#76: Arnsbarrow Tarn

I spent this morning with my friend Lindsey but had the afternoon free. I’m staying in Hawkshead tonight so I was looking for something reasonably near by and my eye was caught by Arnsbarrow Tarn. The walk in didn’t look too arduous and it’s only small, so it looked just right. I parked at the bottom of the path, in one of the many car parks along the eastern shore of Coniston and set off through the woods. The path up was pretty steep but it was very nice walking through the trees.

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After a while I came out above the tree line to find the path on either side closely hugged by bracken. I’m nervous of tics these days, so I tucked my trousers into my socks, strapped the wrists of my jacket up tightly and tried to avoid touching the bracken as much as possible. Luckily this didn’t last too long and I could soon see the farmhouse that marked where I turned off the path and along a track, taking me along the side of the fell for a while rather than straight up which was a welcome change!

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Like yesterday the sun was bobbing in and out of the clouds and it was very nice to walk on this flatter path for a while, looking down at the views across Coniston Water. Before too long though I found my turning and set off uphill again towards the summit of Selside. The top is very humpy and bumpy and heather covered so I just had to trust that the path was taking me in the right direction but soon enough I found myself at the cairn marking Top o’ Selside. From here I got my first partial view of the tarn – and I could see, even from this distance that it was going to be pretty marshy and reedy!

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I made my way down, following the path which, according to the map, should’ve looped around the far side of the tarn. But among the heather and the bracken I must’ve got confused and ended up following a series of sheep tracks, just picking the ones that took me towards the tarn. As I’d been approaching the summit and then the tarn itself I’d been feeling tired and energy-less. I really didn’t want to take off my warm clothes and get into the cold water. But I thought about how irritated with myself I’d be if I turned back and pushed myself to strip down to my swimming gear. A few spots of drizzle started to fall and I carefully arranged my clothes in my dry bag which I put on top of my shoes. As I walked towards the edge of the tarn it did get marshy and I looked down to see my feet sinking into dark, muddy water.

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I was feeling less and less keen on this with every step. With my first steps into the edge of the tarn I found myself surrounded by rustling, whispering reeds and clutching, winding lilies. It was such an empty place, here on this hilltop without another soul in sight, even the sheep hiding somewhere else, not a sound to be heard except this whispering of the reeds. As I walked into the weedy water’s edge the bed of the tarn sank under my feet, releasing the foul, familiar smell of ancient gasses, bubbling to the surface after years of rotting peacefully away.

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The water wasn’t as cold as Angle Tarn yesterday and although it was still very cold I didn’t want to hang around. I walked quickly (for me!) out into the water and then plunged forward through the last of the weeds and into the freer water beyond. It felt good to be swimming and even though it only took me a minute or two to get across the tarn and back I was already feeling better and starting to enjoy myself. A lone bird of prey hovered in the distance. As I came back towards the reeds where I’d started I looked down at my legs and saw just how peaty brown the water was. I was determined only to dunk my head under the water once – I took a deep breath and sank down, aiming the camera and grinning away like crazy.

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I struggled back through the reeds and lilies and squelched back to my clothes. The rain that had been threatening had never arrived and I felt so much more alive and energised than I had ten minutes ago. I pulled off my wet t-shirt and used it to wipe away a few streaks of mud, rubbed myself dry and got back into my warm, dry clothes.

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I set off, following another series of sheep tracks until I got back to the summit of Selside – just as the sun broke through the clouds. Feeling full of energy and joy I hurried back down the path, trying not to startle the sheep.

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I felt so grumbly and tired on my way up, even up to the point where I was walking into the water – it never ceases to amaze me how even such a short swim as this can lift my mood and make me feel so great. Whatever my mood on my way to a swim I always feel so good afterwards – hooray for cold water swimming!


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