Sunday, 19 September 2010

Little Canyon


Went out with the family to the Black Mountains for a picnic today, we drove back through Glyn Neath so me and the boys had a quick dip at Little Canyon. The water was cold and had a nice amber tint to it. The water was really deep and the gentle flow of the current pushed you slowly through the gorge. Jake enjoyed jumping off the limestone platform into the abyss.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

New Blood


We started to panic a bit as we are drawing closer to the end of the traditional wild swimming season. We don’t want to wait months to swim again. Maybe there is no ‘season’ anymore and with a good wetsuit, boots and gloves we can keep going through the winter without dying of hypothermia.

We decided to get a waterfall under our belts and with Sgwd Gwladys only half an hour away she should be our first. This is the first spot we went to that is listed in Daniel Starts ‘Wild Swimming’.

We had some new blood with us for this trip. Our friends from Bristol had been booked in to stay with us over this weekend so Paul was informed to bring his wetsuit with him for a surprise. My eldest son Jake had been showing a keen interest in our antics, much to the dismay of his mother, and begged to come along too.

So the four of us jumped in the car and headed off for the 30 minute drive to the falls. Me and Owen filled this time with some traditional taunting of the new blood with tales of ice cold water, dangerous currents, whirlpools and mysterious monsters. When we arrived, the car park of the pub was full and there were a lot of cars parked along the road. There seemed to be an abundance of Regatta clad ‘professional’ amblers milling around the place. We pushed through the crowds as the excitement started to build in anticipation of what was in store for us. Stepping through the gate and looking down the gorge to our right we were instantly disappointed, the river was in flood. We all thought there is no way we are getting a swim today as the ferocity of the white water and whirlpools held our gazes.

We all agreed to walk up to the falls to check it out for next time. The walk took about 20 minutes and the river was raging for the entire length. The gorge mentioned in wild swimming was completely flooded. We crossed the footbridge at the confluence of the two rivers and followed the path. The flow in our river had been halved and the glimmer of the possibility of a swim began to grow.

We started to hear the falls, the roar got louder with each step. As we rounded the final corner and the falls came into view the sound was deafening. The falls lay at the base of a deep valley and sat in the middle of an amphitheatre that must have been designed by an acoustic engineer.

In the plunge pool were three people, wearing big smiles on their faces and getting a thorough pasting from the water. We sat for 20 minutes and watched intently. Paul climbed up the valley side to look on top and a couple of minutes later appeared on the edge of the falls.

By the time he had got back down the other 3 swimmers had vacated the pool and left. We got changed full of anticipation. Owen was first in, then Paul, Jake and me.

I walked towards the falls and stood knee deep in the plunge pool. After watching Owen and Paul get battered by the falling water I dived in. The colour of the water took my breath away. It was golden brown and must have been stained by the peat bogs further up the valley, it was like swimming in real ale illuminated by a golden sunset.

When I surfaced I swam towards the impact zone. The water sucked me towards the chaos and then pushed me away at the last moment. I clambered out to join the rest of the boys hidden in the mist behind the curtain.
The power of the main body of water was intense, you could feel it in the air, the sound of the impact passed through your body. We decided it was unlikely we would make it through the main flow so we moved to the edge and a less violent sect6ion of the curtain. The amount of water falling seemed small but it hit the body and head with an almost painful force.

We dived back into the golden soup and floated around the plunge pool being pushed this way and that by the angry current.

Owen went back behind the curtain and sat down on the rocks edging himself closer to the boiling white water. He was a couple of yards from the main impact zone and had a big smile on his face as the powerful natural Jacuzzi raged around him.

After a bit more messing around we got out and dried off. We climbed up to the clearing at the top of the waterfall and cracked open a beer (Dr Pepper for Jake). We sparked up the camping stove and threw on a slab of Welsh Black Beef prime rump steak. Ravenous from the cold we were soon guzzling down our chilli cheese steak baguettes.

We cleared up and made our way back to the car noting possible dipping spots on the way back, we couldn’t leave without having a pint in the pub could we?

