We arrived in the dark. Windy roads. Dead ends and no street lamps to assist our wending. London was smothered in traffic & rain which followed us (slowly) all the way down to deepest, darker Devon.
An uneventful car ride, me in the front on the mac barely noticing the time and them at the back plugged into their own devices. Leaving our driver to keep company with the road. A family owned house stood atop a cliff overlooking an estuary. In the distance was an island. We couldn't see either in the night but the wind told us it was there.
Using our phones as path finders we clumsied ourselves a route until we arrived at a door. A burst of warmth greeted us as our hosts welcomed us in. The cosy place seemed familiar though none of us had ever been there before. Maybe it was the fact that his family had lived in there for generations & we were temporarily granted access to this warm forever.
Some of the others were already there. We could hear them teetering with anticipation. A train and a cab ride later and our the first eleven was complete. The banter flowed more readily than the wine and after a lovingly prepared meal it was lights out.
Morning came and he was readying his kayak - twas the pride of the swim in years past. Around him candidates dotted the place. Some standing, some pacing while other draped themselves on the landing, but all were small talking the huge demands about to be asked of them.
We could now see our surroundings clearly. The green cloaked hills were dotted with enclosures. Clumps of trees rode baby cliffs which modestly folded into tiny bays. These would eventually becoming banks of the river.
Boats left unfulfilled by a deserting tide slept askew. Their slumber would remain undisturbed as we swished by later. They would be bemused but not enough to comment.
The island stood guard by the mouth of the river. To me it resembled a castle - the name I imagined was an olde Celtic word for Castle - it seemed friendly to me -but the type of friend you would need to wary of. Hopefully she would be in the mood to raise the moat today so we could complete our mission. The eye of heaven shone brightly, I took this as a good sign.
Tumbling out of cars, dousing thighs, armpits and chins in vaseline and the several necessary phantom trips to the loo, made an otherwise abandoned carpark feel like it was market day. Finally the sound of swim caps snapping signalled we were ready. Our kayakers waited for us at the murky edge. Wading through the unreliable mud flat forced some to seriously rethink the undertaking. But it was wasn’t long before the murk gave way to majesty as the saline expanse asserted itself.
The water was light and temperamental. Carrying and lumbering at will. The warm and less warm kept us guessing throughout the day, though the sun remained faithful. We dansed through the water and through afternoon and into the evening. Coupled up more often than not. Never really deserting each other in the aqueous body.
There was no need for a satnav as the synergy of strokes created star like bubbles that lived just long enough to point us in the right direction. The water found its own level as our hosts, out of nowhere, effortlessly propelled past the group and even further into our esteem.
Dreaming. Choking.Pulling. Aching.
Doubt and glory were evenly matched.
The cold was now a part of us as we approached the island.
We remained faithful.
We would Keep the danse going.
Keep the rhythm.
Ribbons nipped at our forms from below while the sheer from above ensured humility was never far from our daring. The open sea was constantly suggestive. A lineup of familiar smiles &embraces were waiting on the shoreline.
Emerging from the water our achievements glistened like medals in the autumn sun. But burning even brighter was the spirit of friendship and camaraderie. This was what weekend was really about.
The swim may have gotten us shore but the it was spirit of friendship that bore us safely home. Thank you to Stuart & Olivia Palmer (& the girls) for creating the swim, hosting the swimmers & for being really great friends.
Aveton Gifford to Bantham via Burgh Island