wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “atlantic”

Welcombe Mouth

Reef

Reef

Foaming

Foaming

Honey and I are in North Devon today on a work-related visit, and take the opportunity to return to one of our favourite beaches. Welcome Mouth is a part of that wonderful area of cliff on the North Devon/Cornwall borders where the earth’s crust has been pushed and snapped into points that rise up to 400 feet above the Atlantic. In dramatic terms, Welcombe plays Emmerdale to Hartland’s Wolf Hall. Here, there’s simply a fifty-to-one hundred foot cliff and a miniature waterfall whose spread and style hints at its ambition to be Speake’s Mill. The Atlantic breakers have crashed into these cliffs over millennia to erode fingers of rock that cleave the sand at 45 degrees and claw out to sea.

Mini Waterfall

Mini Waterfall

Drifts of pebbles form waves around the cliffs; smooth gulls’ eggs ringed with quartz, in a soft grey that must be made by Farrow and Ball.

It’s almost low tide, and there’s a fair swell and a drizzle that might be spray from the waves crashing along the reefs. The sea is opaque and tinted rich-tea-biscuit. We trot up the narrow sandy tongue to be splatted almost at once by excitable foaming water, marbled, crashing and sucking. It’s not too cold. I’m tempted to head beyond the break, but the backwash is hideously strong and I’m afraid that Honey, who’s nearby, will get caught and pulled into the break zone. Crazy diagonal waves jaywalk back out, so I don’t spend long with my feet off the ground.

A dog walker tells me she swims from May to October, and that the sand is only recently returning after the huge storms of 14 months ago, grouting the gaps between reef fingers.

Honey Engulfed

Honey Engulfed

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Hartland Quay

Hartland Quay

Hartland Quay

The plan today was to swim from Hope Cove to Thurlestone, only with a pesky southerly blowing we thought it might be a tad frisky. So we went instead to Hartland Quay where we found the usual crashing and foaming around the rocks; it’s almost always wild around here.

Andrew, Plum and I got in fairly easily off the sheltered slipway and began to bounce in glowing, aquamarine sea. Earlier we’d been on the more reckless side of a Facebook debate on the dangers of being struck by lightning while swimming, so of course we were interrupted by a crashing rumble that I initially took to be a big wave dumping on pebbles; obviously it was thunder. We laughed in its face and continued with our swim, reasoning that there are plenty of high rocks and cliffs around here to attract strikes and we’re barely breaking the surface. Anyway, nothing short of death was going to get us out of this slightly nippy lushness.

Andrew Leaps

Andrew Leaps

The geology here always takes my breath away. Reefs like crashed wafer biscuits point out to sea, overwhelmed by cliffs layered and snapped into jagged points like petrified storm waves. We swam over, then back to the big rock from where Andrew climbed and jumped while Plum and I bobbed, pulled this way and that by the crazy currents from waves surging through and around rocks.

After around three quarters of an hour we walked back up the slipway and sniggered at the potential irony of being struck by lightning before we got to the pub, but survived to order a pint of Tribute each. Inside in a dark corner slouched a young couple watching movies on an iPad. Two hours later they were still there, Skyping their friends about the lovely weather. Really.

With thanks to Plum for the photos.

Stunned by Geological Marvels

Stunned by Geological Marvels

Saunton Sundown

Dimpsey Bobbing

Dimpsey Bobbing

I’m working in Bideford again today, so I meet Andrew for a dimpsey Atlantic swim at Saunton. The air temperature has plummeted and there’s a frigid northerly blowing. The tide’s around two thirds out, so we change in the shelter of the cliffs and trot down through the exposed widescreen beach. The first shallows are icy, but as we get to knee height the water warms so that it’s infinitely preferable to go under.

The sea is dark, the same shade of slate as the puffs of cloud overhead. I’m lulled by the whoosh and foam of gently breaking surf as I float. The bank of cloud on the horizon obscures the setting sun from view, while the sky glows peach and palest blue and a crescent moon hangs tipsily over the estuary. Orange light shivers on the surface, distorted by long rollers and the latticed ripples formed by the wind as it whips offshore.

We stay in slightly too long, bobbing, swimming and body surfing. As we run back up the beach my feet begin to freeze and by the time we reach the car park I’m numb to the ankles and able to sprint straight over the stony ground with no hobbling whatsoever. Well perhaps ‘sprint’ is too strong a word…We warm up in TrannyVan with ginger tea and a chat.

Breaker

Breaker

Dimpsey Seascape

Widescreen Seascape

Westward Ho!

