In my first summer of this challenge I came and stayed at Coniston Coppermines hostel with the aim of doing a big walk and five swims. I did the walk and four of the swims but time and tiredness caught up with me and I decided not to do the last swim on my route – Low Water, just below the Old Man of Coniston. So when my friends Bridget and Colin decided to spend a few days in the Lakes with me it was the perfect opportunity to get it ticked off! We’re staying at Coppermines and set off quite late this morning after a nice lazy start to the day. We walked up to Lever’s Water but passed it by without dipping a toe in the water and from there walked up onto Swirl How, laughing at the Herdwicks as we went. The sun was intermittently hidden in a hazy sky but it was very warm and close and it was a long climb to the top! But we were, of course, more than paid back for out efforts by the wonderful views around us. The clouds cast slowly moving shadows across the fells around us and little birds sang from unseen perches.
From Swirl How we had an easy walk to Lever’s Hause where we stopped to eat our lunch and get angry at the hundreds of little flies who also wanted to eat our lunch (or possibly us) and then it was a nice stroll along the ridge (from which we got our first view of Low Water) up onto the Old Man.
We didn’t hang around long on top of the Old Man because there were some men flying the world’s noisiest drone which rather spoiled the peace. We headed down the zig-zag path to Low Water, blue and glittering in the sunshine. We’d had a pretty long walk in the heat and I was really looking forward to getting into the water.
I fumbled my way into my swimming things, laughing about how normal it has now become for me to get changed on a mountainside. Then I walked around the side of the tarn to a spot that looked reasonably good for entering the water. It was a bit weedy and, after the first few steps, a bit silty but nothing like as bad as some places I’ve swum. As usual I walked very slowly into the water, allowing the submerged parts of my body to acclimatise before moving forward another inch or two but despite the fact that it was definitely pretty chilly I got in faster than usual. After a few minutes I slid forward and started swimming, the cold of the water catching my breath for a second. A moment later Colin set off from where I’d left my stuff, splashing straight into the water with none of my cautious acclimatisation. He swam out to meet me and we trod water for a few moments, enjoying the feel of the water and talking about the cold! The water was beautifully crystal clear and lovely to swim in. Colin headed back to shore and I swam back and forth for a few minutes before dunking in for my underwater selfie. By now the water felt warm and I sat in the shallows for a minute or two before clambering out.
Once we were dry and dressed we continued down the path, passing through the old mining and quarrying works. There is still a lot of equipment lying around and quietly rusting which was fun to explore. We walked past a few mine tunnel entrances and noticed a cold wind blowing out of each one which felt quite strange. It wasn’t far from there back to the hostel where we gratefully took off our boots and headed straight for the kettle….
There are two things from today that I know are going to stay with me. One is the thrill of the water. The glance of light on the surface, the utter clarity around, and the slate surrounds– picture perfect. But today, what I wouldn’t have known ahead, there was the thrill of the cold. Breast strokes took me out to meet Forest half-way across, and I could not stop beaming. In that cold the heart pounds, the skin tingles, and the feet eventually go numb (that was my cue to head back). But there is an overwhelming good that comes along with that, which seems to be more than the glint, and the slate and the postcard views.
There is another thing, and I’m not sure I can describe it yet. When you stand at the edge of the water, you feel like you’re on the level, the middle of the world between sky above, and the watery world below that you are going to descend into. But walking away from a mountain tarn challenges this common-sense feeling. You feel like you’ve just been into the underworld, and are back on the surface level, but the path begins to lead you away, past cliffs, and slopes and down and down, and somehow, from in this surface world you keep descending past anywhere you went in the watery below.
All this is a way to say, I guess, that mountain swimming is a revelation.