wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “north devon”

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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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.

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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