Go wild swimming: an insiders guide
THE NATURALLY SHELTERED HARBOUR OF TORBAY MAKES IT THE PERFECT PLACE TO TAKE A DIP. JOIN PROLIFIC SWIMMERS AND AUTHORS MATT NEWBURY AND SOPHIE PIERCE AS THEY SHARE 7 TOP SPOTS FOR WILD SWIMMING AROUND TORBAY.
Sea swimming has been experiencing a renaissance of late, with people keen to dive into the wilds for exercise and endorphins in a stunning setting that is as exhilarating as it is peaceful. Torbay is one of the most diverse, beautiful and fun places to swim in the UK, with 22 miles of stunning coastline and no less than 18 beaches.
Indeed, out of the 141 award-winning beaches in the UK, Torbay tops the list with a total of 10 winning Seaside Awards; with Breakwater, Meadfoot and Oddicombe, all winning Blue Flag Awards. And the best way of exploring this spectacular natural landscape is from the sea.
Torbay has a big plus point over many of Britain's other swimming locations, because it's waters are very safe. It's a natural harbour, so the sea is shallow, with hardly any currents. The water is often flat, calm and beautifully blue. The entrance to the Bay also faces east, meaning that it is also sheltered from the prevailing south westerly winds. This makes it the perfect place for beginners to dip their toes into wild swimming. If you have always fancied giving it a go, now's the chance with our handy guide to 7 top spots.
A few safety tips...the serious bit!
If it's your first outdoor swim of the season, be careful to enter the water slowly and acclimatise. Stay close to the shore until you are comfortable. Why not wear a wetsuit for added warmth and buoyancy? The advantage of swimming in Torbay over the summer months is that the waters are pleasantly warm, especially if you are swimming off shallow sands like Torre Abbey Sands, Paignton Sands and Goodrington Sands.
Don't enter water without first establishing an exit point. Never jump or dive into water without first checking the depth and whether there are any obstructions. Swim in a group wherever possible (it's a lot more fun, anyway...) or if swimming alone, let people know your movements and take extra special care. If you are out swimming and unsure if there is a current, swim a short distance and then swim back to see if it feels any different. Stay close to the shore; that's where you will get the most interesting views from anyway. Consider wearing a swim hat, or a bright tow flat, so that boats can see you from a distance.
TOP 7 LIST…
#1 Oddicombe Beach to the Juliet Cave (0.7 miles there and back)
Take the charming Babbacombe Cliff Railway down to Oddicombe Beach (or walk across from the car park near the Cary Arms) and enter the water in the middle of the cove, just past Three Degrees West Bar & Bistro. This swim is best done at a low tide. Head north following the shore past the cliff fall towards the two red truncated sandstone stacks. Depending on the state of the tide, you can either walk or swim around them. Look out for some steps moulded into the rocks leading down from a swim platform. This was the Gentlemen's Bathing Place in the days of segregated swimming and where Oddicombe Swimming Club was formed in 1922. You can still just about make out the tiled sign.
Swim along the coast keeping the shore on your left. As you swim out to the northern, outer corner of the beach (Petit Tor Point) look out for an opening in the rock. If it's a low tide, it leads to the most dramatic cave an inner cavern known as Dove Cave. Only swim in if the water is flat calm and there is no swell or chop. The cave snakes in to the right of the opening and to the left you can climb up a smooth pink rocky slope. You can then climb through a narrow opening to another 'upstairs' cave with a pebbly pool to relax in. There is a 'window' or balcony looking back down to the cave below, so we have dubbed it the Juliet Cave. Return to the beach the way you came.
#2 Anstey's Cove to Redgate Beach (0.6 miles)
A swim from Anstey's Cove over to the "officially" closed Redgate Beach has a slightly naughty air to it – the kind of old school adventure that we wild swimmers thrive on. Park at Wellswood and walk across the meadow, before heading down the steep and meandering road, with stunning views across the cove to Long Quarry Point. Limestone was mined from here to be used in the mansions and civic buildings of Torquay during Victorian times. Today it is one of the most popular spots for Coasteering, an adventure activity that combines cliff jumping, swimming and rock climbing.
Enter the water from the tiny rocky beach in front of the café - it's very pebbly and swim shoes are highly recommended (and you can usually pick up a cheap pair from supermarkets in the summer months). The water is also incredibly clear here, so wear goggles or even a mask and snorkel to enjoy the wonderful palette of the underwater world. To get to Redgate Beach, you'll need to swim around a rocky outcrop called Devil's Point. You'll be able to see where once a wooden walkway allowed people to access the beach before it closed. It's a great feeling reaching the shore of this sand and shingle beach. It's a wonderful late-afternoon suntrap and a fantastic place to close your eyes and drift back in time.
