One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “cave”

Watcombe Beach to Bell Rock

Bell Rock

Bell Rock – Too Slim by Far

You might have noticed the dearth of blogs recently; it’s partly due to being busy and partly to a smorgasbord of injuries that appear to be roaming from joint to joint like a hen night. Anyway, I had my pesky shoulder injury injected with hydrocortisone almost two weeks ago, and since we’re supposed to be taking on the beast that is the Gulf of Corryvreckan on 15th August and I’ve not swum properly for well over 6 months I thought I’d better give the shoulder a try out.

Allan and Carole

Allan and Carole

So off we went to Watcombe Beach.  I lived in Watcombe from age 3 to 7, and have many happy memories of the beach and the steep walk down to it, but I haven’t been there since…1968. It’s a gorgeous little cove surrounded by red sandstone cliffs and woodland. The end chunk of cliff sports a considerable crack down half its length, so it won’t be long till that tumbles down into the sea.

WWS Snapping at Starfish (photo Allan Macfadyen)

WWS Snapping Starfish (photo Allan Macfadyen)

We swam out stroked by kelp on a low spring, in sea that was misted and coloured shades of aquamarine. Constellations of starfish were scattered across sandy patches, and once we reached the caves they multiplied to a veritable milky way.  As ever on this piece of coastline, the colours of rocks and sea zing in a perfect Matisse palette. Although the sea was flat calm, it sucked and soughed through the cave, cooler than outside and stinking of seal breath. Layers of life forms meshed on the rocks to form a collage of mineral, plant and animal, so that it’s hard to see the divide between life and death.



I swam across to Bell Rock, but felt too cold to sidle through the slim gap. I also suspect after months of limited exercise that my capacious arse might have caused me to wedge fast in the narrows where I would probably stay till the next low tide. So Nancy and I headed back, leaving the rest to forage and exclaim. I managed I think around 300m of front crawl, with little in the way of pain. Here’s hoping…By the way, the beach cafe at Watcombe is a top place with fantastic, crispy thin chips. Hardly conducive to shrinking the bum.



Swimming Round the Point

Swimming Round the Point

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.

The Fairy Tale of Anstey’s Cove

I drive across the moors through tipping rain to meet Dangerous Malcolm – so named as the only person ever to swim to Thatcher Rock and live to tell the tale – for an aquatic exploration of Anstey’s Cove in Torquay.  The rain has pretty much stopped, and I’m stunned by the scene out over the cove which resembles a 1970s Prog Rock album cover, all fantasy rocks and glassy water, framed by skeletal trees.

It’s low tide, and as we begin to swim, I realise it’s been weeks since I’ve seen such a calm, pale sea, which merges with the rippled, dove-grey sky in a vision of utter tranquillity. We head for the witch’s hat, near which is a small doorway in the cliff. The water here is a deep azure, darkening as we near the cave. I feel big raindrops plopping onto my head. Stumbling over a submerged rock in the narrow fissure, I follow Malcolm into a magical private world. Illuminated by a skylight some yards above is a mini-amphitheatre, and at the far end a tiny, shingle beach where the turquoise sea shushes in and out. The limestone has been rounded and smoothed by the waves. At high tide, the cave must be completely submerged.

On the other side of the point is an even tinier slit which I enter warily. There’s barely any headroom and even on such a calm day there’s a yard or so of rise and fall from the funnelling effect of the narrow opening. Suddenly, Malcolm shoots past me on a surge, and I watch his head rising into the roof and his neck buckling as the sea engulfs him. For a couple of seconds I wonder where he is, then there’s a sucking noise as the sea retreats and he reappears, cackling, pretty much where I last saw him. He continues deeper into the cave, and I examine the Dead Men’s Fingers clinging to the rock, like the remains of a Dangerous Malcolm of the past.

We swim on to a large gap in the cliff shaped like a theatre stage. I hear cooing, and see two doves rather incongruously perched inside. The smell of bird shit pervades. Here the sea is a luminous aquamarine and the slabs of damp, barnacled rock are splattered with clashing rust-red sea-life which causes the colours to sing like a Matisse painting. I film underwater and don’t notice I’m being picked up by a surge until I crash backwards into a protruding cheese-grater of a stone. As I right myself and rub my elbow, Malcolm is ripped almost out of the cave through the channel to the side the rock by what looks like a river rapid. He swims back in, giggling.

As we exit, I swim face-down. There is sand as pale as a bald pate in winter, tufted with clumps of seaweed like an early Elton John hair-transplant. I roll onto my back and see that the tops of the cliff are similarly adorned with fine-twigged bushes. I already know this is a world bursting with life, and it’s easy to imagine that we’re exploring the body of a fairy-tale monster.

The cold gets us in the end, and we decide it’s sensible to return now, so we swim back in front crawl. I struggle to stay upright on the rocky beach and lean forwards with my hands on my knees. I glance back at the surreal world we’ve just left; it seems like a dream.

London Bridge and Fun in a Cave

Secreted just round the corner from Torquay Harbour is a tiny beach from where you can swim around jaunty rock islets to London Bridge, a limestone arch jutting from a small headland. It’s chilly in the December sea, and we laugh at Stephanie bobbing in her wetsuit and holding her hands out of the water to keep them warm.

We’re floating in deep turquoise, and pale slabs of tumbled cliff litter the seabed. The bridge leans tipsily against the headland, its arch a precarious conglomeration of vertical slabs, gravel and earth.

We are sucked through, and I lie on my back beneath the jagged silhouette as the sea slaps against the rocks.

Further on, Sophie has found a cave. We swim towards it, a tall, dark slit rising from petrol blue sea in the corner where the headland meets the cliff. Generations of barnacles crowd the limestone forming a pock-marked skin of bumps and promontories, acned by a splattering of white and yellow whelks. Water and weed run off as the waves ebb, and the sound echoes and intensifies as we near the entrance to the cave.

Jonathan, Queenie and I follow Sophie in. Overhead there is darkness except for a crack of light far above, but we are suspended in luminous turquoise water that shooshes with the pulse of the ocean.  We whoop and cackle when a big wave pushes us up and up towards the cave roof, and scream as we drop back down.

There are supposed to be Conger Eels here in the womb of the cliffs, and we await the snap of giant fishy jaws from beneath. I have a sudden shock as I bob under and see an eel-like strand of weed curling around our legs.

Fellow Swimmers

Stephanie, Sophie, Rosie, Dan, Becky, Allan, Jonathan, Queenie

Shore Crew

Janus and Finn

To view Video Links of the cave swim see under Blogroll

Post Navigation