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Beach


I’m getting worried about Owen, he is starting to show the same signs of obsession as me, this……….could be dangerous.

I got a call from O to see if I was up for a fishing/swimming trip to a secret beach in Pembrokeshire, got the OK from the wife so said I was in. We both knew there was a good chance we would have the place to ourselves. The Old Man decided to come along as well so that made 3 of us.

We stopped to pick up some bait in an Aladdin’s cave of a fishing tackle shop in Clyddach, we were after some peeler crabs to increase our chances of catching a Bass. The owner informed us that he didn’t have any fresh peelers as the weather had been too cold, the crabs hadn’t shed their shells. He said he had some frozen ones and invited us upstairs to the fishing tackle section of his ironmongers. He unlocked a security rope at the bottom of a dark stairway and said “come on up boys”, I have to say that this made me feel a little uneasy. He flicked the light switch which illuminated the most impressively stocked tackle shop I have ever seen, the fishing equivalent of a Tesco Extra. We bought some bate and a few bits and bobs, jumped back in the car and hit the road. A quick stop at Morrisons for some bread, cheese and wine and we soon had all the essential ingredients of a good trip.

We arrived at lay-by at the top of some cliffs, parked up, unloaded the car onto our backs and set of on a 20 minute walk along the top of some seriously high cliffs. We had spotted a path down to the beach on an old OS map. Unfortunately what greeted us was a security fence with a “Danger - Path Closed Sign” so we turned around and went home. Actually, we pushed through the undergrowth and swung around over the edge of the cliff, through some barbed wire and ended up safely on the other side of the fence. The Old Man managed to cut his arm in the process and when we first saw the amount of blood we thought we may be in trouble, when he wiped it away we could see it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

Owen went to scope out the path down, he was gone for a while and when he returned he was out of breath. We asked him what it was like and he said “Its OK, it’s a bit sketchy”. Me and the Old Man turned to look at each other and in unison said “How sketchy?”. He managed to convince us and we pushed on through the vegetation that had grown over the path. The walk down was actually OK if you took your time. We made it to the beach but on his last step, the Old Man fell and rolled his ankle, luckily he didn’t hurt it too bad and could still walk.

We were the only ones there, we had it to ourselves. We dumped our stuff on the sand and set off collecting driftwood for a fire later on. When we were all settled Owen pulled off his t-shirt and ran down the beach and dived into the sea, when he surfaced he came face to face with a grey seal who seemed a little annoyed we had dared to climb down to his beach. We all piled in the sea and had a swim about, the seal seemed curious as to what we were up to and kept checking us out keeping a safe distance of a couple of metres away from us.

We dried off and walked over to the point to do some fishing. We hadn’t seen the seal for half an hour so we thought it was safe to fish. However, as soon as the bait hit the water the seal reappeared so we would reel in, wait for him to disappear and cast back out. At which point the would reappear! This went on for some time before we gave up and left the seal to eat the fish for his tea. During this time I managed to get drenched by a couple of waves, first one over my front, second one over my back. We balanced and hopped across the rocks back to the beach.

It was just getting dark now and I decided to make the most of it and go for a naked swim while Owen and the Old Man got the fire going. I stripped off, ran down the beach and dived into the surf, the water was a nice temperature and the last of the suns rays bounced of the water giving me my own light show. Initially I floated around with a hand over my crotch, just in case that seal was still around, he was still there but I’m glad to say, he kept his distance.

Eventually I got back out of the water and jogged the length of the beach to warm up. When I got back to base, it was dark and the fire was going, fillet steak sizzling away and the wine was flowing. My memory gets foggy at this point but we seemed to have a good night eating food, staring at the stars and talking nonsense.

I thought I dreamt that Owen pulled some king prawns from his bag in the middle of the night and cooked them up on the fire but later realised this actually happened when I saw the pictures the following day.

I opened my eyes and looked at my watch, 07:24. I pulled myself out of my sleeping bag, dropped my cloths on the floor, ran to the sea and dived in just as the morning sun was rising above some low level cloud. I looked at my watch, 07:25. I floated around for a bit just taking in the golden scenery. What a way to wake up.

