One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “sandstone”

Hindu Caves Sun-Up Fry-Up

Fishy Tales on the Rocks at Sunrise

Fishy Tales on the Rocks at Sunrise

This is one of Sophie’s legendary swims, and she has persuaded us to meet at 6am in time for the sunrise. Honey and I drive across the moors in the dark, through torrential rain and swirling fog, before the rain slows to drizzle as we enter Torquay. Now clouds are dispersing to reveal watery blue skies and a glow over the headland to the east. We change on the flat rocks and creep into the sea over savagely barnacled slabs, as the salmon-pink sunrise drips orange over the surface ripples and intensifies the red of the cliffs.

In the Hindu Caves

In the Hindu Caves (photo Jackie Wills)

The caves are magical, chuntering with departing wavelets and studded with ancient shells and shingle. The sea transmutes through a disco light show of colours from navy to royal blue to turquoise and aquamarine, tinted with pinks and oranges and silvery highlights. Snakelocks stroke our legs.


Sun-Up! WWS and Sophie Ham It Up Shamelessly (photo Jackie Wills)

Afterwards we make a huge fry up on portable stoves and chatter away. A young gull keens and pesters his mother for food. The sea siren calls us back for another dip.

This swim features in Sophie and Matt’s fabulous book Beyond the Beach: The Secret Wild Swims of Torbay which you can read about and buy here: http://secretwildswims.wordpress.com/home/

Sophie Fries Up

Sophie Fries Up

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

Dogless at Ladram Bay

We descend the hill through an ugly rash of caravans and blue signs pointing out everything from Swimming Pool to Caravan Sales. We reach the slipway and halt ahead of the NO DOGS sign. According to several websites dogs are allowed here, and Max, Michelle and I have chosen this place partly for this reason. We walk Frankepedo and Honey along the cliff path instead. A man with a Midlands accent rudely tells Michelle to put well-trained and innocent Frankie on the lead. The dogs are returned to the cars before we swim.

There are numerous people wandering around the caravan park, but there are only two others on the beach and the sea in the area below the slip smells of poo. This is not dog shit, but the result of untreated human sewage outfalls following recent heavy rain. I can accept dog bans on some popular beaches in summer but this is ridiculous. A fledgling gull huddles into the shingle; presumably she’s trying to avoid being banned too.

We edge out through painfully large pebbles into water that’s murky with red sand. We swim over bumpy waves into a maelstrom of wild seas between the fabulous sandstone stacks which are filled with holes like Hobbit Houses. It’s stunning, and lifts my spirits. Luckily, you can’t see the visual effluent of caravans from the sea.

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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