Lost in the Woods

It’s 9am and faint mist still hangs in the air over Denham Bridge.  The car had been dripping wet with dew when I left the house and even now the air is chill, appreciably cooler than the water of the River Tavy when I dipped my hand a moment ago.  The calendar has clicked around around to the last week of August and a prelude to autumn is in the air.  Sliding into the khaki grey-green water above the bridge the current pushes me downstream.  The water is chillier than my cursory hand dip had suggested and I am beginning to think a wetsuit might have been a better idea than leggings and a cut down t-shirt.  Each time I breathe out I send a whoosh of misty breath across the water.  A car pauses as I drift towards the bridge and through the narrow cut in the rocks, emerging out into mist filtered sunlight again.  Another car pauses.

Wild Swimming

Wild Swimming

The water shallows and I bump over rapids and into the next pool and the dog leg in the river overhung with trees.  The pool with the rope swing comes next and then the bank of pebbles that blocks the river forming a natural weir.  Into the flow again where the threads reconnect and into a long thin and not so deep pool.  It’s been maybe 6 years since I last swam by this way and I think that I have only once been further downstream, none of it looks at all familiar.

Rather than wade the next shallow bit I pull myself onto the bank and trot downstream along the path.  The sun has been obscured by clouds and the air is cold, I am cold, it is either jog on and warm up or go back.  Jog on then.

The path is better in some places than others, it veers from the water’s edge back into the trees then back to the water and now climbs high up the hillside giving me fleeting bird’s eye views of more pools below.  The path broadens, zig-zags down a slope and crosses a largish stream.  It climbs the far slope and then vanishes.  Clearly people have come this way to make the path as clear as it has been, but what happened to them here, were they abducted by aliens?  A forestry track winds off ahead of me through the pines but there is not a single footprint in any of the soft mud patches as though people walk 50 yards along this bit, decide there is nothing ahead of them and turn back.  I am going to carry on, I have warmed up, the sun is again shining up there beyond the tree tops and ahead of me is Lopwell Dam and a big pool on the river and I have decided I’m going to find it.

Not going this way I’m not, the track is blocked by overgrowth.  Maybe I can pick my way down to the river bank.  The ground is clear and firm under 2 large beech trees and it looks like there is a sort of path.  It ends abruptly in a marsh.  Left, right and ahead are orangey-brown water filled pools.  So, it stands to reason that if I go back to the stream it will lead me down to the river.  I retrace my steps.  I’m not cold now, quite the reverse!

The stream quickly starts to lead me astray, winding and turning, I’d swear at one point it started taking me back uphill, but again there is the hint of a path, no doubt taking me into another bog.  Then suddenly it spills me out onto a beach of grey pebbles on the river bank.  A large expanse of water is laid out downstream, it is clear and quite deep enough to swim, but instead I decide to try following the path.  Another 1/2 a mile of weaving and ducking until finally the path vanishes completely and my way is blocked by nettles and brambles.  Backtracking I find a tree trunk fallen in the river and set off swimming downstream.  How much warmer the water feels in the sunshine.  A kingfisher whirls by me heading upstream, that is the second this morning.

The water shallows and I have to wade.  On the bank I can see the spot where the path ended and then I’m swimming again, around a left hand bend, past a decaying boathouse to a right hand bend.  The river goes on but I decide the smart thing to do now is head back, time is getting on and it is at least 1/2 a mile to where I got into the water.  Unless.

Pulling myself up the soft dirt bank on some handy tree roots I’m in a sort of meadow of flattened and matted bracken and nettles.  But, there’s the path.  Path in this sense is where someone or something has passed by once at some time and trodden down some of the plants, now you see it, now you don’t, there it is again a little more distinct, now it has vanished.  I’m back under the trees and the path is slightly more continuous.  On the one hand from experience I know that you don’t actually have to follow the same route all that many times to create a path, but why something or someone would repeatedly pass along this route is a mystery and yet they have done so, as in places the undergrowth is pushed back like here where a tree has fallen and there quite distinctly is a route under, over and around. The path turns me up a gentle slope on the edge of the pine trees and there in front of me are 2 very familiar looking beech trees!  Well at least I know where I am now, not that I was ever actually lost, it was just that I didn’t know where I wanted to go or how to get there.  However, the way back is this way but I’m going to need another swim at the bridge to wash off all the mud I’ve collected.

My 100 Swims South-West Google map.

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