Well, here I am again, back in the Lakes. I just have a few days up here but I’m trying to squeeze a few swims in as well as trying to catch up with everyone! Today I managed to combine some wonderful swimming with catching up with two very dear friends. I met Katy and Alex at the Old Dungeon Ghyll carpark in Great Langdale and we set off up Mickleden. We had originally planned a longer walk with the possibility of a few tarns but a late start and Katy not feeling 100% meant that we lowered our ambitions and just headed straight up for Angle Tarn. The walk up Mickleden was beautiful. It starts off nice and flat to ease you into it which was very good for me as I’m feeling pretty unfit at the moment!
It was one of those days with alternating sun and cloud, where you can watch the shadows of the clouds creeping silently across the mountains. Near the end of Mickleden we passed the Fairy Pools, looking clear and inviting in the sunshine. But we resisted the temptation to jump straight in and kept going.
Not long after the pools the gentle, flat path came to end and the real climb began. For most of the walk we could see the gap in the fells that we were headed for – it all felt very Lord of the Rings! It’s a steep and winding walk up from Mickleden with the impressive crags of Bowfell Buttress looming over you to your left, but the hard climb is more than repaid by the stunning views back down the valley. We had regular pauses to look back and admire the sight of Pike of Stickle sweeping down the lumpy valley floor of Mickleden which curves away into Great Langdale. We had some discussion about whether the lumps on the valley floor are drumlins (deposits left by the long-departed glacier that created the valley) but never really came to any conclusion!
We finally made it through the gap and came over a lip to see Angle Tarn below us. As we’d come over the top the wind had hit us and as we looked down at the dark water we saw the surface being swirled into what almost looked like a whirlpool as the wind shivered across it. We made our way down to the shore and sat down to eat our lunch in the knowledge that we certainly wouldn’t want to hang around to eat after our swim! The sun was still popping in and out of the clouds but, of course, a particularly big cloud seemed to arrive just as we were getting ready to get into the water!
As ever, Katy was soon ready to go and plunged straight in without a moment’s hesitation. She was almost at the other side of the tarn while I was still pulling on my swimming things. Alex cautiously stepped in and then went for it, bobbing around in the shallows while I took my first tentative few steps over the slippery rocks into the cold, dark water. It seemed to take forever just for my feet to start getting used to the cold and it really did take me a long time to get in. Katy was back, having swum right across the tarn while I was still only waist deep!
Although Archibald, my temperature recording rubber duck, is currently lost, Alex had a thermometer on his watch and after a few minutes came to the conclusion that the water was 13 degrees – one of the coldest I’ve done. When I was here in May the weather was beautiful and hot and none of the swims were too cold so it’s been a long time since I’ve stood in the wind, trying to persuade myself into icy cold water. But I couldn’t stand there all day and Alex and Katy were now getting out and trying to warm up – they weren’t going to want to hang around waiting for me forever. So, eventually, I slid into the water and started to swim. It was so cold! For a few minutes I thought I just wasn’t going to get used to it. My skin burned with the cold as I pushed myself through the water to the far bank. But, of course, I did get used to it and as I approached the side I slowed down and started to enjoy being in the water – the quiet of the mountain-side, the only sound the soft falling of a waterfall rushing into the tarn, the steep sides of Esk Pike rising above me and the sun occasionally peeping out from the clouds. When I reached the bank I rested for a minute and then set off back to Alex and Katy, relaxed and happy now, loving the feel of the water.
As I got close to the bank Katy threw my camera out to me and I prepared for the underwater selfie. Although I’d got used to the cold, dunking my head under is always a stark reminder of just how cold the water really is. But I took a deep breath and sank under the surface – twice. The first time wasn’t too bad, but the second was like being hit over the head with a bag of ice – I came up gasping and shaking my head, but I got my selfie!
As I struggled back into my clothes, numb fingers fumbling to pull the fabric over my damp skin, Alex handed out some chocolate. We were all so cold that we found it didn’t melt in our mouths which was a very strange experience – it’s the first time I’ve ever had chocolate stuck in my teeth for about half an hour! When I’d got out of the water I’d just felt cold and in a hurry to get warm again, but as we set off back over the lip and saw the view of Mickleden below us I was suddenly hit by that feeling of euphoria that cold water swimming so often creates. Yes! This is why I do this!
A little way down the steep path we were suddenly overtaken by heavy rain which poured onto us for about two minutes (just long enough for us all to scramble for our waterproofs and get them on) before moving on and sweeping away down the valley. We watched it move away from us as the sun came back out and caught the end of it, creating a rainbow.
As we walked back down Mickleden we came once again to the Fairy Pools. The rain was long past, the sun glittered on the clear water and Katy and I looked at each other…. We did have a moment of hesitation, having only just warmed up from the last swim, but the temptation was too great. Back into wet swimming things and into the crystal clear water. It was warmer than Angle tarn and the two of us just lolled around, lying in the jacuzzis created by the little waterfalls. We had a go at getting an underwater selfie together, remembering our first swim together where we discovered that Katy doesn’t sink! It took a few goes but we got there in the end.
We started strolling in a leisurely sort of way back towards the car park, but after a few minutes we looked behind us to see some more very threatening looking clouds, so we sped up and managed to get back to the cars without being rained on. Thank you Alex and Katy for another wonderful day!
I rarely write about swimming, except for a few words in my diary, and it is usually pretty repetitive, along the lines of ‘Calfclose Bay. Breezy. Quite chilly by the end.’ or ‘Peninsula after work. Glassy calm’. But whenever Forest comes to visit, there is much more to write about and I love reading her blogs and comparing our experiences.
It is nearly 10 years since I last swam in Angle Tarn and so I was very happy to return, with the added delight of perfect visibility and bright sunshine. I always feel a little bad that I don’t swim alongside Forest but, as she has mentioned, our approach is very different! Swimming on your own also allows you to concentrate on the sensations of the water and the scenery around you, which is usually pretty dramatic and definitely so at Angle Tarn, where the rock formations are endlessly fascinating and there is a lot to take in.
I was also very happy to revisit the Fairy Pool in Mickleden Beck, which I’d discovered a couple of months ago while running to Elterwater. It had been a very hot day and the pool had been so welcome, but I’d been on my own and in a bit of a daze, so it felt like I was in another little world that I might never find again. However, the clear water of the pool and the mini cascades were instantly recognisable and it was wonderful to share them with Forest this time. I love Forest’s energy and enthusiasm and so I’m already looking forward to our next swim, even if it’s a few months down the line. Thanks Forest!