Sunday, 25 August 2013

A swim, a scramble, and some gnomes

I am, as fellow blogger Lynne put it, a broken woman.  But only in the physical sense, and I'll recover in a day or two.  Why? Well I fulfilled a long-held dream to swim a 3 mile bulge of the Dart between Staverton and Totnes, and what's more I did it with a lovely bunch of people.  It took us about an hour to get ready by the time we'd all arrived, chatted, sorted out car logistics, and driven back up to the start. We got in at Staverton Mill where the river is smooth, fast flowing and eminently swimmable...but were soon grounded as the river shallowed and then turned into rapids.  It was then a combination of slithering, walking and swimming until we reached Still Pool, where there is a rope swing and mini-cliff.  More crawling, and then finally it got deeper as we arrived at the waters below Dartington Hall for the final stretch.  This I had assumed would be easy,  but I hadn't taken into account the majestic wideness of the river.   There was hardly any current to carry us, and the water felt almost viscous, treacle-like; sensual but  also hard-going, especially after two miles of scrambling/swimming/walking.  Lynne and I were swimming together at the back of the group and were pretty exhausted by now; we got slower and slower, and eventually dragged ourselves out up the bank like prehistoric mudfish, before walking on wobbly legs back to the cars. But what a swim! A journey through a tunnel of  green, with a constant dappling of light like a kaleidoscope as we moved over a gorgeous mosaic of stones, some almost jade in colour.  The water fizzed with gold-streaked minnows.  But the highlight was the gnome garden high on a bank above the railway line. There must have been at least fifty of the wizened little creatures watching us swim by.

Thanks to Allan Macfadyen and Stephanie Simon for the pictures.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Dawn at the Hindu Temples of Torbay

Sometimes you just have to have faith that a plan will work. Back in the real world, that was proving a little difficult when I opened the front door at 05:15 to a depressing Dartmoor drizzle.  It had all seemed such a magical idea: a swim at sunrise in Torquay.  We would drift through a set of sea caves, dubbed the "Hindu Temples" by "Water Babies" author Charles Kingsley, as the sun's rays lit up their mysterious interiors. We tried not to feel disheartened as we set off through the damp darkness, but then the mood changed as the ever optimistic English cry of "it's brightening up over there" rang through the car. On arrival, there was the faintest pink tinge on the horizon in the east, and as we got changed it got more and more intense.  Into the water, and the colours were changing all the time; as the sky turned from pink to burnt orange and back. Inside the caves, the water was petrol blue against the terracotta sandstone.  We swam on, over reefs festooned with weed, watching fish dart in and out, and shoals of sand eels swirling around.  Then it was out for a fry-up on the handily-placed flat rocks overlooking the sea.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Showing a rookie the ropes

Matt and I recently took out a charming Frenchman, Olivier Vergnault, on a wild swim. He works for the local paper, and we were hoping to get some coverage for our book.  We'd decided to take him to London Bridge,  a dramatic rock arch in Torquay.  It's a short, easy swim that never fails to make an impression, especially as you approach the arch; it looms above you spectacularly.

 However as he unwrapped his box-fresh new wetsuit, I started to wonder if we were mad taking him out; the calm clear seas were turning dark and choppy. What is usually a short, easy swim, turned out to be anything but, as not only was the wind against us, but to add injury to insult, there were jellyfish too.  Olivier confessed afterwards that he'd found the experience quite, ahem, challenging, but despite this he has asked to come out with us again! Read his hilarious report here.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Simple pleasures

I had a day with my goddaughter today; particularly precious as I am the only female in my household. She's 10, and a brave and adventurous swimmer.  We went to Maidencombe, a lovely little cove at the northern end of Torquay.  The cafe there is selling my book; we dropped off more copies before heading on down to the beach where we had two glorious swims in exceptionally clear water.  We swam along the left hand side of the beach, winding in and out of the rocks and gullies; we saw dark silhouettes of wrasse against the sand, like shadow puppets, and numerous shoals of glittering sand eels.  There are several great lumps of rock in the water which have fallen off the cliffs above; the water around them is blue and deep and we had fun climbing up the thickly barnacled ledges before hurling ourselves off the other side into the depths below.  Then it was back up the steps to the cafe for bacon rolls, before back down to the beach for more swimming.  A perfect summer's day.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Mermaids (and mermen) of Burgh

The anticipation was building;  all year we'd looked forward to it.  The "Official Round the Island Race" at Burgh Island.  And this year there was going to be a special section for 'most glamorous competitor".  Kari, Rachel and I had been planning our outfits for weeks.  Kari was to wear a specially designed 'rockpool' cap, I would be in my vintage costume, complete with fringing and pearls, and Rachel would be attired in a black and silver spandex dress with shoulder pads.  Woof! You can imagine our disappointment when we got a phone call in the morning saying the swim was cancelled because it was just too rough around the island.  Well, we thought, we shall go anyway, we can still pose and parade.  Which we did, draping one male companion, John, with grey beads,  and ourselves around the gates of the hotel.  (Our other male companion, Miguel, declined both peals and lipstick).  We then set off through the swell and waves to the Mermaid Pool, where the water was calm, warm and green....we swam to our hearts' content in there while the stormy seas raged around us.