The weather forecast for yesterday involved big black clouds and raindrops and looked very grim. But I decided to go for it anyway and was so glad I did. Although it was raining when I left Alston it had pretty much stopped by the time I got into the Lakes and it held off all day apart from the odd very brief bit of drizzle. I met Katy, Rhys and Ben at the southern end of Thirlmere and we headed up the valley between Wythburn Fells and Steel Fell, following Wyth Burn itself. The path was fairly steep and I soon realised how foolish I was to come out on a mountain day with two fell runners. I am not very fit! The valley is very impressive, with Black Crag, a great dark rock face looming over one side and the burn cascading down not far from the path. Near the top it becomes a waterfall, raging down the rocks and giving no clue as to what we would find at the top – a plateau with the burn, peaceful and calm, winding gently through it. The tarn is only tiny on the map (in fact Katy and I were wondering whether we would both fit in it at once!) but it was big enough for a short swim. Although I’ve only counted it as one swim, this place is labelled on the map as ‘Wythburn Head Tarns’ – plural. The burn widens in two places, getting narrower for only a few feet between them so we decided to swim one, make our way through the stream between and then swim the other. I was very glad that it wasn’t too cold as Katy and I stripped to our swimming things and ran through the bog covering the plateau to the further tarn. Katy is far braver than me, and much better at just plunging in rather than hovering at the edge yelping (which is my usual method) but the bank dropped straight into deep water, so there wasn’t really much option for hanging around! It only took about a minute to get from the edge of the tarn to the narrower (and much shallower as it turned out!) section and then we were into the second tarn and swimming around the curves of the winding burn. The water was, of course, very cold but it still felt so good to be swimming without my wetsuit. Although it’s only a very small tarn, this was a great place to swim – the water is deep enough and it’s long enough to swim in properly. The water looked very dark but actually it was really lovely to swim in. Yet another surprise – I was half expecting to find a muddy, reed-filled bog, a few inches deep, that I would have to drag myself across and instead I found a fantastic swimming spot.
We hurried back down the valley, hoping that some movement would warm our limbs back up and both found that we warmed up pretty quickly. The path was steep and slippery though and both Katy and I fell over more than once – Rhys stayed upright and was very smug about it. We went back to the cars and had a quick hot chocolate break before moving on to the next car park along to make our way up to Harrop Tarn. Although we were less than a kilometre from the valley we’d just walked down this walk in felt very different. We were walking through lush green woods, the light falling through the leaves and the moss growing on very available surface making it feel as though the whole world was covered with a green haze. The path wound steeply up through the woods, passing a waterfall coming from the tarn we were headed for and then through a copse of christmas trees growing thickly on either side. The tarn came into view suddenly when we were almost right at it and it was such a beautiful sight. Harrop Tarn sits in a wide bowl, surrounded by reedy marsh and then by trees, with Tarn Crags rising spectacularly behind it. Dob Gill runs away from it, across a ford and under a little wooden bridge, dropping down to the waterfall we had seen on our walk up. As the tarn is surrounded by marsh we decided the easiest way in would be to get into the ghyll and make our way along it to the tarn. We got in at the ford where it was not too deep, but the floor quickly dropped away and again I had no chance for a slow entry! Katy was a little way ahead of me and at one point turned around to say ‘Oh! Something jumped!’. The ghyll was fine to swim in for a short way but before it got to the tarn it became choked with reeds and weeds and we had to scramble across them to get into the tarn proper. It was totally worth it though. It was such a lovely swim and although the coldness of the water was pressing on my skin, I didn’t feel to bad with it. I really do think that over the last few months my body has changed its reaction to cold water and I have become better able to handle it. Whether this is just a psychological thing or whether my body has actually gone through physiological changes I don’t know – or whether it will last over the winter when I stop swimming! Katy swam straight across and got out at a pebbly beach on the far shore but I stayed in for a couple of minutes extra and just swam around. Ducking my head under for the selfie made a big difference though and by the time I got out I did feel very cold. Rhys had walked around the side to meet us and brought our towels with him for which we were very grateful!
We headed back to the cars and drove a little way to Low Bridge Farm by St John-in-the-Vale. They have a little tea room at the side of the farm house which today was self-service. We made ourselves hot drinks took some home made fruit cake and sat in the conservatory warming ourselves up. It was a lovely place and the perfect end to a brilliant day. Two of my favourite swims so far I think, partly just because I didn’t know what to expect from either of them and they both turned out so nice. A great days swimming once again!