#3 Meadfoot Beach to West Shag Rock (0.7 miles)
Meadfoot Beach has been a popular swimming spot for well over a century and in 1900 it became the first place in Torquay to allow mixed bathing. Agatha Christie was a big fan of the beach and would swim around Shag Rock on a regular basis. Our swim starts down towards the end of the colourful new beach huts, just in front of the looming mass of Triangle Point. Swim around the point and past the red and grey rocks of Knoll Quarry. This is where gold was found in the nineteenth century, so keep an eye out for anything glimmering!
Ahead you will see West Shag Rock. Swim up and touch the rock to 'claim it' before heading back to the shore, where you will see a huge cliff fall. This dates from the nineteenth century and apparently gives the area its name, Daddy Hole. The fall was supposed to be the work of the Devil – 'daddy' being an old Devonian word for Satan. Another legend has it that the 'Daddy' lived in a hole at the bottom of the cliff, which you will see if you swim a little further on, towards Torquay harbour. Also known at Thunder Hole, if you are brave enough to swim into the cave, the swell of the water makes a low chilling roar, and we bet you won't stick around very long. Return to Meadfoot Beach the way you came.
#4 London Bridge Arch (0.4 miles)
The incredible natural arch of London Bridge is one of nature's finest sculptures and swimming through it is a fun and fascinating challenge. The easiest place to swim from is Peaked Tor Cove, just past the Imperial Hotel and at the start of the coast path. The beach was designated as a gentlemen's bathing cove in the late 19th century (mixed bathing was not allowed until 1899). The nearest ladies' beach was beacon Cove and if you want a long swim, it is possible to swim to the arch from here as well.
You'll first need to swim around Saddle Rock. There's a concrete platform on the top that was created by Tack Collins, who used the rock to practise for the 1908 Olympic high diving team. Swimming towards London Bridge, you will soon see a large flat area to your left called Dyers Quarry. Many of the town's civic buildings were built from this limestone. It's a fantastic feeling swimming under London Bridge. We like to float under the arch on our backs, looking at the incredible rock formations above. Don't worry, the chances of London Bridge falling down at precisely the moment you are swimming under it are extremely slim. Return to Peaked Tor Cove the way you came.
#5 Goodrington to Broadsands (1 mile, or 2 miles there and back)
Goodrington is a great beach to try sea swimming, because it is shallow, usually quite warm and incredibly picturesque. This swim begins at the south end of the beach by the small café. Swim south towards Brixham, keeping close to the coast. Depending how close you go, you will swim over a large reef, with a colourful garden of seaweed to enjoy through your goggles. You'll pass several small beaches on your right starting with Waterside Cove and then Saltern Cove. These are perfect for stopping off at for a rest along the way. Listen out for the sound of the steam train as it travels along the cliff top on its journey between Paignton and Kingswear.
Head past Armchair Rock (also known at the Devil's Armchair) where you'll discover a delicious little shingle cove, with a lagoon of crystal clear water and the most extraordinary limestone formations. You'll soon reach the amiable curve of Broadsands, passing Crystal Cove – a glorious suntrap in the afternoons. Your swim ends near the colourful beach huts at Broadsands Bay where hopefully a non-swimming friend is waiting with your towel and clothes. Or for the more energetic, you can swim back to Goodrington, before enjoying a delicious hot chocolate or something stronger at the amazing Cantina Bar & Grill.
#6 Fishcombe to Churston (0.3 miles)
Park in the free car park off Fishcombe Road and walk down to the coast path, past the Brixham Battery Museum; which is housed in an old artillery training hut used during World War II. It's a fairly steep walk down to the small pebbly beach, but it's worth it for the views across the bay. To the right are some old concrete steps with a rail leading into the water, just like a swimming pool. You can easily see your destination, Churston Cove with its glorious pale shingle to the left.
Start swimming with the coast on your left until you see a mini rock arch. If the tide is right, it's fun to swim through. You'll then see a tiny beach known as Barney's Cove, followed by a large rocky ledge. This is a perfect spot for jumping and diving at high tide but remember to check the depth first. From here it's just a small swim over to Churston Cove. After drying off on the beach, head back towards Fishcombe, although why not aim for the arm of cliff to the left, which looks like a natural jetty. Swim around the corner and you will find a small inlet that has been dubbed Mermaid's Pool, with incredibly clear water and a hypnotic underwater garden of seaweed.
#7 Mild Swimming
If this all sounds a bit adventurous for you, why not ease yourself in with some fun smaller dips? We love getting in the water at Preston Sands and swimming along the shoreline towards Paignton Pier. You can get out anyway you like along the way and stroll back. Lots of people swim from the steps on Torre Abbey sands at Torquay seafront. Swims take place first thing in the morning, at lunchtime or in the evenings. Look out for the regulars, who are always happy for more company.
Finally, if you are worried about the temperature of the sea, why not start out in the seawater swimming pool at Shoalstone in Bixham? Once you have acclimatised, you can always try dipping down at nearby Breakwater Beach.