wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “torquay”

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

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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

Maidencombe

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.

https://www.facebook.com/events/391343474210532/

Thatcher Rock: Crossing the Gut

Thatcher Rock – an innocuous-looking, volcano-shaped island speckled with sea-birds and bright green vegetation, a couple of hundred meters off Hope’s Nose. Now this is where things get scary; to get to the Rock, you have to cross the little channel attractively-named The Gut. The bit you swim from forms part of a promontory on the edge of a large bay; the combination of narrow channel and point of course means fast tidal currents.  The only person we know who has achieved this, and who was named for this very feat of derring-do, is Dangerous Malcolm. He and Sophie had hatched a plot to stage a group assault.

When we arrived just before high tide, the sea was the colour of a storm cloud. A shower quickly passed, and we made our way down to the cliff’s edge, from where we scrambled down the narrow, slippery track to the cliff fall near the beach. Finn, Guardian of the Keys, had brought a yellow umbrella and used that to fly down like Mary Poppins. Ninja Elf had met a German family and invited them – they bravely followed us over the edge for their first Devon Wild Swim despite their obvious misgivings.

In order to stake a claim to the Rock, JJ had brought a Jordanian flag, and Jackie had made a Devon Wild Swimmers flag in turquoise and red, which she gave to Dangerous Malcolm. There was some hilarious discussion about where to put the poles. Dangerous Malcolm has recently been cultivating a rather luscious and spiky explorer-type, perma-frosted beard. With his stocky frame and rubber swimming hat atop his neoprene hood, side flaps flipped casually up, he resembled the love-child of Scott of the Antarctic and Amelia Earheart. JJ, in an attempt to float his legs for his upcoming Channel swim,  has allegedly gained a kilo by eating lots of cakes. Next to Dangerous, however, he looked like Tinkerbell going through an Emo phase. Dangerous openly stole his Jordanian flag and tossed it into the Gut, safe in the knowledge that his claim on the Rock was now to be unchallenged.

We plunged into gin-clear sea as the sun appeared, following Sophie and her coterie over fallen rocks piled up like sugar cubes. For the first time in months my face didn’t freeze. I swam easily and arrived at the Rock in what seemed like a couple of minutes; I stopped and trod water, then realised I was heading away from the little gaggle hanging on to the rock at about 2 knots. Bearing in mind we swam at slack tide, this was pretty impressive. The cries of gulls and the stench of fish surrounded us. I swam hard to the up-current side of the island, and spent a while floating and watching the Shags, perched and silhouetted along the top of the Rock like gangs of 1950s bikers with their slick quiffs.

Around the back were more Shags, a couple of birds I didn’t recognise, and some Cormorants. The sea here is deep, bluey, and clouded by semi-dissolved guano. As JJ  and I rounded the corner to the sheltered side of the island, Dangerous Malcolm and flag executed a perfect landing. JJ went to help with the erection of the flag while I took photos from the sea, buffeted by an increasing swell.

Finally we set off back across the Gut, where the current appeared to have slackened slightly more. I made a couple of adjustments and got back fairly swiftly. In the shallows were more sugar-cube rocks covered in lettuce-green algae, and several types of delicate weed, one in bright orange. We clambered back up the cliff, happy and thrilled to have been involved in such a magical swim, and to have made it back without being swept away up the coast – a definite possibility on a spring tide.


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.

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.

The Fairy Tale of Anstey’s Cove

I drive across the moors through tipping rain to meet Dangerous Malcolm – so named as the only person ever to swim to Thatcher Rock and live to tell the tale – for an aquatic exploration of Anstey’s Cove in Torquay.  The rain has pretty much stopped, and I’m stunned by the scene out over the cove which resembles a 1970s Prog Rock album cover, all fantasy rocks and glassy water, framed by skeletal trees.

It’s low tide, and as we begin to swim, I realise it’s been weeks since I’ve seen such a calm, pale sea, which merges with the rippled, dove-grey sky in a vision of utter tranquillity. We head for the witch’s hat, near which is a small doorway in the cliff. The water here is a deep azure, darkening as we near the cave. I feel big raindrops plopping onto my head. Stumbling over a submerged rock in the narrow fissure, I follow Malcolm into a magical private world. Illuminated by a skylight some yards above is a mini-amphitheatre, and at the far end a tiny, shingle beach where the turquoise sea shushes in and out. The limestone has been rounded and smoothed by the waves. At high tide, the cave must be completely submerged.

On the other side of the point is an even tinier slit which I enter warily. There’s barely any headroom and even on such a calm day there’s a yard or so of rise and fall from the funnelling effect of the narrow opening. Suddenly, Malcolm shoots past me on a surge, and I watch his head rising into the roof and his neck buckling as the sea engulfs him. For a couple of seconds I wonder where he is, then there’s a sucking noise as the sea retreats and he reappears, cackling, pretty much where I last saw him. He continues deeper into the cave, and I examine the Dead Men’s Fingers clinging to the rock, like the remains of a Dangerous Malcolm of the past.

We swim on to a large gap in the cliff shaped like a theatre stage. I hear cooing, and see two doves rather incongruously perched inside. The smell of bird shit pervades. Here the sea is a luminous aquamarine and the slabs of damp, barnacled rock are splattered with clashing rust-red sea-life which causes the colours to sing like a Matisse painting. I film underwater and don’t notice I’m being picked up by a surge until I crash backwards into a protruding cheese-grater of a stone. As I right myself and rub my elbow, Malcolm is ripped almost out of the cave through the channel to the side the rock by what looks like a river rapid. He swims back in, giggling.

As we exit, I swim face-down. There is sand as pale as a bald pate in winter, tufted with clumps of seaweed like an early Elton John hair-transplant. I roll onto my back and see that the tops of the cliff are similarly adorned with fine-twigged bushes. I already know this is a world bursting with life, and it’s easy to imagine that we’re exploring the body of a fairy-tale monster.

The cold gets us in the end, and we decide it’s sensible to return now, so we swim back in front crawl. I struggle to stay upright on the rocky beach and lean forwards with my hands on my knees. I glance back at the surreal world we’ve just left; it seems like a dream.

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