There are some fascinating sea caves, tunnels and arches along the coast here: Kingswear, Old Mill Cove, Watcombe to name a few, but today’s discoveries are something else.
The freezing fog and thick frost had cleared the closer I got to the coast but even so and in the shelter of the car park at Ringmore it was chilly and there was no sign of the sunshine promised by the forecasters. As I packed my rucksack a robin perched expectantly on the information board, appearing magically just like the ones in my garden, though this one is not as tame as those which will snatch morsels I have disturbed from right beside my feet. Nevertheless this one quickly snatched away a piece of pasty crust I tossed to it, early lunch for him but I’d have to wait another couple of hours yet.
The footpath slanted down to Ayrmer Cove to join the coast path and then it was up and over the ridge to Westcombe Beach. There the stream ran out onto the sand from under the wooden bridge and immediately began digging away at the beach in channels that formed and reformed intertwining braids rushing sand and pale pebbles to the surf where it would wait to be swept back in a few hours when the tide returned.
To my left the beach was cut by a high, fissured slab of rock obscuring another untroden sweep of grey, seaweed strewn sand. Then more barriers only this time higher, grass capped but fissured by two tunnels that lead back to the foreshore of Ayrmer Cove.
The tide is however still too high to let me make it around to the rest of the beach. I’ll walk the coast path and return later.
Three hours later and to the right of the stream the beach threads between arms of the cliff and tall fallen rocks and, through a high cut in an out flung arm of the cliff, I gain access to the next part of the beach. The sand is piled high against the cliff, pale and grey in a few places that escaped the high tide, the remainder is smoothed and swirled into intricate coloured patterns of randomly sorted grains. The foreshore is a mass of weed covered rocks down to a grey but waveless sea. It is exactly low tide.
Picking my way down the rocks in bare feet there is a large pool in another gouge in the cliff, beyond it a small pebble beach and the low entrances to two caves.
The left hand cave is not a cave at all but a tunnel, low and triangular, the walls are jagged and glisten with moisture. Is that light at the end of the tunnel? Is it maybe a way through to the next beach? It does not lead to the next beach but instead ends in a pot hole. The walls have been smoothed, it is floored with golden sand and 15 feet up is an infinity of sky. What a find!
The other cave cannot better that surely. It is wider but the roof is lower and the floor is a sweep of sand into the black interior. No way! The passage turns 90degrees left. There is a pool of water in the sand and a sculpted and fluted slab of rock stands up from it partly blocking the way, but beyond that the tunnel opens out funnel like to the daylight where waves surge across the pebbled floor.
Hoist Beach, for this is where I am now, is backed by cliffs 300 feet high and the far end is cut by a high vertical arm making the beach completely inaccessible except by the way I have come and then only at low tide as the entrance I have just emerged from will surely be underwater in an hour.
It is a delight to pad across the soft sand, the first footprints here today, but before that? A week, a month, a year? The entrance to the tunnels was not immediately obvious and most people have an aversion to entering unknown darkness. Me? Maybe I’m just reckless.
The sand here runs out from the beach making it easier to get in and swim. There is that moment as the wetsuit fills with cold sea and it seems as though this was not such a good idea after all. The water is also not quite as clear as might have been hoped and the ribbed sand fades down below into an aquamarine haze between walls of soft brown kelp fingers.
My first dive down amongst the silently waving not drowning fingers takes me to the limit of where I can no longer hold my breath. My second dive ends more abruptly as ice-cream head cold sends me back to the surface with a yelp, blurry vision and the feeling that my head is in a vice.
As I casually make my way back around the end of the point to Westcombe Beach the seabed below is a tangle of kelp forested ridges and rocks and sand paved canyons.
The tide has clearly turned and the pool at the cave entrance is now connected to the sea and deepening rapidly. My towel is still on the rock but the rock is now an island. What I really want to do is go and fetch the other camera, but the prospect of dropping it in the water or slipping on the rocks is not an appealing one. Oh dear, what a terrible shame, I’ll have to return another day.
My 100 Swims South-West Google map.