By: Blonde Two

The River Dart is very special to me (as it is to many people). I have written a children’s book (£6.99) about it, kayaked, canoed, rowed and shivered in it many times and this year, thanks to my outdoor swimming activities I have added swimming in the Dart it to the list.

I am glad that I did and that my wild swimming friends have been sharing their secret swimming spots with me. Little did I imagine, back in November last year, when I joined in with my first moonlight swim, that in 9 months time I would be joining in with what is arguably THE outdoor swimming event of the year, and swimming the Outdoor Swimming Society’s Dart 10K.

It has to be said that, on Saturday morning, as I stood barefoot on the grass, alongside what seems like a huge number of other yellow-hatted swimmers and listening to the safety briefing, I was less than convinced about my ability to swim even to the first feeding station, a meagre 4 kilometres downstream. My mind was in as much of a whirl as the rain-fed, high spring-tided River Dart slithering impressively beside us and panic was only a few steps (or strokes) away.

I kissed Mr B2 goodbye and as we walked the slow march down to the slipway behind the big yellow ‘Leisurely Wave’ sign, the ‘What on earth am I doing?’ feeling got stronger, but there was no going back, before I knew it, I was nervously over the timing mat, onto the slipway and eying the throng of what appeared to be thrashing arms and legs in front of me, make their way across to the other bank. I was torn between not wanting to get left behind and not wanting to enter the throng, in the end, it was worrying about where the edge of the slipway was that made me start swimming.

I had never swum with lots of people before and I couldn’t work out how so many of them were managing to swim front crawl and not bang into each other. As soon as I got my head properly down in the water, I realised… they weren’t. There were elbows, head and feet everywhere and coupled with the fact that underwater visibility in the River Dart at Totnes is virtually zero, the impact (a couple of times literally) was quite overwhelming. My swimming style, I fear, suffered and it wasn’t until the river had pushed us gently (we were at the top of the tide) for about 500 metres that I managed anything close to my usual stroke. (That’s me, picture centre nearest to the quay).

Despite being used to open and chilly water, it was all quite overwhelming for a first timer but there were two main things that kept me going:

1. The presence of the fantastic safety crew on paddle boards and jetskis. They were right next to us, and for the whole event, whenever I raised my head to ‘spot’ (look around) there was somebody near enough to ask for help if I needed it.

2. My rediscovery of just how fast and single-minded an outgoing spring tide can be. Once I had left the slip, there really was no going back. I was swimming and making my own progress but the Dart was in charge. Unless I called for help, that was it, I was on my way down the river.

I’ll tell my tales of feeding stations, choppy water and an eventually home-coming tomorrow. I am smiling so you can probably guess the result!