High on Dartmoor in Devon, the eponymous River Dart slows briefly between two sets of rapids to form Sharrah Pool. There are plenty of breathtakingly beautiful places on this stretch of river, but Sharrah is special. It’s enchanting, and it never fails to throw buckets of Dartmoor pixie-dust at anyone who sees it. It’s here were river swimming on a snow day it’s something that happens in your dreams.
Today there is a sprinkling of snow and it’s still falling as we arrive in the glade by the pool – the temperature hasn’t gone above freezing for days. It’s 3ºC in the river. The water is much paler than usual and has lost its peaty, deep coppery gleam and black depths. By the rapids, it’s almost turqoise, and there’s a gelid, green tint that I’ve never seen here before. We’re about to go river swimming.
Pam, Sarah and I wear wetsuits, boots, gloves and hats. We slide into the river and swim up the eddy towards the top falls. Icy tendrils creep through the neck of my suit. River swimming in winter isn’t for the faint of heart. I dip my face under and taste a chill like pure vodka; my lips freeze almost immediately. We reach the rapid and throw ourselves in from the rock. It’s like jumping into a beautiful cocktail made with creme de menthe and the most effervescent volcanic water. The bubbles burst fast on the surface in a shower of sparks like fireworks, and I can hear the fizz above the roar of the waterfall. I shoot downstream as though in the tail of a comet.
Snowflakes wander past as I swim hard against the flow. Icicles coat the rocks at the falls, almost indistinguishable from the spumes of water. The boulders in the glade are iced with snow. Honey jumps between them, following us upstream.
My fingers slowly freeze from the tips down, and after fifteen minutes or so I’m forced to leave this magical, snowy water world. We change, fumbling to remove the chill, wet neoprene and dip our fingers into warm water from a flask. Mine are blue and the intense pain whirls me back to my childhood of wet wool socks in wellingtons and winter chilblains.
Featured Writer: Lynne Roper