Woody Bay Tidal Swimming Pool & Wild Swimming

The first time I swam in the Woody Bay swimming pool, I didn’t realise it wasn’t a happy accident of nature. Sat right underneath the cliffs and between two huge chunks of rock, it easily passes off as a natural rock pool. Until you start to look closer.

On one side of the pool, you can see the remains of some steps, carved into the rock to give easier entry. And, once you’re in, the make-up of the far wall by the sea looks suspiciously man-made. But, given the remote location, you can’t help but wonder, who would put a tidal pool here?

Well, it turns out the Victorians did. Because, of course. The Victorians just liked to do stuff because they could. This pool was part of a larger vision to make the area an exclusive holiday resort. Colonel Benjamin Greene Lake, a solicitor who formerly served in Her Majesty’s Auxillary Forces, also built roads, houses, a golf course, and a pier — the remains of which can also still be seen today.

However, his plans for a cliff-side railway, amongst others, never happened. Instead, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison after it transpired he’d used his client’s money to fund his projects. But hey, at least we were left with the wonderful Victorian swimming pool!

The pool itself is pretty small — its widest point is just over six metres and the length runs to just over 15 metres, but that’s not all swimmable water, as the entry is sloped and shallow. It is, however, deep, and once you’re at the sea end, there are some points where you can’t stand up.

This is less of a place to do lengths and more of a place to breathe deeply and relax. I’ve visited quite a few times now, and the swim general tends to fall into one of two camps.

If you’re lucky enough to get the pool alone, this really is an experience. It’s the only tidal pool I’ve ever swam in that I could compare to a spa-like experience. The salty water of the Atlantic keeps you buoyant if you lie back, while the colours and texture of the cliff face are mesmerising.

On the other hand, if you find yourself in the pool with other people, it’s simply too small to avoid a chitchat, which in a way, is quite wonderful in itself — and an endless source of swim spot recommendations

The Key Details

Where Is Woody Bay?

Woody Bay is between the other coastal towns of Ilfracombe and Lynton (both of which have their own tidal pools, if you’re planning a road trip). It’s a bit tricky to get to by public transport, and disabled access is very bad. The gradient to walk down to the beach is steep, and once you reach the cove, is stepped and rocky, so isn’t suitable for wheelchairs.

The closest you can get via bus is by using the Exmoor Sunseeker service from Ilfracombe or Lynton, however, this only runs from May to October and on some days outside of peak season not at all. Do make sure to check the latest timetable to make sure they’ll be running, which is published at the start of every year. Here’s the 2022 one. The stop itself is also at least an hour’s walk away from the beach.

Can You Drive Down To Woody Bay?

Driving to Woody Bay is probably your best bet — but it will still involve a walk of about 20 to 30 minutes at a steep gradient. The easiest way to get there is to approach via the A39 and take the turn at the old Woody Bay Railway Station.

From there you’ll be able to continue onto Woody Bay, where you’ll find a free National Trust car park. Don’t be tempted to drive further down than the carpark — this really is an access road and parking would cut off the whole access or escape route for residents. Not to mention the difficulty you might face in turning around…

Can You Swim At Woody Bay?

Yes, of course, you can swim at Woody Bay! This might seem to be an exceptionally odd thing to end on considering this piece is entirely about swimming, but apparently this is one of the most searched things about the place. And I’m kind of hoping that someone might stumble across this and be inspired.

Other Outdoor Pools Near Here:

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