From rockpooling splendour to adventurous swimming, Ju Lewis explains why she loves Meadfoot Beach in Devon
My favourite wild swimming spot...hmmm. Living with the Dart-feeding moor on one side of my compass and the sea taking up nearly 180 degrees on the other, I am spoilt for choice with both fresh and salt water. But salt has the edge for me.
My top spot is not truly wild (being half a mile from town), but has plenty of wildlife and a feeling of being away from urban life. At low tide we swim over kelp beds, and there are myriad crabs of many species scuttling below. When the sea is calm the 800m return swim to Shag Rock provides a good challenge – and once there, the barnacle and algal life clinging to the base of this statuesque bird-perch is equally fascinating. In summer the jellyfish seem to pass in streams through the gap between shore and the rock, which can make the swimming more ‘interesting’!
Looking back to the beach from Shag Rock gives the best view of the architect-designed beach huts – the exact number of shades of blue on the art-deco influenced square doors is still up for debate.
Waves thrown high
Views from the beach include south across the four-mile-wide bay to a lighthoused headland, and east to bird-populated castles of rock, islands of sanctuary for breeding seabirds.
The water is often Mediterranean in its blue hue and clear to the bottom as the substrate is pebbles, but even in an easterly gale it is wonderful – seaweed over the wall, waves thrown high into the woods that back the shore-hugging road, and to be viewed from afar.
Dipping in history
To swim here feels a bit like dipping in history – the Regency crescent of the Osborne Hotel sits above the main beach, and the old tunnel that would have allowed lady bathers to access the beach unseen is still evident. Charles Darwin stayed here in 1861 when he was writing his book ‘On the Origin of Species’. The ‘triangle’ rock at the south end of the beach is full of fossils, evidence of a previous coral reef – the coastal strip is a UNESCO Global Geopark for its geology. I take my own two boys rockpooling there, a favourite after-school haunt.
Post-swim there’s a super cafe with super coffee, and plenty of slopey slipway to lounge in the sun on (or dive off at the right state of tide). It’s a regular weekend swimbrek meet for the local shoal of year-round sea swimmers, of which I am thankful to be a fellow fish.
But why is it special to me? Well, it’s 10 minutes from home, and as well as all the features I’ve described, I have my own history here. A school-boyfriend lived in one of the small hotels 100m up the road – his parents ran it, and my weekends were often spent there playing at Basil and Sybil while they took a break. We took his dogs to the beach – named Basil and Nigel, there was no escaping the embarrassment of repeated calling of their name along the shore. Other times were spent on the bench above the triangle rock, looking out to sea, or on the beach collecting seaglass – which I still do there 25 years later. All the more poignant as he sadly passed away two years ago, at 39. He’s in my thoughts on every visit.
This place is blue water, rock-pooling splendour, adventurous swimming or shoreline dipping, cross-bay views, dives and jumps, historical atmosphere, seaglass if you hunt for it, stunning in any weather.
This place is Meadfoot, Torbay, and I love it.