Westward Ho! Rock Pool

Westward Ho! Sea Pool is one of the pools I grew up swimming in. It’s a proper tidal pool, the kind where you should probably wear some beach shoes if you don’t want a close encounter with a limpet. Growing up, I also remember it being too deep for my feet to touch the ground. But, swimming in it again recently, this is now one of the shallowest pools I’ve swum in. But did I get taller, or did this pool get shallower?

The Rock Pool was severely damaged by storms in 2014, with the local council saying at the time they feared it could remain closed indefinitely. Thankfully, a grant from the Coastal Communities Fund ensured it was back open to the public in 2016, at its modest 1.2 metres depth and without lifeguards. It still remains one of my favourite places to swim in North Devon — it’s a no-frills, no-fuss kind of pool. 

Changing is done on the concrete next to the pool, while you try desperately to keep hold of your towel flapping in the wind. The salty water changes with each tide that goes in and out, cooling and warming with the seasons, reflecting both stormy grey and bright blue skies. Most importantly though, it’s free to use and, after more than 140 years, it’s still here.

If you’re making a trip to the Westward Ho! Rock Pool, do check out the tide times in advance. You can’t swim at the tidal pool at high tide, so leave a good buffer depending on how long you’d like to swim for. This being said, it’s quite an incredible feeling to swim in the pool as the waves start to crash over the concrete. As silly as it sounds, you really feel that it’s a sea pool which is connected to something bigger. But don’t chance it too late, or there’s a chance you (and your stuff) will get cut off.

There’s a special kind of magic at low tide too, as the coastline reveals the Mermaid’s Pool. This isn’t a lido — it’s a natural rock pool — but it almost feels like the wilder version of the main tidal pool. The original Westward Ho! Rock Pool was cut out of the rock and it was many years before the concrete you see today was poured around it. In a way, the Mermaid’s Pool is like looking back in time.

This pool is a great second swim to add to your day, but make sure to only set off as low tide begins to be on the safe side. It’s about a mile further on from the tidal pool and takes about 20-30 minutes each way. You’ll continue on along the sewer pipe platform, before cutting directly across the shore platform — which feels a lot like how I imagine walking on the moon feels.

It’s a proper wild swim at The Mermaid’s Pool, so do pack your beach shoes if you fancy a dip. If the tide is coming it, it’s also worth taking a look from the top — take the South West Coast Path and you’ll spot it just after the lookout on Kipling Tor.

The Key Details

How Long Is Westward Ho! Sea Pool?

This pool is actually a bit of a trick of the eye. I’ve always viewed it as your standard long in one way, shorter in the other, but it’s actually more of a square, measuring up at 22 metres by 23 metres.

How To Get To Westward Ho! Rock Pool

You’ll find the Westward Ho! Rock Pool slightly away from the main beach, and it’s easiest to access from the South West Coast Path above, rather than across the beach.

Starting from Golf Links Road, continue on past The Green, keeping the sea on your right-hand side. As soon as you see a row of beach huts on your left-hand side, you’ll spot the pool on the beach below you.

Disabled access is not good at this pool. Access is via a set of steps leading down to the beach, after which you’ll have to clamber over the boulders of the beach. If access is an issue, it might be worth scouting the location in advance.

Westward Ho! is well served by the 21 bus route, which goes from the nearby towns of Bideford, Ilfracombe, and Barnstaple. In the latter, you’ll also find a train station. For those driving, there’s ample free street parking on many of the roads off Golf Links Road.

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