The Bantham Swoosh was a new event organised by the Outdoor Swimming Society for the first time in 2015. I heard about it too late to enter the OSS event.
However, this sounded like a lot of fun so I checked out the tide tables and earmarked a few dates which looked suitable. All that it needs is a big spring tide really.
On 30th August there was such a tide and all my swimming buddies were busy doing other stuff. Ian and I managed to drag ourselves out of bed – despite the dreary bank holiday weather – and drove down to Aveton Gifford where the River Avon is accessible from the car park.
The bed of the river (comprising foreshore and river bed) of the river Avon at Aveton Gifford is part of the Duchy of Cornwall estate. To be precise, from the mouth of the river at Bantham right up to the highest tidal point upstream (the weir), the bed of the river including tributaries is part of this estate, and has been so since 1337 when Edward III created it to support his eldest son and all future heirs to the throne.
On arrival the tide was very high and flooded right over the tidal road.
By the time we had faffed about and got ourselves ready the water was disappearing fast. Time to go. There were some mallard and shell duck around and swans but they just accepted our presence and let us swim. Later on we saw a heron and little egrets.
The water actually felt quite cold – and was definitely colder than the sea is in August at Burton Bradstock (16 degrees).
From the start the water was clear – despite overnight rain – and the bottom of the estuary is sandy. I had taken the precaution of wearing shoes to avoid damaging my feet if there were any sharp objects.
There are moored boats at Aveton Gifford but we made our way through them easily with a little gentle push from the hardly discernible current.
As we headed down the estuary and left the tidal road behind the banks became densely wooded – giving a remote, secret feel to it. There was no-one else on the water and there is no access to the estuary between the end of the tidal road and Bantham .
There is a maximum speed limit on this river of 8 knots for boat users. This is because excessive wake can swamp nesting birds and young chicks and can cause a great deal of damage to the banks. Speeding craft are also a hazard to swimmers, canoeists, paddle surfers and other river users. We did not have any problems and there were no other boats on the move at all. By the time we got to the water skiing area the tidal flow had picked up considerably and we were starting to zoom along. I was still swimming but it was effortless.
The estuary is quite shallow. Very shallow in places. I took a walk to enjoy this special natural environment!
As our journey progressed the speed of the ebbing tide increased and Bantham came into sight much sooner than we had expected it.
Once again there are lots of moored boats. The tide was going so fast by now that I just had to go the way it chose to take me through the boats. The quay and boathouse at Bantham are very picturesque and we did float for a while to take in the scenery as we swooshed by. I estimate that we were travelling at about 8 knots at this point – without swimming. It was very good fun.
Very soon we had passed through the moored boats at Bantham and were being swept along by the tide to the more coastal environment with sandy banks. The water was swirling, whirling and eddying as we made our way towards the open sea.
The official OSS event finishes at Bantham and I can see that not everyone would be comfortable with being hurled out to sea on an 8 knot tide. However – we’ve done this a few times in our sea kayaks – What could possibly go wrong?
It was tempting to carry on through the surf and swim around Burgh Island. However – I am supposed to be tapering now for the ironman distance triathlon on 13th September so I just got out at Bigbury.
The observant among you will realise that the car was a hilly 8 km away by road. Oh yes – more training – wetsuit off – running gear on! Ian guarded the gear while I ran back for the car – fortified by bacon sandwiches and coffee from the Venus cafe.