In search of the Sherberton Stream
“On Thursday afternoon I went with my friends, under oath of secrecy, to a bathing place where the Dart is joined by an unusually cold moorland torrent. We will call it the Sherberton Stream.”
The West Dart behind us, we drive up through Hexworthy, past the resolutely shut local boozer and on to the the hamlet of Sherberton. The next stop on our Dartmoor tour isn’t nearly as cut and dried to find as the stone bridge where we’ve just taken the waters.
The Sherberton Stream, as Roger says, is a secret spot. And my sleuthing skills are more akin to Inspector Clouseau than Sherlock Holmes’ efforts on these very moors in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.
We drive over a cattle grid and dip down into the valley. Fallen logs are stacked on the side of the road, ‘No Parking’ signs making it very clear that we’re not supposed to stop here despite the public footpath trailing away into the woods and over some inviting stepping stones.
I jump out to explore and realise this place is most definitely not Roger’s Sherberton Stream. It’s shallow, perfect for wading but not for a proper dip. There’s certainly no ‘ten feet pool’ rammed with salmon.
Instead, we drive back around and walk in from the north, where this same stream, the River Swincombe, meets the West Dart. It’s hardly the torrent as my predecessor describes, but it is absolutely idyllic. A Lapwing peewits as we walk past deep pools and roiling white water.
At another set of stepping stones, watched by mountain bikers on the far bank, we whip off our clothes and get ready for another dip. This time we’re all going in and I’ve talked the boys out of donning their damp wetsuits. It’s a cruel trick. The water here is noticeably colder than downstream in Hexworthy. Diving in I feel its chill and instantly believe this to be Roger’s spot (even if the evidence points to the contrary).
The Swincombe starts life high up on Fox Tor and there’s no denying its cool, oxygen rich qualities. Fish bubbles are everywhere. As if to back up my point about the drop in temperature, there’s a whooping and screaming behind me as Keeley, Tom and Joe wade slowly in. The fast approach has become my wild swimming mantra, so I berate them for not taking the plunge quicker. Soon they’re in with me, all heavy gasps and grunts as they push into the current.
The central pool is deep, well over six feet, but I’ve foolishly left my snorkel and mask back in the Jag, so I can’t go in search of salmon this time. In a way, though, this is handy. It means I can duck out of trying Roger’s friends’ technique of barrelling down the Dart, mask on, and letting the current guide me through the hulking rocks and gravelly bays.
I decide to go for a wander instead. I part the tresses of the weeping willow which sags over the Swincombe’s exit into the Dart. Its roots sway lazily under the water, the perfect hiding spot for shy fish. It’s about a foot deep, a Pre–Raphaelite paradise not too dissimilar from the River Bure in Norfolk.
As the shivers take over. I wade back and duck under for a last few strokes before we head off. My record with finding Roger’s resolutely secret swims is distinctly average. Bungay was a bust. But still, I’m pleased we’ve managed to find a delightful swimming hole where wildlife thrives and the joys of an illicit dip are made all the easier by little beaches and rocks eroded into perfect launch points.