A magical evening in Combe Martin, North Devon

Published: Monday 15th Jul 2013

Written by: Sarah Dullaghan

On a warm July evening this summer my husband and I loaded our stand up paddle boards onto the roof of the car and headed for Combe Martin on the coast of North Devon. It was only my second session of paddle boarding so we were in search of calm waters which thankfully we found, in fact when we started to paddle out we couldn’t believe how flat and calm the sea was, it was beautiful and eerie at the same time.  There were huge blooms of jellyfish, which although fascinating to watch and paddle over, made me even more determined to stay firmly on the board and not fall in – I had recognised some that were stingers so it wouldn’t have been very pleasant to have met one face to face!  The scenery was simply stunning; with rugged cliffs to the left of us and views up towards the Exmoor coastline to the right of us.  The sun had started to set and the sky was turning a golden yellow and the sea a warm orange, I turned to Pete and said “we could be somewhere in Thailand or Vietnam! This is incredible!”  But what was even more incredible was yet to come! 

We were the only 2 people in the sea at this point and we must have been about a mile out to sea, it was so peaceful – just the seabirds flying above us and the sound of our paddles stroking the water…….and then a SPLASH! “What on earth was that?” I said, “dolphin, dolphin!” shrieked Pete hardly able to contain his excitment whilst trying to maintain his balance on his paddle board, “OMG!” was all that I could muster at that point.  Luckily he had bought his waterproof camera with him, so we stayed put for a few minutes and waited to see if we could capture him on film. 

We didn’t have to wait long before the dolphin reappeared, he was big, very big, a wild fully grown adult male we thought, and following him was a slightly smaller dolphin with a calf, they were uncomfortably close to us so we just stayed very still.  A few minutes later the Ilfracombe Princess (a wildlife cruise boat) stopped nearby and what we witnessed next was truly unbelievable – the dolphin appeared to be ‘performing’ for the people on the boat, it leaped 10 or 15 feet out of the sea, falling on its back creating huge splashes, as the “ooooooh’s” and “ahhhhhhhhs” of the delighted tourists got louder and louder the dolphin seemed to react and started to do more tricks; going around backwards in circles whilst flapping its fins frantically, jumping higher, landing with bigger splashes, twisting and turning.  It was a sight I shall not forget for a very long time. 

The ‘show’ went on for a good 15 minutes and all this time Pete and I were just feet away.  The boat carried on its journey and Pete and I just looked at each other in stunned wonder at what we had just seen, having to pinch ourselves and questioning if anyone would actually believe us?  A few moments later ‘Dave’ as he was later referred to, swam underneath our boards coming within touching distance of us, then breached out of the water and delicately flopped back into the warm orangey sea.  We stayed with him for a good hour and he entertained us with more breaching, splashing and then a bit of fishing; literally throwing huge cod out of the sea up into the air and then catching it in his mouth.  I don’t think my feet really touched my paddle board on the way back, I felt like I floated back to shore, euphoric and slightly dazed!

We were hooked, and for the following week we went out every evening to look for ‘Dave’.  He didn’t disappoint either, he showed up every time, and each time the Ilfracombe Princess appeared ‘Dave’ put on his best performance, so we knew this was not just a ‘one off’ just a truly remarkable, magical act of nature which we were honoured and privilege to be a part of.

Sarah Dullaghan



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