When I got out and dried off, Owen went down for his swim of solitude. When he got back to base he was greeted with a steaming cup of coffee.

Out came the frying pan and in went the bacon, these bacon sarnies just get better and better.

The weather seemed to be taking a turn for the worse so we decided to pack up. We hauled our kit and ourselves back up the cliff and along the path. Just as we got back to the car the heavens opened up and it rained all the way home.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Green Pool

Sunday 29th August 2010

After perusing my OS map the previous night we decided to check out a potential spot just North of our local stretch of the M4. We parked up at the end of the road and set off, rucksacks laden with wetsuits. When we eventually found the start of the footpath, and believe me, this took some time, we walked through a farm yard and got a friendly wave from a farmer driving off in his tractor. We headed up the track which zig zagged up the steep hillside. Tracking through the dappled shade of a wooded valley alongside a tumbling babbling stream we kept disturbing sheep from their sleep. We passed a cave with a spring issuing crystal water from its base and carried on up the steep path. Suddenly the view opened up to our right and we saw the large green mirror of the lake below us.

We decided to go off the path and track down through the trees to the base of the valley. The overflow from the lake spilled down a 100ft long brick shoot sounding like a large waterfall. Owen crossed the shoot but got caught in brambles on the other side and had to come back. We eventually got to the bottom and crossed the stream and worked our way up the other side through the ferns and undergrowth and onto a path. In front of us lay a steep grassy bank, the covered wall of this old disused reservoir, we both had huge smiles on our faces as we climbed it. At the top we got our first close up view of the pool, greeny blue and perfect surrounded by woods and heath either side with no roads or buildings in site. It felt like we had been transported to the Canadian wilderness and we half expected to see a bear stumble out of the undergrowth. Keen to get in we got changed into our wetsuits and climbed down to the edge of the bank.

Owen was in and straight into a front crawl across the lake sending out parallel ripples to the banks either side of him. I stood for a moment up to my knees savouring the view and then took the plunge. We swam to the opposite bank and noted the sounds of a possible waterfall to be explored at a later date. We walked around the edge of the lake and sunk back into the water through some partially submerged trees in the top corner. It felt like we were in a mangrove like we had seen so many times on the discovery channel.

As we swam through the water the cold began to take hold and Owen informed me he had a secret stash of bacon and a camping stove in his rucksack, what more incentive do you need, we raced back across the lake.

We fired up the stove and slapped on the bacon. We watched the smoke and steam from the bacon drift, like the sweetest smelling mist, out across the lake. It was a memorable bacon sarnie.

We lounged about for a bit and then the urge to do something I had always fancied doing took hold of me, I shed my towel and t-shirt and ran into the water, naked. My first naked swim, why did i take so long to try it? I swam in a rather small arc and climbed out and made a quick check to see if everything was still there, it was, only just. We both agreed this was a spot we would revisit. We walked back down the path but took a wrong turn which ended out as a right turn because we got back to the car much quicker than expected.

Later that day I took the kids down the beach to catch some prawns for tea, we had quite a good haul and I phoned Owen to tell him. He was back at the lack and intended to stay for the night, by himself, with a fillet steak, king prawns and a hip flask full of cask strength laphroiag. I still cant think of a better way to end that day.


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Forest Lido

This all sarted on Saturday 28th August 2010 when decided to kick off our Wild Welsh Swimming adventure by diving into a secret lake in the middle of a forest not far from our hometown.

We were both excited and a little nervous, years and years of being told that swimming out in the open was extremely dangerous had managed to convince us we would be likely to survive our first outing. We told our mother that if we were not back within 3 hours we would probably be dead, she laughed nervously and told us to be careful.

It was quite a warm day and we were dressed in shorts, t-shirts and 'bushman' style hats. We were each armed with trusty walking sticks for bashing vicious nettles and any aquatic monsters. We parked the car at the edge of the forestry and set off on the walk to the lake. I had stumbled across the lake a few years ago whilst out walking the dog with my wife. Even back then i can remember thinking it would be nice to jump in and cool down but my conscience told me not to be foolish it would be far too dangerous.

