Yesterday afternoon Izi and I set off for Kentmere. It was beautifully sunny and warm and the drive over was lovely, taking us through lots of little lanes, with views over the surrounding fells and covered by dappling trees. Once we were off the A6 the journey was pretty slow thanks to the narrow roads, several walkers and a chicken who ran around distractedly in front of the car for a few minutes trying to decide which way to go.
Once we got into the Kentmere Valley we found a good layby to park in and decided we knew exactly where we were on the map. But within a couple of minutes of walking we realised that we were actually further down the road than we’d thought. We decided just to walk from where we were as it was not much further – and we were very glad we did. Shortly after passing a horse with the slightly crazy hairstyle of a child who has decided to cut their own hair we came across a house with a studio next to it and a collection of amazing vintage caravans in the garden. The studio is the home of Gordon Fox’s pottery and we went around the back to the little public showroom showing some of his beautifully crafted pottery. When we came out we met Gordon and his wife Barbara who were very friendly and welcoming. They showed us one of their caravans and we told them what we were doing. They told us that the best place to swim from would be a little jetty at the south end of the tarn as most of the west bank is private land for fishermen and there is no path along the east side. Gordon also told us that the river Kent, which runs right past their house, flows all the way to Kendal and that that is where the town gets it’s name – a corruption of ‘Kent Dale’, something I never knew. Gordon and Barbara were a lovely couple – it’s so nice on these adventures to meet friendly, helpful people and to get a little bit of local knowledge from them.
We continued along the path, wandering through the trees by the River Kent – until we came to a factory. This is one of the oddities that you occasionally get in lovely places. Here, in the middle of this quiet valley, down the tiny, winding roads is a large factory making photographic paper. The footpath runs straight through the middle of the factory grounds, marked out in yellow paint and with strict signs telling walkers not to deviate from the footpath which instantly made us want to walk just outside the lines. We managed to get through the grounds, only once getting nearly run over by a mini forklift truck.
Not far beyond the factory was the foot of the tarn. It was here that the Foxes had advised we start swimming, but we decided to walk along the side of the tarn and see what we could see. However, the footpath never really gets close to the bank in any other place, with the exception of one gate forbidding entry to anyone other than anglers. We walked back to the southern tip and I got into my wetsuit. Izi didn’t have her wetsuit with her and decided not to swim. This, of course, was the moment the sun vanished behind a huge cloud which seemed to have come from nowhere but which covered the sky for the rest of the afternoon. The view from the little jetty is beautiful, but it is rather spoiled by the fact that several people obviously use it as a dumping ground. Lying in the water were several bits of rubbish such as an old tyre and some sort of metal canister. Not a very tempting prospect, but there was no other place to get in and the rest of the tarn looked rubbish-free. The water didn’t look quite deep enough to jump in so I walked around to the side thinking I would walk in gently and slowly acclimatise. But about 3 steps in I met my old friend the false bottom created by silt. I took a step into water that looked about 6 inches deep and sank in nearly waist deep. So much for acclimatisation! This, along with my next few steps, each of which stirred up the familiar gasses ripe with the smell of years of rotting vegetation gave Izi, safely on the jetty, a lot of amusement. The water was very cold and I was very grateful for my wetsuit. For the first few minutes my hands felt like ice until they got used to the temperature. The tarn is very long and narrow at the southern end and it felt more like swimming along a river than a tarn. It never seems to get very deep and I could feel the bottom several times when I tried it, although it felt like it was probably very silty and I never dared put any weight down on it. At the northern end the tarn opens out, becoming wider and also much, much shallower. In the distance I could see some birds at the edge of the water – I think they were cormorants but they were a bit too far away to be sure. There is a funny extra pool to the tarn which sticks out from its north-eastern end which I had hoped to explore but the water was so shallow that swimming became very difficult, my knees and feet scraping along the silt layer and occasionally banging into a rock or branch. I realised I’m much more nervous of the ‘what’s below me’ feeling in this very shallow water than I am in deeper water, possibly because what’s below me is only a very few inches away rather than ‘somewhere down there’. After a few minutes of hoping to find deeper water I gave up and turned back. It was a relief to get back into the deeper water where I could swim properly, but by now I was starting to feel cold. It struck me that there are different types of ‘feeling cold’. When I’d first got into the water the bare skin of my hands, along with the few places water could seep into my wetsuit, had felt the sharp, breath-taking cold of the water. But that had worn off as my body got used to it. But now, having been in the water for about half and hour, I felt a deeper, more personal cold. It’s as though that initial feeling was that the water was cold and I could feel it, but now it was my body itself that was cold.
Izi was waiting for me on the jetty, having walked right to the end of the tarn and back while I was I swimming, and as I got close she held my towel up ready for me. I’d been in the water for nearly an hour and it was a relief to get out. The southern end of the tarn, the start and finish of my swim, had been really nice to swim in but trying to swim across the too-shallow water at the far end had been very tiring. We walked back through the valley, through the factory (where we met too men cleaning the windows who were very friendly but utterly incredulous that anyone could’ve gone and swum in the tarn), past the pottery and back along the track to the road picking blackberries as we went.