Westward Ho! View towards Northam

Westward Ho! View towards Northam

Westward Ho! is the only place in Britain that features an exclamation mark as a part of its name. This makes it sound vital and pioneering, as though overrun with pirates and pilgrims and maybe a cowboy or two. I spent most of my childhood in North Devon, and despite coming from a family who went out exploring at every opportunity, I don’t remember ever coming here. So today I decided to have a quick swim in the lovely Atlantic after a shift at Bideford.

I followed signs to the sea-front and parked for 85p next to a cafe and amusement arcade. Paying the fee necessitated entering the cafe, which was constructed entirely from plastic and overrun by people scoffing piles of anaemic chips, fried eggs, sausages the colour of exposed northern skin, beans, and bowls of what looked like diarrhoea, but which turned out to be ‘curry sauce’. I left with the uncomfortable feeling that the perspiration on my brow had been impregnated with chip fat.

Trotting Westward Ho! I stared at the crowd of plastic tat-filled shops and cafes, designed to fleece visitors of every last penny.  Clambering along the shingle bank was a relief; I stripped fast and tottered into the sea at high tide. It was warm and bouncy and deeply greeny-blue, with a nice thermocline in which my toes dangled from time to time as I bobbed. The smell of fried crap lined my nostrils like the scent of death, even when I looked out to sea. Next time I’ll swim at Northam.

Porthcurno Performance

Porthcurno Gazing down over Porthcurno beach from the path by the Minack theatre I feel the urge to throw my arms wide and burst into an aria in celebration of its indescribable gorgeousness. It’s a place where endless skies meet endless seas which slam into the cliffs and rebound in a seething mass. My hair is blowing horizontally and my coat is luffing loudly. There are rips pulling the water back out to sea. Should I be sensible, or obey the compulsion to leap into the ocean at once?Matt Performs

Foaming FunFar below in the car park, Matt has already decided to ‘have a look’, so the two of us change behind a slightly sheltered rock where my hair is merely at forty-five degrees. We watch closely for a bit, and decide on an entry spot away from the area where most waves are crossing and where there is no rip. The seas’s atomised in the gale and hits us way before we touch the foam. A couple of Grey Seals are surfing further out. Wading in, the undertow pulls the sand from beneath our feet and there’s an unsettling sensation of movement while the landscape stays where it is and the sea churns.

I’m on my arse before the water’s over my knees, and we’re hit by wave after wave. Matt performs a star jump. As they rear up ready to break, the rollers are illuminated from behind like stained glass in the rarest pale turquoise. Legs aching as we fight the undertow, we’re panting and laughing and diving through, over or under the breaks. We stay well within our depth; there’s no way we can swim safely out. Finally we body surf back in, landing inelegantly on the sand in an exhilarated heap. It’s only then that I notice the cold.Wipe Out!Stained Glass Waves

Prussian Blue

A couple of posts from deepest Cornwall where we’re spending a weekend. We descend the steep path to Prussia Cove, unsure which of the forks to take. One vanishes through a rabbit-hole in the shrubs so we head that way like Alice in Wonderland. Aptly, the sea glows Prussian blue between the rocky reefs.

It’s icy cold, gently undulating and luminous in the shallows where patches of shell sand reflect sunlight. We can see each other’s bodies beneath the surface even in the distance. We float back to the shingly shore through a narrow gap in the rocks which we name Aphrodite’s Passage, in the spirit of romance engendered by such pulchritude.

Watermouth Bay

We head up-county today, to the Atlantic below the wild cliffs of North Devon. The sea is pale turquoise through the trees, which are still stark in places but frilled with tiny new leaves. The scent of wild garlic wafts in the wind, white sparkler flowers exploding above caterpillar-green leaves. We totter down precipitously wonky steps for a couple of hundred feet to the greyish-pink sand. The bay is shaped like a slice of melon, with a series of mini-coves bitten out, each containing its own small beach. 

Andrew, Geoffrey and I swim across to the cave-pocked bluff. Here leans a wonky archway, the ledge below barely covered by water. Sea drives into the rocks, making the caves difficult to explore properly. It’s not too cold, but I feel the wind-chill. I turn back to check Honey who’s running along the beach, and who occasionally swims a little way out towards me before returning to shore.

The waves in the crescent bay, sheltered from the north-easterlies, are fairly smooth; but beyond the narrow sand neck which joins the pointed islet like a polyp to the northern side of the bay is a foaming mass of crazy, four-foot breakers. Floating on my back, buffeted by the sea, I watch the wave-shapes of the cliffs, rumpled into fifty-foot points above me.

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