Floating on my back I felt the warmth of the sun on my face as the river’s current turned me in slow circles on my lazy drift downstream.
A blue damselfly danced in the air inches from my face before joining others along the riverbank. Turning to watch them I realised I was no longer an intruder into this delightful slice of nature; somehow my immersion into the water had made me a part of this changing landscape.
With an easy breaststroke I made my way back up this 100-metre stretch of the river Dart known as Sharrah Pool and reached the small waterfalls at one end.
Here I lost myself in the simple pleasure of riding the swirling rapids before they evicted me back into the flow of the river, which was a wonderful start to my first wild swim.
Wild swimming in rivers, lakes and on the coast peaked around the 1930s when lidos became popular. But after World War Two, indoor and heated pools were the new trend and swimming outdoors was largely forgotten. It saw a resurgence in the late nineties when writer Roger Deakin set out to swim the waterways of the British Isles and later published his experiences in a book called Waterlog.
Now there are numerous books and online resources if you are looking for inspiration. Online is where I’d found information about Sharrah Pool on Dartmoor and decided it was time to dig out my wetsuit and take the plunge.
Though Sharrah Pool is a well-known wild swimming spot, it’s not too busy as the nearly two-mile walk from the car park, plus other nearer swimming spots, seem to deter the crowds. For me the walk was part of the adventure and from New Bridge it starts as the
Two Moors Way footpath taking you through the beautiful Cleave Woods and then, keeping to the main path closest to the river, into the National Trust Holne Woods.
The walk through this ancient oak woodland is like a gradual immersion into nature and you can spot the ruins of a derelict Victorian pond and other signs of previous use along the way.
The last half mile is marked by a small waterfall next to the path before you emerge out of the woods and over a stile where you can tantalisingly glimpse the pool a stone’s throw away through the trees.
Despite the constant sound of the river it’s very peaceful and there’s something about potter- ing around in water that’s totally relaxing. Above my head in the strip of blue sky between the tree canopies flew two swooping buzzards, and further down the river a fish, probably trout, had kissed the water’s surface, leaving only the spreading concentric rings in its wake.
Once my arms grew too tired to swim against the current I reluctantly pulled myself from the water and then, fuelled by coffee and sandwiches, walked back through the woods to the car, already planning my return.
Getting there: In the county of Devon, take the Ashburton turn off the A38 and the road signposted Holne. At New Bridge, park in the large car park and then walk across the bridge and the footpath through to Sharrah Pool will be on your right at SX712708.
© Gillian Adams 2012