwave continues. I didn't have much spare time today but managed to make it down to the Dart for a quick dip. The water was delicious: cool and soothing. We wallowed happily, and then had fun diving off the rocks and swimming around underwater, looking at the world of cliffs, mountains and boulders hidden under the surface.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Secret lake

The fog hung over Dartmoor as we trudged past a tumbledown tor and headed down through bluebells to the valley on the other side . At the bottom was a wood and a bubbling, rocky stream. Not far from here is a hidden lake. We walked past oak trees in bud and moss-covered boulders to get to it, and then indulged in a secluded swim as trout jumped.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Thurlestone Rock

This was a heavenly swim. Blistering day, millpond sea, and a pilgrimage to a cathedral-like arch. Swimming out was no effort at all, over grey and purple rocky landscapes covered with kelp forests. The water around the Rock was clear and green and deep, enabling lots of jumps and dives.