Friday, 18 June 2010

Gorge walking and wild swimming

Great East Swim, and my first open water swim, this weekend. More blogging on this on Monday, if I'm still here to tell the tale.

Meanwhile... another watery chapter from the She Who dares adventures:

Gorge Walking (see also Bumble and wild swimming)

She Who Dares Factor - **** (depending on the weather!)

Gorge walking is a more extreme version of the bumble, although it’s less of a bath, more of a power shower, and the ramble mostly takes place in water.

She Who Dares experienced our gorge walking on Dartmoor. The rain had driven down in sheets all weekend. We were soggy, dispirited and damp by the time the last morning dawned and fully expected our final scheduled activity to be cancelled. Having shared our Youth Hostel accommodation with families supporting children on the annual 10 Tors, an annual event that has teams of teenagers completing hikes of up to 55 miles, carrying all their own supplies and camping out overnight on the last wildernesses of Dartmoor, we’d heard first hand how conditions had deteriorated. The weather had turned so bad the army were airlifting this year’s participants off the moor.

We were packed up and ready to head home when a fully kitted out instructor stuck his very handsome head into reception and asked if we were ready to go. There was a mass dropping of bags as we all nodded meekly and hustled for the equipment store, collecting extra thick wetsuits, still nicely damp from our last excursion, buoyancy aids and helmets. Another instructor joined us and we boarded the soggy mini bus, heading out through the town and over the moor.

Clearing a window in the condensation we peered out over grey sky and water lashed land, muted into one by the driving rain. The mood in the bus was subdued. The minibus trailed down a winding road, polished black with rivers of water, to a concrete shack by Red’veen brook at Meldon. It was less of a babbling brook, more of a raging torrent. We changed and lined up on the mossy bank our faces fixed and grim as we listened carefully to the safety talk. The instructors led us cheerfully down to the river, into the water, where we clung to each other wading from one bank to the other and slipping in the middle, neck deep in swirling white and cream water like sugar lumps in a crazy cappuccino. Fully immersed and the wetsuits warmed, the water pummeled at our thighs and tugged our feet off the riverbed. Keeping upright was impossible, eventually we released ourselves to the force and bobbed and swirled in a low pool, our bottoms bumping against submerged rocks. Helicopters whirred overhead, they must have looked down and thought we were old enough to know what we were doing, or old enough to know better, in any case they left us to it.

As we struggled upstream the land around was calm and immobile. It was tempting to climb out on the mossy bank and walk, but we pushed on, the sky gradually lifting a little and the rain pausing. Someone had a waterproof camera; we balanced precariously on rocks as they snapped away. A waterfall lay ahead. Normally it presented a small climb and a fun water slide; today the rocks around were completely submerged. There were no exposed footholds to see anywhere, so we felt with our feet under the sheet of creamy froth for a route to climb, an instructor ahead of us, one behind. We scrabbled into the torrent one by one, hands locked with the person above, who hauled us up as best they could. As soon as you found a foothold your body blocked the water flow and sent it spraying directly into faces and mouths. It was impossible to see or hear under this comedy water cannon, and all dignity was lost as the young instructor below put his shoulder to our behinds and shoved until we were finally all on the upper bank. Another poor young man scarred for life.

We bounced back down some more drops, and whirled across from bank to bank, a natural white water ride without a boat beneath us. Flopping exhausted on the bank, our instructor walked upstream to check conditions. He came back to tell us that the crossing of stepping stones they usually used was under several feet of water, the river level had climbed four inches in the hour we had been there. We stumbled back to the changing shelter, red faced and overcome with exhaustion. It had been a long weekend.

Where to try Gorge Walking

For River wading with Gorgeous instructors:

Okehampton YHA

Klondyke Road



EX20 1EW

0845 371 9651


Morfa Bay (actually have very handsome instructors too)

Great Gorge walking setting in a deep valley with exposed tree roots to climb and rock crevices to climb through, very Mordorish.

Other venues (we can’t vouch for the handsomeness of these instructors):

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