Summer Solstice

100 swims has experienced a lull in recent weeks in no small part because the weather has changed from warm and still to blowy and wet.  Sticking with that theme, last night was more mid-winter than mid-summer.

The forecast was however that the day would improve, good news, as I spotted 6 months ago that this summer solstice would be somewhat special as it just about coincides with the full moon, same day if not the exact same hour and minute.  That called for something special and a swim in the middle of Dartmoor at Red Lake which has a vantage point that is hard to beat would be the thing.  Disappointing then that the perfect warm, clear, still evenings of 2 weeks ago when, on one occasion I was to be found floating serenely in the River Dart at 11pm under a sky full of stars, have become something of a fading memory.

The 3 mile walk across the moor took over an hour with me carefully placing every footstep to avoid the potential for going knee deep in water or worse still, black, peaty ooze.  What’s more, Broad Falls, where I usually cross on a well known (to me) set of stones, was a raging torrent of flood water. The sound roared and echoed off the deep valley sides, I didn’t need to get down to the river to know it was impassable.  Fortunately there is back up place, but that necessitated a small upstream detour and then with a large rucksack firmly strapped to my shoulders a leap of faith from one slippery rock to an equally slippery grass bank.

As we established our camp beside the lake other weary walkers drifted in and soon there was a cluster of tents on the short grass.

It was about 9:30 when Jackie called out ‘look, look!’ and from a strip of cloud that hung along the horizon the full moon lifted into a break in the clouds.  For a few moments it hung there, larger than life against the curving outline of the moor, straw yellow and finely detailed.  Sometimes it is best to just stop and stare than dash for a camera.  The moment was fleeting and then the cloud moved on and the moon lifted up and was gone, its further progress across the sky marked only by a sometimes brighter patch in the cloud.

Meanwhile 180 degrees across the sky the sun was setting but out of sight.  It did nevertheless find a break in the clouds and the whole sky lit up, a strip of intense orange at the point of origin with a wash of pinks, reds and purples spilling out over the clouds and reflecting off the water, Red Lake indeed.

As the display faded we changed quickly and waded over the sand into the dark, mysterious water.  For 10 feet out from the edge of this abandoned china clay pit the submerged beach shelves gently, then in the space of 2 tentative steps I could no longer touch the bottom.  The small waves lapped at me as I moved out to the middle of the lake.  I was perhaps no more than 50m from the edge in any direction but under the fading sky the banks were black silhouettes.  Across and back and a short swim in the shallows but then it was time to get out, the water may be warm but it was not that warm.

It was a short night that never really got dark under the thin tent ‘canvas’ and by 4:40 it was again ‘as bright as day’.  The wind that had dropped away to nothing soon after ‘dark’ had returned; cold, damp, bringing with it a mist that curled around the shores of the lake and threaded its way through the grass and reeds without touching the surface of the water.  From our vantage point on the spoil heap above the lake the tatters of shredded clouds scudded by at eye-line whilst high above loomed fuller, wetter looking billows.

Then it came, the glow across the horizon brightened and shafts of sunshine lanced their way though the rift, lighting up the clouds.  Golden shafts swept across the moorland, bursting through, levering the rift apart and even washing us with a palpably warm glow.

As the sun climbed higher it cornered the spoil heap and washed the lake with short lived warmth.  We missed it and by the time we hit the water again, now noticeably chillier than it had been the evening before, the sun was gone, the mist was thickening and transiting into tenuous and then very light drizzle.  From standing we had now gone to swimming in the clouds.

By 7:00 the tents were packed, the ground swept for any trace of litter and our little band set off to different points of the compass already looking forward to the same time next year.





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