One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

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Book review – Beyond the Beach: the Secret Wild Swims of Torbay

Matt and Sophie DreamworldThis fascinating book exposes the secrets of the wild and beautiful coast of Torbay. It’s illustrated with a mouth-watering cornucopia of photographs, and if you can look at them and then resist dashing straight there and diving in, then you have the control of a medieval monk.

Beyond the Beach was researched and written by Matt Newbury and Sophie Pierce, and photographed underwater by Dan Bolt. I have to admit to a Wild Swimming relationship with the authors, and I had the pleasure of participating in some of the swims. But it’s honestly fantastic and I can’t recommend it highly enough. There is no substitute for the passion, eclectic knowledge and unique perspective Matt and Sophie have for this area and its unique geology and sea-life, and the book demonstrates precisely why so many people adore wild swimming. Excitingly, you also have plenty of scope for your own discoveries when you swim here.

There’s something here for everyone who has any affinity for water, or sea-life, or geology, or the history of tourism. There are some historical photographs too. The writing teems with informative and interesting snippets to tempt you into an aquatic exploration of this sensational piece of coastline, which is largely accessible to all. There are clear directions on distances, tides and how to find and explore rock arches, coves and sea caves (you simply must discover the Juliet Cave and the Rude Cave); and there are hints as to what wildlife to look for whether that’s rare eel grass, bright pink Dead Man’s Fingers, starfish or the famously inquisitive seals. There’s also an explanation for the bright red of the sandstone cliffs which were once heated by an equatorial sun.

You won’t regret buying this book, particularly if you think of Torbay simply as a large conurbation of bungalows, caravans and guest houses with some nice sea-frontages, lots of bars frequented by cooked lobster-skinned tourists, and a smattering of palm trees. So if you’d love to uncover some of Torbay’s delectable secrets then this book is essential whether you’re a wild swimmer, a tourist with a yen for adventure, someone who fancies giving relatively safe outdoor swimming a try, or just a person who loves beautiful and interesting books.

Beyond the Beach: the Secret Wild Swims of Torbay is available from


or contact Matt and Sophie via the Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Beyond-the-Beach-the-secret-wild-swims-of-Torbay/489909844375598beyond 2


Today we meet Sophie for another of her research swims. She’s doing a talk about the history of wild swimming in Torquay on June 10th at Oddicombe Beach (see link at the bottom). It’s a crazy weather day with morning deluges and interminable traffic jams from Newton Abbot all the way to Hele, but the sun appears as we finally make it to the coast road. 

The sky is bright blue, and the sea is that weird orangy-turquoise colour you find beneath the red beaches around here. We set off towards Watcombe and the Bell Arch. About half way there I start to feel my shoulder injury. The arch seems to call to me; a rust-red promontory topped by a grassy toupée.  I manage to resist and sensibly return to the beach in a slow, shoulder-friendly front crawl with maximum rotation and no pull. The others carry on and find their way barred by a large seal, who scares them out of the water then follows them back along to the beach, thrilling the kids on the rocks.

Standing halfway up the cliff, I watch for the others; they appear as small dots in rippled circles, their laughs coming and going on the breeze.


Maidencombe Madness

South-Easterlies scuppered our plans to explore along the coast at low tide today, with a hefty swell and a force 4-5 wind. The sea churned with dark red sand, and transmogrified into that tastefully dull taupe colour currently found on so many interior walls. The shallows were a chunky winter soup of seaweeds and flotsam. 

Swimming out to sea I plunged head-first through heavy breakers. As I swam, wave turrets hit me from all angles and I began to swallow water. Looking round, I realised we’d been carried alongshore and were close to the rocks. Spray splattered the air. I struck out seawards and then back along towards the beach, pushed and pulled by the surging water. Dangerous Malcolm meanwhile appeared on the rocks, and walked back around to the beach before returning to the sea; he told me later he’d been unable to swim away against the force of the waves and had to land instead.

Back in the relatively calm area off the beach, I floated around and played in the surf, watched by sandstone cliffs the colour of dried blood. Every roaring breaker dissipated into fizzing, Fresian patches of foam.

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