May 28th 2014
The hazy sun present on departure was soon transformed into slow lazy leaden drops of rain, warm and tantalisingly refreshing, as I headed up the stony track from Norsworthy, past Down Tor and towards Cramber Tor arriving at Crazywell Cross and pool, some 30 minutes later.
The journey took me past a meadow of yellow flag iris with sheep grazing around the margins of their marshy home. Beyond this, a panorama that included Burrator and a far distant Plymouth Sound. There can be little doubt that the south west of Dartmoor offers some of the most spectacular vistas in the entire South West.
Like a broken and windswept web, lichened undulating grey drystone walls straddled the moorland and all about; the heady coconut scent of gorse flowers, an explosion of may blossom and early foxgloves. A straggle of Royal Marines, some striding, some stumbling passed by, eager for their next water stop. For this is an area used by the military for training and it is only a handful of years since one young recruit perished in the icy winter waters of Crazywell.
In the shadow of Crazywell Cross, one of many granite crosses marking the ancient route between Buckfast and Tavistock Abbeys, the pool was grey, wind ruffled and uninviting on arrival. This served as a reminder of the legend that the waters whisper the name of the next parishioner to die into the whistling wind, for there is no shortage of folklore and superstition regarding this remote and bleak place.
There were spits of rain in my eyes as I peeled off my kit and slid into the water, now far cooler than when I had last visited towards the end of the long hot summer of 2013.
A sudden shard of light leaping from behind a cloud heralded my entry and soon my feet were melting into the soft silty bed and I was enjoying a relaxed breast stroke towards the far bank.
The absolute peace of the place was dappled only by the sound of rippling wavelets amongst the reeds, the excited call of a skylark and the steady rhythmic whoosh of an overflying duck. Leaving my swimmers tucked into the bank I swam free and for a moment the cares of the world drained away, diffusing into the water. I was floating in a second Eden, a place of beauty and innocence.
From time to time, an occasional sun scattered diamond shards across the 0.86 acre (3,500 sq m) surface of the lake. The origin of Crazywell is uncertain, but most likely it is a flooded mine excavation, as the pool lies adjacent to a valley known as Newleycombe Lake where tin workings abound. The banks are up to 100 feet high and the lake was once reputed to be bottomless, its levels changing with the tides. Actually, the water level rarely changes – being maintained by a hidden feeder stream and subterranean drainage.
The beauty of the place was perfectly described by Eden Phillpotts in 1908:
“Nature, passing nigh Cramber Tor, where old-time miners delved for tin, has found a great pit, filled the same with sweet water, and transformed all into a thing of beauty. Like a cup in the waste lies Crazywell ; and, at this summer season, a rare pattern of mingled gold and amethyst glorified the goblet. Autumn furze and the splendour of the heath surrounded it; the margins of the tarn were like chased silver, where little sheep tracks, white under dust of granite, threaded the acclivities round about and disappeared in the gravel beaches beneath.”
(Phillpotts, E. The Virgin in Judgement. 1908)