Wild swimming in the South Hams

01/09/2015 12:20

Written by Anna Turns

A far cry from swimming countless lengths in a pool, swimming outdoors offers the chance to become part of your environment by literally immersing yourself in it. Every swim is a new experience: spot sand eels in the shallows, watch moon jellies drifting by, or swim over a shoal of seabass. It’s easy to lose track of time and distance when the view above and below the surface constantly changes. Wild swimming is all about the journey, whatever the distance. It can be a social occasion too, whether it’s a gentle swim with friendly chatter or a mass participation event with a real buzz.

Tempted to dip more than just a toe in the ocean? There are so many wild and watery places to explore along Devon’s rivers, estuaries and coastline. As a keen outdoor swimmer based in the South Hams, I’ve spent the last year discovering a diversity of wild swims. Here are my favourites:

South Milton Sands Devon by Wikimedia CommonsSouth Milton Sands is perfect for wild swimming © Nilfanion, Wikimedia Commons

- A great novice swim is from South Milton Sands at high tide to Thurlestone Rock, under the arch and back again. The diversity of seaweeds in such a small patch of seashore is amazing – go back on a low spring tide and carefully walk through the arch to admire the marine life from a different perspective.

- Swimming up the Avon River against the tide is the wet equivalent of a treadmill. Park at Bantham (at the estuary mouth just north of Thurlestone), then walk anticlockwise around the ‘ham’ and take the first path to the pink thatched boat-house and slipway. Stick to the outside edge of the bend (the river runs fastest mid-stream) and swim upstream on a dropping tide for a real workout, then it’s a quick drift back.

- Build up your stamina by swimming 200-yard widths at North Sands, Salcombe. The water is crystal clear and you’re never far out of your depth; just avoid the boat lane in summer.

- Swimming across Salcombe estuary is dangerous, but once a year safety measures are in place for the Salcombe Regatta Harbour Swim from Small’s Cove to Bakerswell every August.

- For the more adventurous, persuade a friend with a boat to escort you from Starehole Bay to North Sands (just south of Salcombe) on an incoming tide. Alternatively, cross by ferry from Salcombe to East Portlemouth and walk south to the Hipples, a magical part of the sand bar exposed at low spring tides, then swim up past Mill Bay, back to East Portlemouth.

- The jewel in the crown of Devon’s sea swims has to be Burgh Island. With two annual events around the island, you can choose the official ‘Round the Island’ race in August or the more relaxed Chestnut Appeal Burgh Island Swim in autumn – a chance to savour the spectacular 360° views.

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