#63: Bowscale Tarn

Last night I danced until 2.15. I went to bed about 3am and got up at about 8.00. I’ve got a bit of a cold. It was grey and rainy and windy and generally miserable. To be honest I was not really feeling like I wanted to go for a swim. More like curl up on the sofa under a blanket and watch terrible TV and eat bad food. But last night I’d agreed with Mike that we’d go for a swim, which we’ve been saying we’ll do for ages and I didn’t want to let him down. Also, I know by now that swimming always makes me feel good so maybe a swim was just what I needed.

I met Mike in Scales and we drove down through Mungrisedale to Bowscale and parked up at the side of the road. Just as we did, a huge gust of wind, so strong that it made our cars rock, hit us from the side. We both turned and looked at each other and pulled horrified faces through the windows, each from our own car. Hmm. This was going to be interesting. We packed what we needed into our rucksacks and set off along the path towards the tarn.

The path turned out to be longer than I had guessed from the map and although it was never particularly steep it was a constant uphill gradient. We were both tired and the weather was switching between windy and rainy and hot and muggy. We started off chatting away but had both become pretty quiet by the time we got close to the tarn.

But as soon as the tarn came into view we both started to get excited. We were approaching it from below and it was hidden behind a ridge so we didn’t see it until right at the last moment. It’s a beautiful tarn, sitting in a bowl, almost completely surrounded by steep fellsides with just a small gap where a stream runs out of it and the path comes up. It was very windy by now though and the water was being whipped up into little waves, shivering their way across the grey surface. We met a man coming down the other way and he said the wind was just being bounced around the bowl, blowing now in one direction, now another, with strong gusts in any direction. Just as he said it a huge gust knocked us all slightly back and in unison we all said ‘Like that!’.

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I waited until the last possible moment before taking off my clothes, not wanting to be out in that wind in just my swimming costume for any longer than was necessary. We decided to go around the tarn to our right, but before we got half way we discovered out error – in our hurry to get out of the wind neither of us had noticed that the bank became very steep at one point, rising up to the fell and far too steep to safely clamber around. Rather than go back and walk around the other way we decided to just get in where we were and do a more round-about swim rather than just heading straight back to the bags. The water was very very cold. And the bottom of the tarn was covered in slippery stones which made it very hard to get in. Mike went straight for it, going from the bank to swimming out of his depth in a matter of seconds. I didn’t. I did what I always do and stood waist deep for several minutes trying to persuade myself that it’d be fine.

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When I finally plunged forwards the cold took my breath away for a second, but I soon got it back enough to whoop and shout at the cold. I yelled and swore and laughed and all my tiredness, my irritation at the long walk, my general feeling of ‘down-ness’ all melted away into the water. It felt so great. The wind was stronger than I’ve ever experienced on a swim before, even stronger than yesterday, and the waves were splashing right into our faces but for once I didn’t care. Mike was swimming around me and grinning, saying ‘I can see why you do this now!’.

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We swam towards the middle of the tarn and then turned back towards our bags. The water was beautifully clear and we had a play with the camera before we got out but Mike couldn’t stay still for long and I was definitely starting to feel the cold, especially once I’d put my head under, so we headed for the bank. Unfortunately, on this side the edge was very shallow for a long way (only inches deep) and it was quite a job to scramble across the slippery, sharp stones to get to the bank. Mike could crocodile crawl, protected by his wetsuit, but I found that too painful as every rock seemed to bang into my cold knees and hips.

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We eventually made it to the side, where I discovered that my rucksack had actually blown away in the wind. It was easily retrievable but unfortunately my towel had ended up several meters away, half in the stream which was not very nice. Mike kindly lent me his dry towel for which I was very grateful. We both talked about how elated the swim made us feel. Even though it was so cold (14 degrees C) it was still enjoyable and I always come away from a swim feeling great, no matter what was going on beforehand, no matter how cold or windy it is, there’s something about being in that water that makes you feel good.

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We got back down the path much more quickly than we’d come up, enjoying the downhill. When I got home I looked at the tarn online and found out two very interesting things. One is that according to some people, if you go on a day when the water is completely smooth and the sky is completely clear and you stand in exactly the right place you can see the stars reflected in the water in the middle of the day. The other is that there are apparently two immortal fish living in the tarn, one of whom can speak. I wish I’d know these things before – the conditions were definitely not right for star-gazing, but I would’ve loved the opportunity to have a conversation with an immortal fish.


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