From chocolate-box Maidencombe along to Bell Rock

Joseph Bulmer

Local wild authors and wild swimmers, Sophie Pierce and Matt Newbury share some of their favourite swim routes around the Bay. This week they swim from Maidencombe to Bell Rock

Maidencombe feels like the archetypal chocolate-box Devon village.

Narrow winding lanes lead down to where the hamlet nestles in a hideaway combe.

There is a thatched pub, and Maidencombe Farm sits in the centre, with plants and flowers for sale on its front steps.

It’s a short roll down the hill from the pub to the beach. A stream tumbles alongside the steps down to the shore.

When you get down to the cove you will see huge red blocks of sandstone everywhere, as though a baby giant has thrown his toy bricks out of his pram. They litter the bottom of the cliffs.

The views out to sea are stunning: you can see over to the Jurassic Coast of East Devon and Dorset, and in the other direction you can see the Ore Stone off Hope’s Nose.

The swim route takes you directly south, hugging the shore along to Bell Rock, a diminutive rock arch which is a little further down the coast towards Torquay.

The water is a wonderful shade of dark green, in contrast to the bright redness of the cliffs.

If you keep close in to the shore, you will swim over underwater gardens of kelp and other seaweeds, and there’s a good chance of seeing fish and other marine life.

One summer’s day we saw starfish, wrasse, prawns and a huge spider crab which glowed neon orange underwater.

Admire the red cliffs as you swim along. There’s a softness about them, perhaps because of the patches of green fields on the tops, and the woods and vegetation which cover large areas of the sandstone.

You soon reach a vast slab of rock called Shackley Bench, sticking out at right angles to the cliff and sloping starkly into the sea.

Seabirds like to gather here and just beyond it is an area that some locals call the Lagoon.

The upright side of the bench forms the northern border of the pool, with its sheer walls dropping down into the water. It’s a fun place to jump off when the tide is high, but always check the depth first.

Your destination of Bell Rock should now be well in sight.

It really does look like a bell, being a lovely cone shape topped with a grass crew-cut.

As you approach, you’ll start to see a slit through the middle of the rock.

Depending on the angle and also the height of the tide, the space looks like an hourglass or the eye of a needle.

On a calm day you can pootle through, marvelling at the angles of the rock, the light and shade, and the luxuriant fronds of thick, shiny kelp lining your passageway.

Once you’re through, turn around and admire the mass of the Bell looming behind you.

You can either swim back through, or swim around it, before starting the journey back to the beach.

If you’ve got the energy, the rocks on the northern side of the beach have some wonderful platforms, ledges and drops, perfect for diving and snorkelling.

Once back on shore, you can enjoy a warm cuppa at the café which has been newly refurbished this year.

Matt and Sophie’s books, Wild Swimming Walks: Dartmoor and South Devon and Wild Swimming Walks: Cornwall are available in all good bookshops and online from  and various other websites.