The great thing, one of the great things, one of the many great things about Devon open water swimmers is their enthusiasm. So on a sunny Sunday afternoon you know they will be out there, at the beach or along the river bank and sure enough I have not even left the car park before I hear a cheery ‘Hello’ and there are two familiar smiling faces crossing New Bridge. The news from along the river is that up at Bell Pool the water is clear and chilly, this is good news because that’s the way I’m headed. Eventually, but in the meantime I’m heading down river.
When the sun shines it really is a glorious afternoon, but out of the sunshine the north wind is cold, cold, cold. The pool at the bend of the river at Spitchwick is bathed in sunshine and the ground is much drier underfoot than last week. Meanwhile down at Buckland Bridge there is a tide line of leaves from the recent floods well up the bank and this year only a single daffodil nods vivid yellow in the shadow of the bridge. Maybe the floods carried the rest away.
Along the path to Bell Pool the floods have left a similar fingerprint. The ground has been washed out in places, covered in drifts of golden sand elsewhere and there is a litter of branches and tree trunks. At Bell Pool I see the tree trunk that has been stuck in the corner for several years has been snapped and lifted up onto the rocks, those poor daffodils didn’t stand a chance.
The water is clear with that springtime zesty lime green tint especially where it is tumbled over the rocks at the top of the pool, the myriad white bubbles give vibrancy to the colour. As I hang my towel and clothes on the lower rungs of the iron ladder I again wonder when and by whom it was put there, it is afterall a long way and a rough path along which to carry a heavy metal ladder and bags of cement. It has however stood the test of time notwithstanding that a few years ago I straightened the handrail up after it had evidently been hit by something heavy being carried along in a flood.
From the moss carpeted rock platform it is about 5 feet down to the water, it looks deep enough to jump but that would be a mistake and instead it is a little scramble down the footholds to the plinth at water level. The air is chill but the water is beyond that, I am only ankle deep and regretting it already. This is the moment to turn back (never!) or take the plunge (wo hoo!).
On the far bank of the pool (actually an island) there is a swathe of golden sand, beached by the eddy in the water, the same eddy that carries me up to the cascade. Pushing off into the main flow the river whips me towards the rock platform and at the last possible moment sweeps me to the right. Now I can see down the river where the sun has found a bigger gap in the clouds and the tops of the hills are lit up with a glow that speaks of late afternoon and impending sunsets. There is however plenty of time to go around the swoosh again only this time I catch the rocks of the platform and clamber out.
The tree tops along the ridges of the hills have now turned ‘sunset orange’, whilst just 5 minutes in the water as turned me lobster pink: lobster frigidor. I had better get a wriggle on and jog back to the car, I am looking forward to warming up again.