07/08/2014 by Carl Reynolds
We leave at 4.30am to beat the traffic, to ride away from the dawn, to go west, to swim in what Mrs Ape calls the best part of the UK…and she’s only been there once before. We’re off to South Hams – the bit of Devon directly below Dartmoor with the Dart the boundary to the east and the Tavy framing the west – although my swimming friends in Devon will no doubt set me right on that! For me, it’s the rivers, the tors, the marshes, the wooded valleys, the countless holloways, the cliffs, the beaches, the friendliness, but not the cities or the dormitory towns.
At 9.10 we are the only car in the car park at New Bridge. We sigh, we slip out of our city shape and back into our more ape like state. We aurally and visually inquire, tracking a deer through the workings in the wood; a tiny frog across a rivulet; a raptor swooping through the verdant branches; hidden bicycles and sleeping people on the beach at Wellsfoot Island; Chicken of the Woods on trunks; animal forms in gnarled trunks; abandoned nests; possible offerings from a wandering hedge witch. There is no concrete, there are no houses, there isn’t any else awake and around. We are with, not on or over. And accompanied at all times by the serialism of the Dart rushing down from the tors above to its rendezvous with the sea miles downstream.
A little short of an hour later and we see Sharrah Pool through the trees. The sun is poised just right to send shafts of light into the pool giving a golden hue to the rocks. We take our time getting in – there is no need to rush, however hot we’ve got from the stroll up – and then luxuriate in its welcome cool, its massive wetness and the charge from the cataracts current. And then, all of a sudden, we need to leave. We have an appointment with Sophie.
“Oh, you’re really near. Just walk back up the road to my house”. Some grub and chats later – we are after all swimmers – we convoy, picking up Lynne (aka WildWomanSwimming) down to Ayrmer Cove for a late afternoon swim. The tide is out and as I wade in through the detritus of seaweed I am reminded of the Lion’s Manes caught in the tidal wash back on Anglesey and have a moment of trepidation. But Sophie assures us that it’s jelly free and we pootle off breast stroking over barely visible reefs. I have a long swim down the Dart planned for the next day, so am out after ten minutes or so; and we chat some more and watch Sophie nick in and out of reef after reef. We later confess to forgetting to bring her wonderful book Beyond the Beach – the secret wild swims of Torbay to sign and make arrangements to meet on Wednesday night to sample one of them.