Luckily there have been a few extremely low tides recently and so I was able to plan a trip around the headland to see the caves to the western end of Freshwater Bay and then on to Watcombe Bay and the even bigger ones at the western end of the pebble bay.
I can remember trekking down the tunnel to Watcombe Bay in my teens, but this method of access has now been blocked from the top of the cliff, which is a shame. Although given the steepness of the tunnel I guess it’s probably wise.
We arranged to meet filmmaker Paul Windridge to guide us as he knows Freshwater Bay caves well. Having a guide is a really good idea, because I wouldn’t have realised just how many caves we could get to if I’d been left to my own devices. We arranged to meet at Freshwater Bay about an hour before low tide, so that we’d have enough time to get to the caves and back before the tide began to come back in.
Getting around the corner from Freshwater Bay is one of the worst bits – it’s slippery and there are lots of big rocks – but once you’re round you come across a largish cave that leads to a small inlet. From here, you have a couple more inlets and caves to negotiate until you get to the last headland before Watcombe Bay.
To get from the second inlet to the third is the interesting bit as there is now a tunnel, that gets narrower and narrower, to crawl through. Or you can clamber around the headland. We took the tunnel and it was a bit of a squeeze so, on the way back, as the tide had gone out a bit more, we went around instead.
The next headland is the last before Watcombe Bay, and you can go into a cave and then clamber out over the huge slippery rocks that block the exit, or you can go around and get your feet wet. I went through the cave and over the rocks. These are the type of rocks that you climb up one side of and slide down the other side. My trousers, my jacket and my hands got covered in green slime. Not a problem for me, as everything went straight into the washing machine, but I’m just giving you the worst-case scenario here. Don’t wear your designer gear.
Walk across Watcombe Bay and you find that there is a difficult narrow passage to get through in order to access the next group of caves, but it is well worth it as you eventually arrive at the largest of the group – and it’s huge!
The front of the cave has two exits to the sea and between them the rocks form a V shape that makes it appear as if the whole structure is perched on a point. The walls of the cave are marked by the striations of rocks that have been dashed against them over hundreds of years and minerals have stained the chalk all the colours of the rainbow.
Call out and the acoustics are amazing. Great big boulders of chalk litter the floor so you have to climb over them to move around the cave and the water throws wonderful dancing light patterns onto the walls. It’s quite magical.
Tips for exploring the Freshwater Bay caves:
- Check the tide tables – it is best if the low tide is 0.50m or below. Higher than that and you will be paddling.
- Wear trainers or boots with a good tread on them – you will get wet feet.
- Do arrange a guide if you can.