For a reason or reasons I have yet to even satisfactorily explain to myself I have decided to swim from the dual sources of the River Dart to the sea; in all about 50 miles, to connect up with my coastal swim from the mouth of the Dart to the mouth of the Teign, in itself about 30 miles. 50 miles is not so far, people have swum the length of the Thames in this country, which is the better part of 200 miles. However, you can drive your car and park at the source of the Thames, whereas, to reach the source of the East River Dart is a 7 mile hike across open moorland.
Thereafter, the Dart snakes and winds through marshes and bogs and you find yourself walking barefoot through waist high bracken or battering through gorse on the open moor from one pool to the next. Further downstream it becomes a case of playing hopscotch over granite boulders from where the East and West rivers confluence at Dartmeet and dive through the gorge all the way to New Bridge. In fact, and speaking from experience, of those 50 miles it is only the mile above the weir at Totnes where it is not a logistical challenge to get to the river before ever dipping a toe. And access to the tidal section is not easy either.
I have covered the river bit by bit to the point where just the very upper and very lower couple of miles remain, but there is a tiny break, one and a half miles of the East Dart above Dartmeet where the opportunity has simply not presented itself. Up until now that is.
The almost 3 miles downstream from Postbridge through Bellever was very disappointing with not a single place to get anything approaching swim but for one very tiny pool. My minimal expectation is however lifted almost at once by the sight of a modest pool with a small swoosh. I will walk on to where I ended my previous exploration first, but I have that at least to look forward too.
The river begins a long curve above a small island. The bank is close cropped grass beside the river then a swathe of cracked and tattered bracken stems left from last year, but bluebells have poked their flowers through the dross and new bracken stems are uncurling racing to outstretch their neighbours. There are more pools here, not massive but enormously inviting, offering an escape from the sunshine down under the trees, trees that have smothered the unseasonal chill breeze.
If I was warm before I am sweltering now. The river is now tree lined on both banks, it has turned out of the breeze and the open grass has given over to boulders that have to be climbed over and marshes that have to be cautiously skirted. Progress is slow and very warm indeed. However, my landmark is in sight, the join in my journey, but there have been no further pools since I passed the stepping stones, not that it has been without reward. The river banks and hillslopes are cloaked with bluebells. No other native English flower puts on such a display, the ground is a carpet of blue.
Returning now to the first pool I cautiously pick my way into the water over slick rocks. Disappointingly it is little more than waist deep anywhere but there is ample opportunity to slide downstream with the flow then turn and breast stroke back. I sling my bag off one shoulder and carry my waterlogged boots in the other hand by their knotted laces, it is only 100m to the next pool and so on to the next and the next. Each is much the same but the contrast of glittering dark peaty orange water against lush green grass and white cloud dotted blue sky never ceases to enthrall.
From the open common to the last pool is a lot further, but there is no point in getting changed only to have to change again and putting on cold, clammy shorts is no fun at all. Besides I have seen no-one for at least half an hour, it is now getting late in the afternoon and I am assuming I am on my own. What exactly the couple walking their dog made of me I would not like to hazard a guess. Dripping, with thick black mud half way to my right knee from crossing the last oozy bit. They’ll get over it in time and with the right counselling.
This is the perhaps the best pool, deepest, with the river forced into a Jacuzzi between jumbled rocks, but there is only so much swimming to be had in a pool that is at most 5m by 5m. Besides, if I change now I can do so in the last of the sunshine before it is shaded out by the trees and that little bit of warmth will be most welcome.