A perfect spot for some wild swimming
A dip in some icy waters in Devon will set you up for the New Year, says Chris Carter.
“Wait till it hits the top of your zipper,” Susie, my wild swimming guide, cautioned from the cold water. It was October and I was sitting on the edge of the boat in a bay, just down from Babbacombe beach, near Torquay in Devon. My feet were dangling over the side, and Susie was referring to the wetsuit I had moments before wriggled into with some difficulty. Dany, from the hotel, had already jumped in – there was nothing else for it. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, clenching every muscle for that bone-jarring snap as you crack the water feet first, followed by belly and zipper, then goggles, and swimming cap. And I was under! Seconds later, I came roaring back up like a submerged buoy. “Ahhhhh…,” I cried. “That’s not bad!”
A life-affirming experience
Honestly, it really wasn’t bad – once you get past the “zipper shock”. But then, the wetsuit, not to mention my own layer of “homemade insulation”, began to do the job. Perhaps my goggles were too tight, but it actually began to feel – yes – pleasant. We bobbed along beside the cliffs, inspecting the sandy red rock like Mark Rothko paintings in a gallery, then passed the seal pup on a little beach, from a distance. He was calling to his mother, who had apparently popped out for lunch somewhere beneath our toes. Paddling on, we passed through the natural galleries and caves carved out by the waves. Apparently, mother can be seen here, too, from time to time, grabbing five minutes for herself. Who could blame her? Pushed along by the gentle currents, we reemerged, the seagulls and cormorants circling above our heads. Families love it, but wild swimming is particularly popular with middle-aged women, who find the experience life-affirming and confidence-building, Susie told me. I can see why. Everybody should take the plunge on an organised trip, such as the one with SeaFari that I enjoyed.
Returned to the pier, it was back to my beach hut to peel off the wetsuit. The Cary Arms & Spa is built around a traditional 19th-century seaside inn. Think white brick exteriors, dark wood and stone interiors, with boating paraphernalia, and shaggy dogs next to the fire. The restaurant and bar is broodingly atmospheric, which brightens as you move into the conservatory. Outside, there is a radiant terrace overlooking the bay, perfect for a pint on a warm summer evening. Above the old pub, there are a clutch of cottages for rent, and a little lower down, a couple of beach huts, including ours, located next to the spa with its hydrotherapy pool, steam room and sauna. (My partner nipped into the treatment room for a lomi lomi massage of fragrant oils and kneading – “fabulous”.) Four more beach huts and suites sit just below, on the other side of a small, prettily managed garden, overlooking the turquoise water. With a warm breeze, you could easily think yourself in the Caribbean.
More characterful rooms, suites and sea views are to be found in the main building. Taken together, the whole lot seemingly tumbles down the rock face. Looking back from Babbacombe beach, located a short sailor’s jig away, the hotel is as pretty a sight as any in south Devon – and that’s saying something considering the breadth of breath-taking cliff walks nearby, not to mention wind-swept Dartmoor, which lies only a 40-minute drive away.
Our beach hut, at the end of the wooden deck, with its back to the rock and an expanse of ocean in front, was impossibly snug. There is an electric faux-fire by the sliding doors, when you walk in, and a decanter of sloe gin to complete the ambience. You can even lie in bed each morning, on the little mezzanine floor upstairs, and gaze out at the first glimmers of sunshine, shimmering off the bay. But nothing beats sitting out on the deck with a chilled glass of rosé and a book. It must be spectacular in summer.
Mind you, it wasn’t half bad in October when we went. The odd shower swept in, as you would expect for the time of year. But after arriving, and as we were being shown to our hut, a vivid rainbow broke out across the bay. I joked that the Cary Arms had arranged it just for us. If the hotel did, they seemed to do it for all of their guests. I have never seen and admired so many rainbows as over the course of that long weekend, all framed against an iridescent light, and sat, as we were, on the deck of our cosy little beach hut, book and a glass of rosé in hand.
Chris was a guest of the Cary Arms & Spa. There is a range of accommodation to choose from including self-catering cottages, luxury beach huts and suites. See caryarms.co.uk. The Luxury Seaview Rooms start from £275 per night B&B. Wild swimming trips cost from £50.