“Swimmers?” Was the question from the lady who pulled up in her car where myself and four other people were chatting quietly by Norsworthy Bridge, Dartmoor. We all nodded and she parked her car then came over to join us, laughing at the slightly humorous concept of what we were doing.
It had started with a Facebook message on the Devon Wild Swimming page. One of the group, M, had suggested a possibility of meeting up with some fellow swimmers on Dartmoor for an evening dip. He had said that he had swam in Crazywell Pool (above Burrator) a couple of times and wondered if anyone else had some suggestions. Crazywell was on my list of places to try out and had wanted to go with a group, so I voted for there and luckily I wasn’t alone. With a healthy number of 4-6 yeses, we arranged to meet on the Wednesday, at the bridge at 7pm. It also happened to land on a full moon. My SIL was sorting out a full moon swim in Clevedon that night and I was disappointed not to be there, so this was perfect.
With sundown at 20:05pm I added a suggestion of head torches to the feed.
Wednesday daytime felt muggy. I have been helping out at friends business in Plymouth (a funeral directors) and was looking forward to a dip in some cool waters. I had already been for a morning swim that day at Plymouth Life Centre as I have another swim coming up on Sunday in Lyme Regis. All I wanted to do now was to submerge myself in cold waters and clear my head from all thoughts.
I arrived early and waited in the car park for the bunch of strangers to arrive. It’s a funny thing, looking at people as the pull up to park and wondering if they’re swimming or merely there for a walk. M was the first and he had obviously just come from work as he quickly stripped off his smart(er) clothes and changed into walking boots and trousers. Next was a couple who had come from Ashburton. We chatted quietly as the last two arrived. We were a total of 4 women and two men.
Bags on backs we headed up out of the car park, following the path. Two of our party had been there before luckily, so it wasn’t the blind leading the blind.
As we walked higher and higher, we chatted to each other about places we had swam and also how we had got into swimming out in the open. The light was turning to dusk and we stopped after 15 minutes of walking to turn around, catch our breath and look at the view.
That small section of Dartmoor was spread out below us; Burrator hidden behind the trees. It was a glorious sight. I asked how far we had left and was told about another 5 minutes. So, with the sun setting fast, we carried on up.
A small stream came down from our left and our leader left the main trail and started to follow a well worn path to the side of it. This stream came from Crazywell. We carried on climbing up a short way and then, there it was. It was nothing like what I had imagined. For one thing I expected it be lower down, not on the top of the hill. But there it was; dark and deep, with a small sandy area that you could enter the pool.
I had googled it earlier in the day and there were many stories about it. Known through the years as Crazywell, Classenwell, Classiwell, or Clazywell, it lies below Cramber Tor and it’s dark waters are said to be bottomless. For centuries it held the reputation of being the largest natural pool on Dartmoor. In a particularly dry summer of 1844, water was pumped from the pool into the nearby Devonport Leat. The resulting drop in depth revealed that the waters were only about 15ft (4.5m) deep.
A small area to the left was sunken which gave us enough protection from the cool breeze and we quickly stripped down. I had brought my wetsuit but was tempted to go in a rash vest and shorts. No-one else was in a wetsuit, so that made my decision all the more easier. M was in first and he called out that it was ok once you were in. The rest followed swiftly. I was the last one in.
I had learned over the last few months of swimming in cold water to enter with purpose; no fannying around. So I did. I had on wetsuit socks (didn’t want to feel anything nibble on my feet) and I strode with purpose up to my thighs and then plunged in, head up. Yep, it was definitely cold, but probably about the same temperature as the sea. It hasn’t really warmed up beyond 19 degrees this summer and is already starting to drop now that Autumn is creeping forward. Swimming “synchro” front crawl (head up) I quickly joined the others. The water felt like velvet and was a peaty colour. I couldn’t see anything below. One of our party did have goggles (prescription ones, it turned it) and he looked down to then proclaim that yes, it was deep. We swam gently from one side of the pool and then made our way back to the other side, chatting about this and that, possible meet ups and where people are swimming next (me; I’m off to Scotland on the 22nd September with more swimmy friends). I could feel all bits of stress melt away.
You could, actually, put your feet down along the edges, but I chose not to. My brain still thinks of all possible things far below and I was just happy with floating along.
We turned at the other end and kicked off to do another length. I announced that I was going to go in. I could feel myself getting colder (as I wasn’t ploughing up and down) and it’s always good to get out before you get too cold. One other joined me and we climbed out and quickly got dressed. I didn’t have numb extremities which was a bonus (looking forward to that in the winter) so I was quite quickly into my warm clothes, dry robe on and pouring myself a hot drink from my flask. It wasn’t long before the rest of our group joined us.
I had bought some chocolate brownies earlier, as my SIL insists that it’s all about the cake after the swim, and we all munched on them as we got warm. The sun had set but we could still see, although the full moon was disappointingly hidden from view behind the clouds. A couple of us had head torches and we started our walk back to our cars, glowing and buzzing from our little night adventure and talking about repeating it again the following week.
I drove back to Plymouth, tingling in body and tingling in mind. A perfect Wednesday night experience.