Last night Kat and Chris came up from London so we’re all staying at the Youth Hostel in Grasmere for the weekend. This morning we got out the maps and had a think and decide on a route from Brotherswater that would take in Hayeswater and Angle Tarn.
We parked at Cow Bridge car park and put on boots, got rucksacks ready and scoffed at the MWIS forecast which had predicted 40-50 mile an hour winds. It all seemed very calm to us, hardly a breath of wind, nothing to worry about. We set off via Hartsop towards Hayeswater. There is a lot of construction work going on around the path to put in a hydro-electric plant but it was a lovely walk despite the presence of a lot of diggers! We walked up along the stream, steadily gaining height until we came up over a lip and saw Hayeswater before us. It had been getting steadily windier as we climbed, but the warmth we generated by walking up hill had meant we were very unfazed by it. As we came into the valley where the tarn lies however, the wind really started to hit us. The water was being whipped up into little waves with white horses scudding across the surface towards us. It looked grey and cold and forbidding.
But it takes more than a little wind to put me off these days! The last few swims I’ve done all seem to have been very windy, and although it makes it harder work I’m not going to let it put me off. Chris was definitely up for coming in with me – Kat was not so sure but by the time we’d made our way all little way round the side she said ‘Oh, well I’ve got to come in haven’t I?’ So we all changed into our swimming stuff, trying not to flash any passing hikers and looked at the wild water before us. Chris was all for plunging straight in and although Kat initially said she would be going in slowly she also started swimming pretty quickly, so I ended up setting off rather quicker than I probably would’ve done on my own! The water was icy, our skin burning with the cold of it. The waves lashed at us from the side, the wind rushing past us.
It didn’t take long to get to the far side where we regrouped and had a quick photo. Before setting off back I checked Archibald’s temperature readout: 13 degrees C, the coldest I’ve swum in since I’ve had the thermometer. Unsurprisingly we didn’t really want to hang around, so we quickly turned back and headed back to our bags. The wind was definitely trying to blow us off course, especially me with the tow float constantly trying to tug me towards the end of the tarn.
As we approached the side I asked, without much hope, who was up for joining me in the underwater selfie. Kat’s answer was a very definite ‘no’ but Chris said he would join me, resulting in one of my favourites so far.
We clambered out, cold but happy and began the inevitable battle with flapping towels, cold hands, damp skin and uncooperative clothes. Once we’d all managed to get dressed we had a chocolate biscuit (well earned I feel) and set off again. The path was pretty steep which was good as the walk soon warmed us up again. As we got higher the wind really started to pick up and as we set off along the ridge towards Angle Tarn it became crazily strong, some of the strongest wind I’ve ever walked in. We were leaning into it, the wind holding our weight as we leant forwards. As we tried to walk we were buffeted and knocked over sideways, walking semi-crouched and stumbling every time a gust tried to push us over. It was fun, but hard work and we were very glad that we were on a fairly rounded bit of ground rather than more of a sharp ridge.
It was very lumpy and bumpy up there so we couldn’t see very far ahead but after a while Angle Tarn started to slip into view. It was very beautiful, very wiggly edges dropping steeply into the water with two little islands in the middle. However, the water looked even wilder than at Hayeswater, white horses once again dancing across the surface.
We made our way down to the tarn and I decided to swim from a little spit sticking right out into the water. The main reason for this was that most of the way round the sides looked pretty steep and in the few places they didn’t they didn’t look steep they looked marshy. So I decided to do a circuit from the spit, which sloped more gently into the water. As we walked down I’d been feeling really positive about the swim, ready to jump back into the water and battle the waves. But as we sat on the spit, hiding behind a rock from the wind and I started to contemplate taking off all my nice warm clothes, all my enthusiasm suddenly left me. But I was here now and there was no way I was walking back down without doing this swim. Kat and Chris had both decided that they would sit this one out and I have to admit to feeling a bit jealous of their warm coats as I stripped down to my swimming gear.
As I took my first steps into the water, I could feel the power of the waves as they washed into me. I was facing straight into the wind and as I got deeper it actually became hard to stand with the waves constantly knocking into me. I had to use the tow-float to balance myself, something I’ve never done before. I got in much more slowly this time, standing waist-deep for a few minutes before I finally took the plunge and set off swimming.
For the first few minutes a combination of the wind, the waves and the cold actually made it quite hard to breathe and I had to really concentrate on each breath, continually turning my head quickly to one side or the other to avoid an oncoming wave. I know I keep saying it at the moment but this was definitely the windiest swim so far. The waves were sometimes over my head, crashing around me. I had to swim up one side and down the other, like being in the sea. I couldn’t really tell if I was making much progress and I didn’t want to stop and look around in case I just got instantly blown back to way I’d come.
I made my way to a little bay, where thankfully the wind was quieter and took the opportunity to have bit of a rest on the tow-float. I also took the chance to have look at Archibald. The water was 12 degrees, breaking this morning’s record for the coldest swim yet. I floated round in the cold, cold water for a couple of minutes before setting off towards the smaller of the two islands.
I swam around the smaller island and then between the two, back to the middle of the tarn to head back to where I’d started. As I passed the big island I swam a little too close to the shore and banged my knee on a rock as I went past (it still hurts now!). The wind was now at my back which was much nicer although it did mean that my tow-float kept trying to get in front of me which was annoying.
As I headed for the shore I saw Kat there, holding my towel ready. I took a deep breath and plunged my head under for the underwater selfie and then hurried for the shore where Kat met me with a very welcome towel-hug.
I’d been in the water for nearly half an hour and when I got out I experienced something new. I didn’t feel cold. I was stood in the howling wind, my skin wet with the freezing water in only wet swimming things – and I didn’t feel at all cold. Which was a bit worrying really. As I rubbed the twel on my skin I couldn’t really feel it. The wind was so strong that as I started to get dry and pull my clothes on I realised that I didn’t need to hold the towel against myself to cover up – the wind was doing that for me. In the end Kat had to help me get dressed, my numb fingers unable to do anything the least bit fiddly.
Luckily, once we set off walking again I soon started shivering and after that it didn’t take me long to warm up. The wind was still strong while we were high up but as we dropped back down in to the valley it became much calmer again and we had a lovely walk back to the car along the bottom of the fells we’d just been walking on.
I’ve been thinking for a while now that it would be really nice to get a different point of view for my blogs, some words written by the people who’ve accompanied me on my adventures. Here are a few words from Chris about today:
We’re no strangers to cold water swimming and thought we were pretty hardy souls but the 50mph winds and 13°C water at Hayeswater Tarn today gave even us second thoughts! But Forest’s enthusiasm saw us through those first icy, agonising steps and once we were in it was amazing, beautiful and invigorating…good for the body and even better for the soul…thanks Forest! Kat & Chris XX