As I walk down the path to Hope’s Nose I can see dimly across to Berry Head in the half light of a failed dawn. The sea is cut with ranks of waves and from below me on the exposed beach I can hear the crash of surf. I have however chosen my destination with care and the bulk of Hope’s Nose screens the bay on the north side where the water is oily flat calm with not even the slightest wave breaking on the grey low tide pebbles.
Part of the reason for the rough sea in the bay is that the wind from the south is running counter to the tidal flow from the north. I will meet the current but as I swim away from the beach into the clear aqua-green water there is no hint of it. Ahead of me the surface is without a ripple, but glancing over my shoulder I can see I am leaving a wake that stretches back out of sight from my low vantage point. Not for the first time I wonder what a watcher from the high cliff above would see?
It is a fraction over a mile across the two bays to Long Quarry Point and it is out in the middle of the first bay that I begin to notice the current; I am pushing forward quite hard but moving only slowly against the shore. Nevertheless the dark basalt mass of Black Head with the bright red weathered sand and Bishop’s Rock high above is slowly coming closer. I pass two lobster pot buoys directly off the point as Redgate Beach and Anstey’s Cove are slowly revealed in front of me so I am at least going forward though for a moment I was beginning to wonder. I am half way but I can feel I am going more and more slowly and I begin to think that actually reaching Long Quarry is a pipedream, except that I have swum this before.
The pillar of Long Quarry Point remains obstinately far off. The headland was quarry away for ‘Torquay Marble’ actually an ancient coral reef full of fossils and coloured bands which makes it an attractive decorative stone. The pillar at the end, as with Durl Rock, was no doubt left as a marker for shipping especially the barges that moored up and carried the stone certainly as far as Cardiff where the town hall façade is made of it. On a recent visit to Belfast I happened to go to The Crown Bar, a rather eccentric pub owned by the National Trust and if I were laying bets I would say the two pillars that make the portico were also Torbay Marble.
The last 50m nearly defeats me but finally I slap my hand on the barnacle and mussel covered limestone that I have swum off so many times before. It has taken me almost 50 minutes to cover a mile, a distance that should have taken no more than 40.
The light is still dull and gloomy but I take a few photos anyway as much as anything to say ‘I was ‘ere’. Now, I should go a little faster. Immediately I can feel the push of the current and a quick glance over my shoulder shows Long Quarry rapidly receding. I fly by Black Point in the blink of an eye. There is a little more swell now or maybe it is just because I am now swimming into it and a little more breeze on the water, but Hope’s Nose is getting closer and closer.
I step down onto the grey pebbles and do a double take at my watch: 50 minutes there, 30 minutes back, which, yes, averages to about 35 minutes to the mile.
And the best thing is that I do not feel in the least bit chilled.