wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “sea-caves”

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.

Starfish!

Starfish!

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.

Cave...

Cave…

Swimming Round the Point

Swimming Round the Point

Advertisements

Whitsand Bay

Whitsand Bay

Whitsand Bay

It’s a real shock this – a sunny day! Sadly our plans to swim at Tregantle are foiled thanks to Second World War beach defence ironmongery that’s been uncovered by the recent weeks of extreme storms. So Stef and I pootle down to the middle of the bay and descend the cliffs with the dogs. It’s low tide and we’re concerned about the recent doggy deaths from eating boulders of palm oil washed up on local beaches, particularly since both of our dogs have the word ‘labrador’ in the title. Luckily there doesn’t appear to be any here. Instead, there’s a gingery heap of ripped kelp, alive with flies, and a hail of plastic scattered across the sands. Mist veils the rocky reefs and razor shells lie smashed like little car crashes, spilling pale sausage shaped bodies the colour and texture of clotted cream. And there’s the sound of the sea, soothing and enticing…

By the time we wade in the sun is glaring at a winter angle. The water here pulls and swirls in several directions between the outcrops, and there is a diagonal wave and a nice big rip feeding out from the near reef.  As I pop up from a wipeout I see white puffs of cloud on the horizon that echo the foaming white water perfectly. It’s beautiful, exhilarating, invigorating. We chat about Stef’s daughter and her travels in Cambodia while the cold seeps and slaps and sand churns. The waves dump from eight feet, silky walls of water that rise and curl suddenly before crashing down. Sometimes three or four catch up and we’re in a sea of bubbles. Small fountains erupt from the surface like the ghostly fingers of wrecked sailors.

Afterwards we change slowly, soaked in the warmth of the winter sun; or perhaps the heat is generated by the young couple canoodling in the cave entrance behind us…We have lunch and tea in TrannyVan on the cliff top. Today, instead of running the heater on full we sit with the side and barn doors open. This allows Honey and Boswell to revolve through playing and looking for tennis balls and doggy snacks. Stef’s treat pocket is slick with dog flob.

Honey and Boswell Seek Balls

Honey and Boswell Seek Balls

Foaming Clouds

Foaming Clouds

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

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!

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

Wildly Wonderful: JJ

JJ Shocks a Kayker, Dec 11

JJ Shocks the Paddlers, Sharrah Pool, Dec 11

Deflowered by the Thurlestone

Deflowered by the Thurlestone

I don’t want to write about JJ with a sad heart. He was pure joy; effervescent as a Double Dart cascade or a stormy sea; wild and wonderful and kind and clever and affectionate, and always up for anything. He was my friend and I adored him, a universal sentiment among our ever-expanding group of wild swimmers. JJ made us all feel special, he had time and hugs for everyone, always.

In Stormy Seas at Wembury

In Stormy Seas at Wembury

This is a series of fleeting impressions from an Atlantic Ocean of memories. Thinking of JJ I hear his laughter echoing from the walls of a sea cave, I feel zings of adrenaline and the whoosh of a wave as we career through a sea arch having egged each other on, I see a blurred, ghostly form in a tiny tent as he shivers after an hour in Crazy Well Pool during his acclimatisation for a Channel relay. I see him bobbing and photographing Shags and Cormorants around the back of Thatcher Rock. I see his silly, yak-chewed hat and crazy jacuzzi hair, corkscrewing and tipped with mini-dreads from constant immersion in wild water. I see the sun shining and glinting off the sea as he smiles. I watch him with his beloved boys, tactile and funny and deeply interested.

Swimming near to the Mewstone

Swimming near to the Mewstone

JJ had a hand-knitted hippy heart veined with high-tech neoprene through which digital technology pulsed. We were the Japanese Tourists, obsessively snapping each other and everyone else with our underwater cameras. He was warmth in wind-whipped winter water, and love, and amber depths in a moorland river.  He was a ‘sinker’ – a muscled and super-fit type who couldn’t bear to carry the extra couple of kilos of blubber he needed in order for his legs to float; he was an amazing swimmer who flew through wild water like an eel with a jet engine. How we laughed at his expensive buoyancy shorts that added extra buns and quads onto his already legendary body. He took it all with good grace.

Claiming Thatcher Rock for DWS

Claiming Thatcher Rock for DWS

Walking alongside me on dry land, chatting as we climbed back up a cliff, or along the track through Holne Woods, JJ was quietly-spoken and  thoughtful, or playful and funny, or challenging, and always interesting. He’d move among the group, spending time with everyone, head bent forward in concentration, discussing advanced swim training methods, or interactive smart phone apps for kids with diabetes, or telling a funny story, or explaining an idea for a swim, or this week’s twist to his famous gin-soaked lemon drizzle cake recipe. Honey also loved JJ and his cakes, having stolen several hunks thanks to his habit of leaving them on the ground.

