Fancy an embracing plunge? Grab your dry robe, pop on your neoprene socks and gloves and hunt out our top five favourite wild swimming spots in North Devon. From quiet little coves to expansive sandy beaches, these wonderful wild swimming spots are the perfect destinations to enjoy during the summer and to get some cold-water therapy in the winter months. To help you find some of the best swimming places in North Devon, we have included information on how to find these great dipping destinations.
1. Rapparee Cove Ilfracombe
Number one, nestled away on the eastern side of Ilfracombe, at the base of Hillsborough, is a gorgeous little cove called Rapparee. A mix of small pebbles and sand, this beach is flanked by rocks and is nicely sheltered from both the wind and the waves. To get access, there are around 20 steps down. During high tide the sand might disappear, but what is left is a lovely natural pool. Head down when the tide is up, and you might meet the Regret-Me-Knot swimmers enjoying the sheltered waters. Swimming here, opposite the harbour, with the view of Damien Hirst’s majestic Verity statue, is a very special experience. This must be one of our favourite swim spots during the winter.
How to get to Rapparee Cove – If you are driving, the postcode is: EX34 9NU; if you are walking the OS Grid Ref is: SS 5284 4773. Head East down Ilfracombe High Street towards Hele. Just before The Thatched Inn, turn left into Larkstone Lane and follow the signs to the Larkstone Long Stay Car Park. Once parked, walked down the steps and turn right past the Skate Park. Follow the path until it arrives at the beach steps. Head down.
2. Barricane Beach Woolacombe
For an energising skin-tingling, fun swim, head to Barricane Beach, next door to the famous surfer’s beach, Woolacombe. Park up and walk down the little grassy path and you’ll suddenly stumble upon this shingle shell lagoon. Barricane gets its name from the variety of little shells that can be found here. The water is bouncy, but because of the rocks either side, quite sheltered. The current can be strong, but the effect is more like a lazy river. Because of the sand, in summer the water can be almost warm. In the summer season, it does get busy, however you can normally find a spot and there is a pop-up café that serves a wonderful Sri Lankan curry. It’s certainly a great place to watch the sun go down.
How to get to Barricane Beach – the postcode is: EX34 7DB; if you are walking the OS Grid Ref is: SS 4538 4435. Barricane is the secluded beach located on the northern end of Woolacombe Beach. Park on the road and walk over the grassy headland down to the cove.
3. White Pebble Beach, Ilfracombe
If you have good legs and a bit of stamina, then White Pebble Beach Ilfracombe is certainly worth the effort for a wild swim. White Pebble is a secluded and beautifully remote spot, just a stone’s throw from the well-known Victorian Tunnels Beaches. Down from the Torrs and off the Southwest Coast Path, head down the grassy steep cliff path to the carved-out steps and wonder slowly down. This beach is best when the tide is low, so that you have the shingle to set up base camp before you swim.
How to get to White Pebble Beach – if you fancy an adventure, the postcode is EX34 8BB; if you are walking the OS Grid Ref is: SS 5054 4747. Drive to Upper Torrs and park in the National Trust car park. Head on foot up the footpath through the wooded area and then down along the zig zag path. White Pebble Beach is just down from the path over the grassy headland.
4. Broadsands, Combe Martin
They say that anyone who sleeps on Broadsands Beach will awake with the happiest of views. Tucked into remote woody cliffs, this is one of North Devon’s most beautiful coves and on a summer’s, day has a touch of the tropical about it. Whilst the waters are still cool, the turquoise waves will entice you down the steep 200-step descent. On a calm day you can swim out along the coastline to find a series of secret caves and an island lookout to explore. Even easier, hire or bring a paddleboard to the nearby campsite and paddle round to the Bay. Wild swimmers will want to note that the shingle shelves quickly into deep water, but the headland ensures the sea is kept sheltered.
How to get to Broadsands – you’ll find this swimmer’s paradise 1½ miles west of Combe Martin on A399, 4 miles from Ilfracombe. The OS Grid Ref is: SS 5630 4791.
5. The River Barle, Exmoor
Number 5, but by no means least, is one of our favourite river wild swimming spots. Perfect for cooling off after an Exmoor hike, the Barle is the largest river on the National Park. It offers a rich habitat for the Otter, Salmon and Kingfisher, and the waters are cold and crystal clear. One of the best swimming places is below the Iron Age settlement, Cow’s Castle, near Simonsbath. Here there is a great open section which is easy to get in and out of. It’s certainly worth swimming here, even in the extreme chilly water, for the incredible Exmoor views and wildlife all around you.
How to get to the River Barle Pool – we recommend taking the beautiful 6-mile circular walk via the waymarked path from Simonsbath to Pickedstones Farm on top of the Moor, then walk down the valley and round Cow’s Castle Hill Fort.
If you are planning on visiting North Devon, we certainly recommend you make time to try wild swimming. For us, wild swimmers, its all about the exhilaration, being at one with nature and feeling alive. Even with a quick dip, the endorphins will certainly set you up for the day.
Complete wild swimming beginner? Maybe you would like to spend a weekend or a few days of ‘me’ time and brush up on your swimming skills? Why not join us on one of our Wild Swimming Retreats, based here at the Elmfield. All-inclusive, stay with us in luxury surroundings in Ilfracombe, North Devon, and enjoy professional cold water swimming tuition at one of the nearby wild swimming spots with Coastal Swim Coaching. Some of our Retreats include boat trips to enable you to swim in the crystal-clear waters of Lundy Island.