We walked along the path for about 20 minutes until we got to the rusty metal railings protecting us from the black water. After a short while scouting around we found an area where some of the bars had either fallen or been kicked off. We scrapped through the gap and slid down the bank to the edge of the lake. The surface was like black glass reflecting the trees that hide this place from the likes of the mighty google satellite and the sun. The lake is formed behind a damned valley and used to be part of an old colliery. It is about 20m wide and 50m long and the icy water flows over the top of the old dam like a weir and falls back to the valley floor 10m below.

We knew this lake would be cold so we opted for wetsuits. I chose to wade in from the bank, Owen chose to jump from the dam wall once he had gaged the temperature by my facial expressions as i entered the water. I climbed down and sunk into years of silt and the water around my feet turned from black to a powdery brown. I could see the bottom drop away below the surface,one more step and i would be fully under. I looked up to Owen on the wall and could see him giggling like a child, obviously enjoying watching me and seeing if i was going to go through with it. It seemed like i had stood there for hours before i leaned over and dived into the water. It was cold, very cold. I inhaled deeply as i broke the surface but could hardly breath. I swam over to the wall and informed Owen that it wasn't that bad, of course he could see straight through the lie. I held onto an old rusty iron bar protruding from the wall of the dam to let my body acclimatise to the burning cold. I looked up to to see Owen jump over my had and plunge straight down into the black water, disappearing from site. When he surfaced he was gasping too, waiting for the initial pain to subside but i could see the surprise on his face as he realised it wasn't getting any better. He grabbed old of the bar too and large chunks of rust fell off and sank down through the water.

After a short while the pain eased, slightly, and we decided to swim. We put on our goggles and pushed off the wall into a front crawl, i got about 4 strokes down and realised that i would have to swim breaststroke to avoid the waters vice like grip on my head which felt like someone driving the tips of icebergs into my temples. About halfway along the lake there were two fallen trees on opposite banks, half submerged in the water. Their long branches like wooden fingers splitting the lake in two. We swam through the trees as their branches brushed against us bringing the image of drowned men's arms into my head, the fear of every unexpected touch pumped more adrenalin through my body. Once through the trees we floated around for a bit and the silver flash o a fish jumped just behind Owens head.

 Owen noticed the water moving at the top of the lake, we both watched it imagining what long lost horror could be living in the lake, making its way slowly towards us. No matter how improbable, it took me some time to get the image of a giant abandoned crocodile out of my head. We realised it was caused by water entering the silted up shallows at the start of the lake, we made our way back to the dam wall just to be on the safe side and decided tat was enough for today.

We climbed out of the water and got changed on legs wobbly with cold. Once changed we started the trek back to the car. On the way we collected some chopping board sized offcuts of timber left behind by the loggers and their chainsaws. We spotted a few chanterelles on the way back, not enough for a meal so we left them be. The numbness from the cold stayed with us for a couple of hours. I could feel it in my bones, not for the last time.

Whats This All About Then?

This is my first time at blogging, i was going to write a traditional old diary but my spelling is really bad so i thought i'd try blogging because thats got a spellchecker. This is a record of our search for wild swims in Wales. Inspired by a recent programme on wild swimming and the books "Wild Swimming" by Daniel Start and "Waterlog" by the late Roger Deakins myself and my youngest brother, Owen, have committed to going for a dip in as many wild outdoor places within Wales as possible.

Hitting the ripe old age of 36 and driven by what some may say is a mid life crisis we began our search for that missing something. My wife considers this my latest fad, i have a long history of finding a 'new thing' to become obsessed with particularly where that thing involves nature or the great outdoors.

So, to summarise, this is about me and my bro hunting down quiet, remote and wild places to swim in Wales.

This is primarily a record of our swims for our family and friends but also for anyone else who may be interested. Its a personal journey for us and i'm not sure how long it is going to last.