The Famous Physique

The Famous Physique

Standing next to him in my swimsuit at Burgh Island as he pulled his wetsuit on (the one with the gold sleeves that he so loved) I laughingly called JJ a wimp. He hesitated. Queenie piped up from behind; ‘She’s got bigger balls than you have!’ He removed the suit and swam in trunks. He once signed up for an extreme endurance swim after I joked to him on Facebook that he ought to be able to do it since he had a whole 5 days to recover from the 10k he was entered for; I added a winking face, but as he pointed out, I should have known he’d have to go for it.

Dwarfed by the Cliffs, London Bridge

Dwarfed by the Cliffs, London Bridge

I haven’t swum since JJ died one endless week ago, and when I do I know I’ll glimpse him  just over the next wave, camera dangling from his belt, attempting to smile through frozen lips. He’ll shoot past like a meteorite in Sharrah Pool, and I’ll hear his voice in the cascade. JJ thank you for sharing so many adventures, and thank you for being a part of my life for the two years or so that I had the honour to know you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPK5fwBUTxE

Jonathan Joyce, wild swimmer and bloody wonderful bloke, 1971-2013

Sharrah Cascade

Sharrah Cascade

Don't Ask!

Don’t Ask!

Japanese Tourist Shot

Japanese Tourist Shot

JJ and Me, Thurlestone

JJ and Me, Thurlestone

Extreme Banging the Nail into the Log, Kate's 40th

Extreme Banging the Nail into the Log, Kate’s 40th

East Dart with Honey

East Dart with Honey

With Queenie, Channel Good Luck Party

With Queenie, Channel Good Luck Party

Soar Mill Cove

Soar Mill Cove

The Famous Buoyancy Shorts

The Famous Buoyancy Shorts

Red Balloon, Burgh Island

Red Balloon, Burgh Island

Crazy Well Pool

Swimming With Dogs, Crazy Well Pool

Photography-Induced Wipeout, Blackpool Snads

Photography-Induced Wipe-Out, Blackpool Sands

Wetsuit Shananigans

Wetsuit Shananigans

Bobbing

Bobbing

Sea Caves

In the Sea Caves

Photographing Shags

Photographing Shags

Chatting With Cake

Chatting With Cake

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

http://secretwildswims.wordpress.com/home/

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

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5Bh-N58i0M&feature=plcp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ynH5Hl_c8&feature=plcp

Bouncing in Bugle Hole

We’re not sure exactly where this natural tidal pool is, but as we descend the cliff path Bugle Hole reveals itself below us. We scramble down and change on rocks like fossilised Cadbury’s Flakes. I squat on the edge of the pool and the sea surges up to meet me so that I’m simply incorporated from damp autumnal air into water.

The sea beyond us is churning and spraying in the gale, but we’re mostly protected by a rock wall that resembles the top of a portcullis. From time to time a big wave foams through a gap like saliva from the mouth of a crocodile contemplating a juicy swimmer. I float over to explore the top of a narrow cave which is also a blow hole in the right conditions, and am sucked backwards into the entrance, before being spat back out.

On the other side is a narrow gully connected to the sea, through which the swell is forced. It’s a topsy-turvy world where the landscape is hidden and revealed randomly, and where from bouncing in deep water you suddenly find yourself stranded atop a rock with the water surface three feet below. Honey is bemused.

I swim from the shelter of the Hole as the sun breaks through and emerge into a glittering, tottering sea.

YouTube video here (apologies for the dodgy quality in the middle, I was shooting into the sun)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLxaQCUPa48&feature=player_detailpage

A Bit of a Battering Around the Mewstone

We finally arrange a Mewstone circumnavigation on a day when the weather and sea conditions are relatively good. There’s a bit of an onshore breeze, a two to three-foot swell and good visibility. I had planned the swim based on advice from Dave Curno, a yachtsman with an encyclopaedic knowledge of tides and currents around the area who had given us a tide talk a few weeks back. He suggested we should swim anticlockwise at high tide plus three hours, when the apparently random currents should be at their most accommodating. It’s a serious swim out to sea, to an island which sits out in the channel tidal stream in deep water. This picture is complicated by the funnelling effect of the Plymouth Breakwater, the Yealm estuary current, and the shallow narrows between the Mewstone and Wembury Point.

