I had a few hours to spare in the Lakes yesterday afternoon – and what better way to spend it than going for a swim? It is definitely starting to feel autumnal now and my first idea was to choose a diddly little tarn somewhere that I could just splosh in and out of to get another one ticked off the list. But I was very tired after my few days at work and feeling a bit groggy and I decided I really wanted a proper swim. I’m running out of easily accessible tarns that are a goodish swim without being too far but after a while of sitting in the car poring over my maps I realised I still hadn’t done Blea Tarn at the end of Langdale (this is in fact the third Blea Tarn I’ve done). The drive across was wonderful, all the colours of autumn lying on the fells and the sun shining in a blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds.
There is a car park right next to Blea Tarn so I parked up and just enjoyed the view for a while. But once I decided to get changed I suddenly realised how busy the car park was. Every time I tried to do something there seemed to be someone else there, arriving or leaving, getting their dogs clean before they put them back into the car, sorting out boots, chatting away… One couple sat in the car next to mine for about 10 minutes while I sat there not wanting to try to struggle into my bikini with them only yards away. I managed it eventually though and set off towards the tarn.
I cut off from the path which runs a little way from the water’s edge and soon found myself squelching through bog. I wasn’t too worried as I was just wearing the socks I planned to swim in on my feet – I was very glad not to be wearing shoes! As I got closer to the tarn I realised there was a man there with a fancy camera and tripod taking pictures of the tarn which was a bit worrying – I didn’t want to ruin all his pictures by swimming right across then with my bright orange tow-float but there was a bit of a breeze and there was no way I was hanging around on the shore for half an hour waiting for him to finish. Luckily it turned out that he was nearly done so I waited on the edge while he took a final couple of shots and even took a few of my own.
As he was finishing I took my first few tentative steps into the water. There’s a pretty good entry point, a gentle slope over stones, but the water was very, very cold. As I shuffled slowly in something caught my eye under the water. I reached down and picked up a dark blue marble. What an odd thing to find at the edge of a tarn. I walked back and put it with my towel. I went a few steps further in and found another one, light blue this time and several meters from the edge. How strange. I pocketed this as well, but unfortunately the mystery of the marbles was not enough to distract me from just how cold the water was. It really was cold. As it got higher up my legs I could feel the cold biting at my skin, painful and off-putting. A small part of me was tempted to turn back, but I’m too bloody-minded for that and by this point I was thigh deep in the water, there was no way I was giving up now.
It took me a long time to get into the water and try to acclimatise. I stood waist deep for much longer than normal, trying to pluck up the courage to plunge in and start swimming. Eventually I pulled the tow-float in front of me and leant on it as I started to swim. But while starting to move properly was good for my legs I found that my hands were quickly getting very cold and needed to move, so I had to let it go and properly sink into the water and swim.
At first I was mostly concentrating on my breathing, making little whimpering noises at the cold. It took a lot longer than usual for my body to acclimatise to the cold and I could definitely feel the cold the whole time I was in, which I often actually don’t after a while. Despite the cold, I couldn’t help marvelling at the views around me, the orange, green, brown, purple and grey fells alternately lit by the low autumnal sun or blanked in shadow as a cloud passed overhead. What a way to spend an October afternoon, quiet and peaceful and lovely. I swam about three quarters of the way across and then turned an headed back for the shore where I’d started. Although there had been a brief moment of sun on my back as I got in the sun was by now well and truly behind a cloud and to be honest it was something of a relief as I drew near to the shore again. It was only at this point that I let myself look at Archibald – 12 degrees C. Along with Angle Tarn, the coldest one yet with the thermometer.
But there was one last thing left to do before I got out – my underwater selfie. I really was not looking forward to putting my head under that water, but as I got close to the shore I steeled myself and ducked under. As I came back it felt as though I’d been hit on the back of the head with a block of ice, but when I looked at the picture it was blurry and unusable – I’d have to go again. It took me 4 goes to get a goodish picture. I think the cold was making it hard for me to direct the camera and hold it steady – the moment I was under the water I just wanted to get up again. The last time I decided that it would have to be used whether it was good or not but luckily it turned out ok, although still slightly blurry.
Gasping and shaking my head to try to get rid of the freezing pain, I scrambled out at the shore. As I got out I saw another marble, broken this time. I actually felt surprisingly ok and spent a couple of minutes hunting around for any more, but I couldn’t see any and it was too cold to hang around for long. Why were there several marbles at the edge of the tarn? One of them was quite a way in, so maybe they’d been thrown? I suppose I’ll never know.
I hurried back to the car, meeting a couple on the path who were amazed that I’d been swimming (‘You’re braver than me!’), got changed as quickly as I could and set off towards Keswick with the car heaters on full blast. As I drove off I thought about how rubbish I’d been feeling before and how much better I felt now. I was still tired, but I felt good despite that. The cold water had invigorated me and it felt great to have done one more swim.
7 thoughts on “#69: Blea Tarn”
I wanted to do Blea Tarn the other weekend when the Autumn sun was cracking the flags but I couldn’t get to the Lakes. I expect it to be cold. Well done for doing it. I bet it was invigorating!! 🙂
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Just come across this blog. Looks great. Love the photos. Has inspired me to seek out some more tarns in the Lake District.
Hi, I really enjoyed reading your wild swim reports (and indeed, took the plunge for my first dip in Dale Head Tarn based on what you wrote). But it’s been a while now since you updated your blog, and more than a year since the last swim report. Have you stopped your challenge now?
Hi Richard. I’m glad you enjoyed reading the blog and I’m glad it inspired you to do some swimming of your own! I hope you enjoyed Dale Head Tarn, I loved that swim. I’ve been away travelling for the last year and so although I’ve swum in several seas and lakes none of them were in Cumbria and so didn’t feature on the blog! I’m hoping to get some swims in soon though (once it warms up a bit…).
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Hello – I think I might be able to help with the mysterious marbles! I lived at the house at Blea Tarn for ten years and brought up seven children there. There is a beck (stream) in the garden that they played in endlessly; it runs into Blea Tarn and a few little toys and tennis balls found their way to the tarn. It’s probably how the marbles got there too!
Lovely blog – thank you x
Hi Becky. Wow, that’s great to know, thank you! What a great place to live, I expect you’ve enjoyed many swims in the tarn. Glad you enjoyed the blog!