As I drive towards the moor the canopy of cloud that has shrouded Paignton all day breaks apart: first a streak of blue over there, then a patch here, and here, the cloud coalesces into cotton wool balls until the tipping point is reached when blue outweighs white. That is about the moment I cross New Bridge. I had thought to return to Black Rock to try for a better jumping photo but instead I have decided to cross off another swim location and make my annual pilgrimage to Wellsfoot.
Wellsfoot has been built up in the ‘wild swimming’ press out of all proportion to reality and it appeared in Wild Swim by Kate Rew and Wild Swimming by Daniel Start, both books published as part of an open sky swimming reboot. It has the advantage of being convenient yet seeming to be out in the wilds, it is after all only a 10 minute level walk from New Bridge if you know where you’re heading. It then immediately has the slightly unexpected aspect that it is the far side of an island, an island that is reached by a bridge made from 2 pine trunks nailed together with planks beneath an unhelpful sign that now reads ‘Private Bridge Keep Of’, the second ‘F’ having been scratched off years ago and now even the memory of it is fading fast.
The sign however is soon to be redundant. The bridge moved again in the winter floods and is now at a wild incline at the far end and at arms reach from the wire handrail. Even I am more apprehensive about it than is usual as the ‘bounce’ now has the soggy feel of something rotten and about to give. However all the planks are still in place and I’m taking credit for that having nailed a number of them back in place a few years ago.
The sand strewn footpath through the trees is littered with sticks and branches; all winter flotsam, and amongst the nodding bluebells a tide line of leaves is still piled high. Then I am at the beach. It is in bright sunshine which also illuminates a few feet of the shallow water, but beneath the cliff on the far side the water has a dark slate hue exactly as the rocks.
I’m sure the water is clearer than Wednesday, I can see underwater almost the full width of the pool and that is I think a first, but if there is one thing of which there is no doubt it is the water is colder. I’ve had my head under for no more than 10 seconds but my lips are tingling with cold and icy fingers are jabbing into my temples.
True enough then the location is fabulous but the swimming is not. Most of the pool is less than waist deep and the sand quickly yields to rounded boulders which in turn give way to sharp edged blocks at the top end of the pool where the current runs fastest on the far side. And at its very deepest it is no more than 6 feet in a small hollow right in under the cliff where the sun never shines. Ten minutes and I have circled 3 times, taken my photos and given myself 2 more doses of ice cream head.
The sun has ducked behind the trees on the far bank as I step from the water and I am just unhooking my bag from a branch when I catch a glint from the sand, a coin, with only a short edge showing, buried treasure, 50 pence, not mine that’s for sure. I sweep the sand just to be sure but it is the only coin. I give it a rub in the traditional fashion to bring good luck, it never fails, and the sense of anticipation as I walk back is like Christmas come early.
I am now sufficiently far through this that I have set up a new 100 Swims South-West Google map.