It’s a glorious day; not particularly hot and there is a fresh breeze, but I do not seem to be able to get my head in gear. So before I hash anything else up on the carnival float I think it’s time to call it a day and get in some fresh water.
The breeze up on the moor is hurricane force and right in my face as I jog up the hill and then set off along the abandoned tramway heading for Left Lake. Out on the moor I could be 1000 miles from anywhere. On either side there is a view of last year’s withered and bleached grass now greening from beneath, with here and there a few bracken stems emerging, weeks behind where I swam last week down beside the East Dart River, and above a big sky.
I am so absorbed by the emptiness, swallowed up in reflection, that I round the corner to Left Lake sooner than I expected. Sunk into the moor the water is dark, raised into ripples almost big enough to be termed waves on this the windward shore, whereas only a few yards away in the lee of the bank the water is glass smooth. The beach end is somewhat sheltered and the tiniest ripples wash the quartz sand beach as the myriad tadpoles twist and writhe amongst the reed stems and lily leaves.
The water is summertime warm and so ‘soft’ in this old china clay pit that it feels like it slides frictionlessly across the skin, or more to the point doesn’t feel at all. The circuit takes 10 sedate minutes, gliding through the sheltered water on my back watching a skylark rise and fall against the endless sky, then shunting back through the waves and slipping beneath the surface to swim a few yards in amber silence.
In an earlier post I made the case that for this 100 Swims in 2016 a swim would be defined as somewhere that either couldn’t be clearly seen from or readily swum to from another swim. On that basis Left Lake is about the best fit for that and yet I am now going to break the rule.
Jogging on up the tramway about 500m and there is a grass covered mound off to one side, it is my signpost ‘turn this way’. Down the grass covered hillside, over patches of sheep cropped grass, through patches of wind stunted blueberries, ever closer to the river. The final 30m is near vertical but it takes me to two crumpled rowan trees, the last trees up the river onto the moor and the only place to cross the river on natural stepping stones without getting wet feet for a long distance either up or down from here. Up the far slope, onto the open moor again and The Dancers slowly rise up from the grass as I approach.
The breeze rattles and tattles the brittle stems and the cotton grass ducks and flaps with each gust. It is not the most remote circle on the moor, that is very likely White Hill, but on three sides the hills encircle the space at a respectful distance, whilst southwards the river valley snakes away to the deep cut below Sharp Tor. Northwards the longest Neolithic stone row in the world flies straight as an arrow 3 miles to Green Hill. 4000 years these stones have stood here, summer and winter, sunshine and snow, they’ll not notice my passing no matter how often I visit, but I keep coming back anyway.
Down along the river, out of the breeze and the temperature’s rising again, but it’s only a short distance to the weir on the river. The water is peaty orange but crystal clear. I drop my shoes on the pier and slip off the wall into the water. The temperature of the moorland streams traces the seasonal temperatures far more closely than the main rivers or the sea. A few days of warm sunshine and the river, like the lake, is gloriously warm.
For the next half mile the river swirls through the shallows, divides and reforms around the old tin streaming relics and finally rounds a sharp corner and tumbles down a falls into the seclusion of the trees and a small pool at Piles Copse. And there’s another small pool at the tail end of the woodland, just deep enough. Later in the year it will fill with brown trout, but for the moment it is just full of me.
From here it is a little over a mile back to the car park, up a hillside that is awash with bluebells and dotted with the hut circles of the people who presumably built The Dancers. I am left to wonder if these fields of bluebells were here 4000 years ago and if the residents of these huts had the opportunity to stand and stare.