The river water temperature is 10.4C, which means it is getting warmer, but even so it has given me a burst of ice cream head after my exploration of the bottom of Hembury Pool. I also seem to have snorted a fair quantity of river, stupid really as there is a nose clip fixed under the velcro of my watch strap. Give it a second or two for the pounding in my head to stop, nose clip on and down periscope again.
Hembury is one of the larger pools on the Dart and like Holne Weir it is deceptive in that from the bank there is no indication of the deep water channel that winds beneath the surface from the cascade at the head of the pool 300m to the wide open space above the island. At one point the channel becomes a miniature canyon with jagged, vertical walls of torn apart slate that funnel in as the river bed gets deeper and deeper. Deep is a relative term meaning 12 feet here, but given that the very deepest pool on the river above the weir is only 19 feet and mostly 3 or 4 feet is to be expected, Hembury pool is the Mariana Trench of the river.
Up, up! Head hurts, head hurts! I am not feeling the chill in either my hands or feet, but my head is being crushed from all sides.
The pool is at the bottom of a deep, wooded valley and consequently the sunshine is short lived. During my first swim down the pool the sunlight still reached the lower end of the pool, but now that is in shade and the shadow is racing upstream. I haul myself out using a tree branch and stumble on feet numbed by the cold back along the sandy path to the head of the pool.
Back in the water I am swept down by the tail race from the cascade battling against the flow in water too shallow to risk kicking with my feet, puling myself hand over hand on unseen boulders into the still water on the far side of the river, right up at the cascade. As I am lying in no more than 12 inches of water to take photos there is a flash in the water and a silver-green elver wriggles past me in a channel in the rocks. Eels are said to be abundant in the river but that is the first I have ever seen.
The sun is now low over the pool, clipping the hilltop, with the final shafts of light picking up the splash and foam of the river. I push off into the rough and tumble with no option other than to let myself be swept along and in a blink the sunshine is gone before I have even reached the rock.
The evening is done; goggles off, gloves off, ear plugs out, nose clip? How is that possible, how did the watch strap un-velcro and then do itself up again? But the nose clip has gone, or put another way, yet another nose clip has gone. I think I am keeping the makers in business as I don’t seem to be able to hang on to one for more than a single swim. On balance though I think this evening was a winner.