One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “limestone”

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


London Bridge with Foreigners

Bouncy Behind the Arch

Bouncy Behind the Arch

Beneath the Surface...

Beneath the Surface…

Under the Arch

Under the Arch

It’s the day after the Dart 10k and some of our ‘foreign’ visitors have come to join us on a swim to London Bridge arch in Torquay. It’s a bit friskier than forecast as stormy weather approaches, but the sea is still warm and the waves are not too big. Our first shock comes from the appearance of a conger eel on the beach – dead, luckily, as these big boys can have your leg off by all accounts; well, the accounts of fishermen anyway.

Extreme Bobbing Poppet-Style

Extreme Bobbing Poppet-Style

I hang back with Plum, Paul and Poppet, who at seven is an amazingly confident and strong swimmer, dealing happily with regular submersions during her extreme bobbing session. Plum and Poppet return to shore after a few hundred meters, and we catch up with the others near the arch. There are a couple of boys swimming with another visitor and they also do a fine job of taking on the stormy seas. I persuade a swimmer from London to keep going – he’s more than capable but unused to these conditions. It’s a good demonstration of the value of experience.

You can still see the cave entrance, but it’s certainly too high and bouncy to risk going through. The water’s so wonderful today, pointy witch’s hat waves, splats, turquoise and clear. The barnacled limestone sets off the colour beautifully.

Returning to Land

Returning to Land

The back entrance to the cave is largely sheltered since the swell is approaching more or less at ninety degrees to the arch. I venture in, but the gyre is filled with flotsam and jetsam which includes the usual plastic bottles and some unidentifiable stuff so I quickly venture out again, but not before marvelling in the deep petrol blue glow of the sea inside.

I’ve got my new GoPro camera working; it’s a different entity from a conventional camera as there’s no screen, so rather than framing shots these pictures are all from my point of view. The camera is attached to my forehead with a head harness, and causes some issues with my goggles, but it’s early days and there’s plenty of scope for experimentation.

Afterwards we eat cookies and Blueberry, Basil and Martini Cake.

The Arch

The Arch

Under the Arch Some More

Under the Arch Some More

Swimming Back

Swimming Back

North Moor Downpour

Stair Rods in Meldon Pond WWS and Rachel

Stair Rods in Meldon Pond WWS and Rachel

As we swim up Meldon Pond the rain hits; torrential, hammering Dartmoor rain accompanied by a rumble of thunder. We consider getting out, but we don’t see any lightning and it’s mesmerising watching the different types of rain hitting the water; its texture and colour morphs and melds into a misted band of spray over the surface of the pond. The water darkens and deepens in hue from turquoise to forest green. The rain-drops grow in size and leap on stalks of water from the surface, before dropping back and disappearing into floating hemispherical bubbles. Smaller drops scatter pearls across the meniscus.

Red-a-van Brook Pool

Red-a-ven Brook Pool, WWS, Rachel and Bun Bun

Afterwards we walk back through the rain wearing our swimming gear and draped in soaked towels to Red-a-ven Brook which is close to spate. There we dip and play in a small pool where dark brown water forges and foams creamy and cool below the falls. The centre of the bubbly milky way is like whisky and soda.

Thanks to Miguel Dawson-Ambiado for the two top photos (WWS’s camera is broken…)

Swimming in the Rain 2

Swimming in the Rain – Miguel

Meldon Pond Is Not Cold Enough

Pauline, Queenie and a few others are aiming to swim at the Cold Water event in Tooting Bec Lido in January. To qualify they need to swim at 6°C for one kilometre wearing only a swimsuit and hat, so we tried Meldon Pond which, being spring-fed and around 135 feet deep, is not known for its warmth.

It’s chilly and mainly overcast. Once again, Meldon Dam is in full overflow and the Ockment River rages beneath the leaf-spattered clam bridge as we cross. There are four dogs with us today: Honey, Max the Springer, Maggie the Spollie, and a Border Terrier whose name I’ve forgotten. They cavort, leap in and out of the water and charge, spraying rain storms of pond water as they pass close to swimmers in various states of undress, unleashing squeals and shrieks as the cold water hits warm bodies.

