Thick mist hangs over the fields and sifts through the trees that overhang the country lanes I am travelling, leaving fat drops of dew that randomly dab the windscreen. The early morning sunshine is slowly dispelling the white blanket, but it is chill out there and birds huddle on the wires, soaking up the sun’s warmth.
New Bridge is deserted, it is afterall 7:30 and along the road up from Ashburton I didn’t pass another car, which is a fairly rare event.
I have not taken the footpath along the northern river bank since February when the trees were still gaunt stick figures. They are now almost in full leaf and it is sufficiently dim and cool along the footpath that emerging into the sunshine at Wellsfoot Common makes my eyes blink. Further on along the path I note several more trees that have toppled in the last two months; it has been a very bad year for the trees.
Beyond Upper Sharrah pool the footpath runs clearly through the trees then vanishes abruptly. From here on periodically it reappears clear through the blueberries and grass, whilst at other times it simply vanishes between or over the rocks. Surprisingly, since I have not taken this bit of path in probably over 2 years, I am able to pick out landmarks: a boulder here, a twisted tree root there, a piece of driftwood wedged high in a holly tree. There are however several parts that have changed dramatically where the river has undercut the bank and the ground has slid down and been carried away by floods.
Approaching Mel Tor Pol along the far bank is a bit of a struggle, especially in the final stages and you find yourself slithering down a steep excuse for a path and out onto the rocks without actually seeing where you are headed. From this side however it is possible to keep right at the water’s edge and get a postcard view of the pool.
There is a little breeze here, possibly created by the flow of the water through this steep sided valley, whatever the reason it nips at me as I change into shorts and pick my way carefully over the slippery boulders. Unlike yesterday evening at Dartington the water here still retains a memory of winter making me puff as I swim upstream against the fast current before side slipping away from the falls and along the shelf of rock. Above me the rope swing sways forlornly. I have never dared test it and now the end has tattered to such an extent that it is out of reach anyway.
The slope of rock ends in a lip about 2 feet out into the pool and 12 inches beneath the surface. It is perfectly safe to dive in from the edge of the water having first checked that there are no unexpected obstructions left here by floods. Taking off my goggles I flip into the water. Ooh, ooh, that’s cold, ice-cream head, eye smarting cold, but not too cold that it prevents me from going around again, and again.
I swim up to the cascade.
I can think of only 2 other places below Dartmeet where the combined flow of the East Dart and West Dart rivers is channel through a narrow constriction such as this. Elsewhere the river spreads out through multiple channels or sweeps over boulders or hangs in sheets from falls, but here the whole river surges through a channel barely 18 inches deep and that, were it not for the slippery moss, a person could easily jump. The funnel effect does however shoot the water at a fair pace and launching into the flow I have to paddle quite hard to stay afloat and away from the boulders around and below me, until finally I rest up against the big rock at the foot of the pool.
It is however now time to get out, get dry and more than anything, have a brisk stamp along the footpath to get warm!