SHEDNOTES 146: Going Wild For A Swim

One of The Shed’s old hacks has offered the following for the West Dartmoor Notes section of this blog …

Thirty-odd years ago, maybe 40, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents scored a few headlines one summer with a spine-chilling warning of the dangers of swimming in rivers, ponds and lakes.   The gist was that you were likely to find it much colder than you expected and, paralysed by hypothermic shock, would fall into a tangle of tentacled weeds and old bicycles from which it was impossible to escape.

It made a good spine-tingler for a slow Sunday and everybody ran it. The RoSPA PR man naturally considered this a success. So he tried again the next summer, with another warning, against rat-borne diseases or something, and a year or two later with poisonous algae. Eventually, every time somebody drowned, the news editor would suggest giving him a call, and the peril of fresh water became one of those truths so established nobody ever questioned it.

One hot summer, in a landlocked northern city, I was put on this annual assignment after reading a book called Waterlog, by Roger Deakin, who swam across Britain through its rivers, and a couple of calls put me in touch with the “wild swimming” movement, inspired by the book.

I wrote a piece quoting people who found it ridiculous that we were denying ourselves the ancient pleasure of a swim in our nicest local water and were out to prove that most of the time, it was no more dangerous than joining a traffic jam to the coast.

Now there is usually somebody on duty on a newspaper, known as the Safe Pair Of Hands, whose job it is to weed out seditious nonsense which contradicts the cuttings files, and I fully expected to be asked to rewrite the story along the lines which had done us very nicely so far, thankyou. But everybody else was hot and fed up too and for some reason the piece went in more or less untouched. Some wild swimmers quoted it on their website and for a few weeks, I was a hero of their cause.

I never actually did much wild swimming myself, but I remained interested, and over the years have built myself a little directory of good places to do it – mainly lifted from the many newspaper articles which followed mine, based on the several books which have followed Deakin’s, written by diligent researchers like Daniel Start. Find out more about him and his books, and others like them, at

Anyway, one of the recommendations all the guides agree on is Sharrah Pool, on the Dart, and with a visit from the grand-daughter coming up, a sunny Saturday at the end of July seemed like a good time to go check it out.

Excuse what will be obvious to some of you, but the route from Shed headquarters, in Horrabridge, is – through Princetown, take the Ashburton road, through Dartmeet, on through Poundsgate to Newbridge. Some craven authority has closed off half the car parking at Newbridge on the pathetic grounds of “uneven surface” and it was a bit of a squeeze getting in. But there is a bit more space on the other side of the bridge, and a No Parking sign there appears to apply only to the gate it is hanging on.

In spite of the crowd , we were hoping to benefit from Dartmeet Syndrome – which is that if you get 400 yards away from the carpark, you have left most of the competition behind.

But the wild swimmers have done their job. We could hear people asking the man in the ice-cream van the way to Sharrah Pool.

The answer is to cross the bridge, from the Dartmeet to the Ashburton side, turn right and walk about two miles. The track is not bad but there is one steep climb halfway, where the river goes through a cutting and the path takes the high ground, and a longer but lesser climb at the end. You know you are there when you have crossed the falls of a brook falling to the river and you come to a slightly awkward stile. On the other side of the stile, around lunchtime, we found a couple with two young children in wetsuits, chattering their teeth for sympathy, and a small party of teenagers preparing for the plunge. Another family arrived as we were turning back. But when we clambered over the rocks which mark the end of the path, at the top of Sharrah Pool, we found another nice pool, empty, and there are more further up, apparently, if you are prepared to scramble a bit. The water was dark and deep and foamy with its falling, after heavy rain over the previous day and night, but the younger adventurers assured us it was safe, if a bit bracing to say the least.

You can get there from Holne – from Newbridge, go a mile further towards Ashburton and turn off to the right – but the trail from there brings you down to the early stages of the same path. However, Holne is pretty and has a tea-room and a fine-looking old pub, The Church House.

By the time we got back to Newbridge, it had been a fair walk. And we noticed a few lesser swimming pools accessible from the track up the opposite bank – starting from the main car park – which we might look at next time.

More wild swimming tips on this site at

George Edwards

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