We set out for the famous island accompanied by four kayaks. It’s a hard swim into the breeze and the chop and there is a strange illusion by which the Mewstone appears to get further away like a ship dragging its anchor, before suddenly growing closer and becoming touchable. Jess and I arrive shortly after Queenie and Jo, while Max and Marisa the two racing eels are already heading around the back. We spot a huge cave and swim over but it’s not accessible at this water level, though it looks ripe for exploration on a higher tide. 

Cormorants pose with beaks to the sky, jagging the silhouette of the cliff while gulls wheel overhead.  We head up the western side of the island which is striped in horizontal waves of nut brown, black and grey-green, topped by a crenelated and tussocked hillock. It looks like the body of a cuddly jellyfish, not at all what I was expecting.

Approaching the seaward side we are hit by some sizeable swell. From our low-level view we see the tops of sails leaning into the wind, and then a jet black shard of rock like a shark’s fin thrusting from the sea at an angle of forty-five degrees. Waves splat and rush up the flat surface, foaming back down.  The sea is petrol blue and turbulent, and we feel nervous without a kayak in view.  We press on because the current between the Mewstone and Wembury Point from whence we came is fast and flowing out to sea.

We are buffeted and bounced, and our view ranges from water only, to the crews and decks of the nearby yachts, to the tops of their sails. In the other direction is the rest of the sinister, shattered rock slab which from here looks like a Gothic cathedral plummeting to hell. Waves crash and boom. I catch an occasional distant glimpse of white water which marks the position of the reef to the Yealm side. These lethal rocks are named The Slimers and we want to avoid them. I’ve seen the gully between them and the island on Google Earth and Dave has told us there should be two metres of water there at this time. He’s right and we swim over weed and rocks with plenty of water to spare. I’m panting with the effort of swimming so hard; it’s too strong a sea in which to relax.

Here a ridge rises steeply at an angle like the spine of a stegosaurus, and secreted in the hollow towards its base is a small stone building incorporating a roundhouse. The spine and the cottage are washed on their seaward side with yellowy-green lichen. This must have been the home of the infamous prisoner of the Mewstone, who chose banishment here in  preference to deportation to Australia in the nineteenth century. I wonder how this hasn’t been sold by Stag’s as an ideal second home renovation project for an Investment Banker like pretty much every other vernacular Devon building. 

We exit the gully and are momentarily confused. I spot Wembury Church in the far distance and realise we were about to head for Plymouth. Then Lindsay and Claire materialise on the horizon in their kayaks like bedraggled sea angels to escort us back in.

The waves are mostly with us, and we should be able to swim easily but it’s a struggle. I’ve lost my rhythm, am very tired, and am starting to get cramp in one calf and the other hamstring. Consciously relaxing, I manage to shake it out. It’s impossible to glide because of the buffeting so I have to grit my teeth and go for it. My mouth and throat are raw with salt water, and my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth. I dream of my bottle of water back on the shore and swim harder. Breathing to the left, I realise the Yealm current has pushed me over towards the Point so have to swim at an angle into it to get round the rocks to the beach.

Finally I see pale sand and surf in on two tiny waves. I’m greeted by cheers from some of our friends who’ve come for a little swim and waited for us. The adventure has taken the faster pair around one hour and forty minutes, but we’ve been nearer two and a half. I have just enough energy left to do a little dance on the beach.

There’s some wonderful historical information on this blog: http://matteringsofmind.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/mewstone-and-starfish/

Sweetly Sugary Cove

Just around the corner from Dartmouth Castle, Sugary Cove is as sweet and lovely as it sounds. The tide is high and we enter the cool, pale turquoise sea from the rocks then swim along to the gully. Cliffs tower above while gulls wheel overhead. A pair of nesting Oyster Catchers rush past, black and white with long orange beaks, they emit frequent squeaky-toy calls and should certainly be immortalised in plasticine by Nick Park. We dive down and see a large crab who quickly pulls a frond of seaweed over her shell like a wig, in an attempt to disguise herself.

Round the corner overlooked by the Castle is a cave where we play for a while. The pale, quartz-veined slabs close to the surface make the water pulse with colour. We swim back round the outside, where a gull guards a guano-iced rock and the Oyster Catchers reappear, circuiting us several times in alarm. The scent of sea bird wafts over us, while white-sheeted yachts sail silently past like ghosts.

We find another deep cave on the opposite side of the bay.  We’re pulled in and shooshed back; it’s like being caught in the wind-pipe of a living creature. The cold hits here under the damp, limpeted walls. We swim back to shore in sunshine through fragments of weed suspended in bright sea.

Post Navigation