A tremendous week of wild swimming

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It was my tumpty tumpth birthday last week, so we decided to have a few nights away (our first opportunity to do this on our own for quite some time) and stayed at Ravenglass on the Western edges of the Lake District. We were blessed with the most spectacular weather (Sunny, cold & breezy but so, so clear) and made the most of it by exploring places we haven’t been to before as well as revisiting long forgotten gems .

Whilst up there, I hoped to fulfill an ambition which had been gathering steam in my head all winter… to dip in a lake or tarn that had ice on the surface! With this in mind I had earmarked Devoke water as a possible option but when we got to Eskdale and arrived at the bottom of the moor road, it was closed due to the weather (ice & snow). My handy reference book (Wild guide to Lakes and Dales) had mentioned several swim spots which were nearby in Eskdale so we stayed low in the valley and drove to Dalegarth. I’d been dopey and left the guide book back at the hotel, so I took pot luck and headed for a spot I remembered just under the bridge there.

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The previous day in the Duddon valley we’d been blown away by the clarity and turquoise colour of the river but I hadn’t dipped because it didn’t feel “just right” so was delighted when this water was the same! Under the bridge it was about 10 feet deep and you could see every pebble on the bottom. The ice on the puddles in the rocks around the edge was lovely and some of it had water moving under it so all the bubbles were shifting in magical patterns. My wife had bought me a new Charlie McLeod changing robe so this was duly christened before and after my dip – WOW! so cozy!

In the afternoon the following day, we headed up Wasdale to be confronted with the most tremendous scenery (see top photo). I used to go up there regularly in my scuba diving days and for hill bagging, but we reckoned it could be nearly 25 years since our last visit! The shame of it! We’d forgotten how awesome it was on a glorious day (don’t talk about the ones when the cloud feels like it’s touching the lake, and the whole Dale becomes quite ominous..). We drove up to Overbeck bridge at the top end and in I went!

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A short Youtube vid of my glorious chilly dip – water temp was measured at about 6 degrees C.

The weather then took a turn for the worse… I’d arranged to meet up with Sara Barnes and two of her friends, Rosie and Margaret, for a dip in Crummock Water on the morning of our last day and as we drove up the coast the rain got heavier and the wind was picking up – nice! We met by the boat house in Lanthwaite Woods (not where Sara intended us to swim but I had got my directions muddled…) and got ready to take the plunge. There are some handily placed nails just below the slates so you can hang clothes and changing robes up…. perfect for the rain to run off the roof and straight down them!!

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Rosie was first in with her customary chant of “Hot, Hot, Hot” to convince herself how lovely the water really was… we weren’t fooled but soon followed her out into the choppy swell. This was my first experience of being in a big body of water when it was windy and raining without a wet or dry suit and it was great fun if a little unsettling.

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We didn’t spend long battling the elements but as we got out realised that a big gust of wind had picked up a lot of our clothes and distributed them across the shingle so they were all nice and soggy for us. I was using my Charlie robe again and boy, was I grateful for it! It was so snug to change in during that disgusting weather. I walked back to the car wearing it over my normal Paramo jacket and I was almost (almost but not quite) too hot by the time I was back at the car park.

So I got home without achieving my goal of an ice covered dip and rather thought the moment may have passed since the milder wetter weather would quickly melt any residual ice… however…

A couple of days later I was free in the afternoon and on a whim decided to give my new e-bike kit a test ride up to a nearby moorland tarn where swimming is discouraged but I thought there would be no-one about and there might still be a bit of ice. The bike delighted and amazed me (and a lycra clad lady straining her way up as I silently swooshed past her on the steepest bit of the long drag up to the tarn) by helping me reach the tops without breaking into too much of a sweat. On reaching the water I soon saw that there still a thin veneer of about 2 cm thick ice around the side where I intended to dip and it was making a lovely tinkling noise as the wind pushed it up against the shore… Quick change and off we go!

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I was fortunately wearing gloves so was able to use my hands to bash a path through the ice (which was just thin enough to allow this) into deeper water where I was able to get my yearned for icy dip. As I was getting out my luck ran out because a large party of students walked down the track from the local field centre accompanied by an instructor who gently chided me for being in the tarn where bathing was not allowed… I accepted it but commented that it was rather ironic that not that many years ago I was in the same body of water doing research work at the request of her organization and was encouraged to come back for more… It was all very good natured and to be honest I don’t think she quite knew what to say to some nutter who was prepared to break the ice to swim in his trunks on a windswept moor having arrived on a bike.

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The final dip that gets a mention in this blog occurred the same evening. My swim buddy, Les Peebles, is as nutty as me about getting in the water as often as possible but due to work commitments could foresee a break in his regular habit. He suggested on facebook that he wondered if it might be an idea for a small group to convene at Janet’s Foss one evening with a battery of powerful caving or other lights and floodlight it for a dip… So Johnny Hartnell, Les and Alais Hill and I  gathered 5 very bright flashlights which we arranged across the downstream side of the Foss to shine back at the waterfall. We were totally gobsmacked at the result, it far exceeded our expectations and looked so beautiful. We had a fantastic dip/swim in water that measured about 6 degrees, but we all agreed felt much colder, and were reluctant to turn the lights off at the end and leave.

So – There it is, one week and five very contrasting but equally fabulous dips in the middle of winter. As I have said in previous posts and blogs, this is my first winter swimming skins (open water swimmer term for without wetsuit) and I had no idea how I’d get on but, having got this far, I am optimistic that I can continue through into spring without falling by the wayside. Here’s hoping.

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