#55: Stickle Tarn

The story of yesterday’s adventure begins about a year and a half ago when I was just starting out on my challenge. I was at work one day chatting to Brad and we were talking about Jack’s Rake, a scramble up the side of Pavey Ark, right above Stickle Tarn. Brad was surprised that I’d never done it, even though I used to live in Langdale, about as close to Pavey Ark as you can get. We said it would be a great day out to go and do Jack’s Rake and then come back down and swim across Stickle Tarn. Well, as I said, that was about a year and a half ago, and yesterday we finally did it!

Brad, Hannah, Si, Jonny and I set off early and drove over to Langdale. We parked in the big National Trust car park and started walking up Stickle Ghyll. It’s a popular venue for gyhll scramblers and they were out in force yesterday!

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It’s a steep walk up to Stickle Tarn, but the views as you go up make it all worth it and coming up over the dam to see Pavey Ark rising over the tarn is a truly spectacular sight, Jack’s Rake slashing a diagonal line across the imposing face of the fell.

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We made our way around the tarn, across a stream and up to the start of the scramble.

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I was really looking forward to doing Jack’s Rake, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I wasn’t disappointed. Brad and Hannah had both done it before which was good as they knew exactly where we were going. The scramble takes you up a sort of gully, although sometimes it’s quite exposed – nerve-wracking for those not keen on heights but the views down across the tarn to Langdale are just stunning. There was quite a lot of water running down the gully which meant parts were quite slippy which made it harder but it wasn’t too bad. There were a few places where we really did have to think about how to get up, but none of it was very scary or felt too hard, just the right level.

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The scramble brings you out pretty close to the summit of Pavey Ark and we all felt very proud of ourselves. It was great to see the view – last time Hannah, Jonny and I were up there we could only see about 5 meters in any direction! We spent a few minutes searching for a place hidden from the wind to eat our sandwiches and then started to make our way down the back of the fell, back towards Stickle Tarn.

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As we’d been going up Jack’s Rake I’d been looking down at the tarn and trying to decide what the best swimming route was. This was a good move as once we got back down I felt confident about where we were going to go. Hannah didn’t want to swim, so the three boys and I changed into out swimming stuff, left our bags by the path and set off around the tarn. Hannah came with us, kindly offering to carry jumpers etc back around which meant that we didn’t have to walk past all the onlooking walkers too skimpily clad!

There’s a little pebbly beach area in the corner of the tarn furthest from where Stickle Ghyll runs out of the tarn and this was where we swam from. I later found out that none of the other three had ever gone wild swimming before and their methods for and reactions to getting into the water were rather funny to watch. There were a lot of slippery, painful stones as we walked in and then, of course, there was the cold. I’ve done lots of swims by now and I’m used to the temperature of these tarns, but the boys were not so used to it. After a couple of minutes of tentative paddling Brad just went for it and threw himself into the water. Jonny hung around a little bit longer but not much. I tend to get into the water gradually but was steadily making my way forward. Si, however, was struggling. He’d managed to get in up to about waist level, but definitely did not want to make that final move right into the water. But as we other three started swimming away he went for it, and swam so fast that he’d overtaken us all in a matter of seconds.

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It did take me a few minutes to get used to the cold (14 degrees C according to Archibald) but once I did it was a really lovely swim. The setting of the tarn with Pavey Ark looming behind and set into a bit of a bowl in the fells is just so beautiful and the water felt lovely. We swam together and didn’t take much longer to swim across than Hannah took to walk back around. Once we were back in the shallows we had a bit of a play with the camera, taking some pictures above and below the water but by this point both Si and Jonny were starting to turn noticeably purple with the cold, so they got out, shortly followed by Brad while I had a couple more minutes just swimming about. It felt so good to be doing this again. Also, this is the first swim this year with other people and it was really nice to be sharing this experience with them.

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When I got out Hannah was waiting for me on the bank with my towel held out. She wrapped me in a big towel-hug, just as she did after I’d swum Rydal Water which was a very nice way to end my swim.

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Getting dressed again was, as ever, a challenge. Cold fingers and damp skin do not make for easy dressing and certain members of our party (naming no names) had not really brought sufficiently large towels to allow getting changed with grace, or even basic decency. However, we all managed to get dressed with out causing any horrified comments from passing walkers and we set off back down the path.

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Once we got back down we sat outside the Sticklebarn and ate chips and felt very pleased with ourselves. This really was one of my favourite days so far, Jack’s Rake was great fun and Stickle Tarn is such a brilliant place to swim and to do those things with such a lovely group of people just made it extra special. Thanks guys for a wonderful day out – and I hope I’ve not put you all off wild swimming!


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