The water feels freezing, and my limbs are almost immediately numbed before glowing bright red and burning. It takes five or six goes before I can swim front crawl and bear the chill on my cheekbones.

Nearing the quarried cliff at the far end, I’m struck by the contrast with the rest of the pond which is surrounded by semi-skeletal trees clinging to their remaining leaves. The wind shivers the grey surface of the water and elicits similar responses in my skin. Below the cliff, the light reflects from gleaming white lime trails and turquoise water. Vines dangle. My brain is confused by the frigid burning and the surreal view; it could be tropical, or it could be Arctic. Afterwards, glowing cherry-red with my cold-water tan, I pull off my neoprene gloves and boots to expose luminous white hands and feet.

Sadly, the water temperature is a balmy 8.6°C.

Tunnel of Stars and Dead Man’s Cave

After days of biblical deluge it’s sunny and clear. We scramble over the rocks at low tide into refreshing, Mediterranean-blue sea. We discuss Kari’s plan to swallow dive from the peak by the beach, in a tribute to the beautiful photos of 1930s Torbay women found by Sophie and Matt for their forthcoming book. The rock thrusts skywards like a warrior’s statue, and we can see that the water below is mined with barnacled boulders which will be invisible at high tide. It will be difficult to research this now that local knowledge has died out.

We didn’t exactly swim today, our progress was more a series of aquamarine wanderings. Beneath the jagged limestone arch I dive and find hundreds of starfish dotted around, warm yellow through the turquoise water like a Van Gogh painting. Sue tells us that Dead Man’s Fingers are more properly termed Sea Squirts. We decide that these splendid, multifarious specimens should be re-named Dead Man’s Testicles, or as Kari suggests, Sea Bollocks.

It’s a neap tide and we can see a slash of sun through the cliffs. The sea glows petrol blue and swells before pulling us into the light in a heavenly, near-death experience.  We emerge close to the corner cave, and swim in through a trail of taupe scum and fronds of seaweed from the recent storms. I ponder why anyone should want to paint their home in taupe when they could choose aquamarine or starfish yellow.

The cave narrows. Rough ginger rocks are splattered with debris resembling strips of flesh. We are pushed up into the narrowing gap with the rise of the sea. I dive down and snake through the ribbon of blue; my claustrophobia disperses. Strange how not being able to breathe is comfortable when immersed in such beauty. We burst out beneath the arch; it feels like emerging from a wardrobe after a trip to Narnia.



Astonishingly Oddicombe

Thanks to Sophie for the photo

A steep walk down the lane past Babbacombe Cliff Railway; glimpses of glassy sea through naked trees. Hunks of sandstone cliff from a recent landslide litter the far end of the beach; a monumental jumble studded with grey pebbles and the remains of a hideously expensive garden.

We swim around the cliffs through nippy, chalky-blue water, and encounter a cave almost immediately.  Here the cliffs are limestone apparently stained and pitted by the sea, but a closer inspection reveals a three-dimensional mosaic of sea-life: barnacles; what looks like a variety of tiny anemones’ bodies in shades of brown; bilious algae; a burnt-orange, gelatinous, splat of a creature; Dead Men’s Fingers in white, and in the same shade of pink as Katie Price’s jodhpurs.

We enter the cave which extends far above us. Waves surge up the narrowing fissure and carry us in before sucking us back, cradled by the sea. Sophie and Susie climb a rock and discover a pool like an oyster in a dark, shell-shaped cavern.  They sit on the ledge to one side, which overlooks the rest of the cave. Matt floats in the pool and the flash from my camera illuminates this magical place, transforming it.

We swim on over seaweeds like flowers against a sea-blue sky, rocks splodged with pink and maroon algae, and constellations of starfish in orange and cream. I float into a nook that reeks of fish. Juvenile mussels line the rock, and as the swell recedes, rivulets of water run then drip down with a sound like spring rain.

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