One of the first lakes I ever swam in in the Lake District was Derwentwater, at the top near the Theatre by the Lake. I remembered there being lots of geese around and plenty of sheep and goose poo to avoid. Once in the water, however, it was fine.
When Anne and I attempted Derwentwater, before we ‘officially’ launched our lakes swimming challenge, we tried first swimming down near Lodore Falls (near the NT car park). It was hideous: weedy and muddy and you didn’t really know what you were walking on (or rather in), nor how deep the mud was. When we tried the top end near the Theatre it was equally bad: Anne swam further out than me but was still able to stand up and narrowly missed being in the path of a ferry. We gave it up as a bad job that day and instead took Edward, who was with us, to Java in Keswick for a chocolate covered strawberry and marshmallow kebab.
Anne’s husband Mark suggested we tried the western shore of the lake, at the foot of Cat Bells. So, a Saturday early in September it was agreed that it was time to attempt Derwentwater again. I woke with a headache and thought I’d have to miss the trip, so the others set out before me – fortunately the magic big pink nurofen did its trick and I set out an hour later. It wasn’t that easy to spot where they’d parked so I pulled in where I could get a space near Hawse End and walked along the lake shore to find them, every-so-often one or the other of us phoning to check on landmarks (“has the ferry gone past you – and if so towards you or away from you?” “can you see any boats?” “the people next to us have just started a barbecue”). As they’d described walking fairly steeply downhill, I had a feeling they were south of me and sure enough I eventually saw the barbecue. Anne and Jo, bless them, had waited for me before getting in and I was really pleased not to have missed out.
The day was sunny although having had some chilly wet weather the water wasn’t as warm as any of the other times we’d swum, and we were all glad of our gloves. When I put my head in the water I was disorientated at first – there seemed to be lots of goldish/coppery sparkles in the water and whilst I’d been expecting to be able to look down to the bottom, these sparkles seemed to be very near. Once it had become clear that it was sediment suspended in the water and that in fact the water was quite clear, the feeling of disorientation also went: and of course swimming into the sun or away from the sun made a difference.
As we sat and had a picnic in the sun (we moved to the barbecue spot, which had now been abandoned) while our fingers and toes thawed out – despite gloves and shoes – we admired the gorgeous view, enthused once again about the joys of wild swimming, and then turned to the important business of scoring this lake. It scored highly so is up there with Wastwater in the lead – but over the following week we added several tarns to the list, so at the moment we have swum 4 lakes and have 18 still to go…
It was my birthday the following weekend and Anne and I had already discussed swimming in Wastwater at sunset. So, at about 5pm on a fairly sunny Saturday afternoon, various vehicles set out for Wastwater and the same spot that Anne and I had swum from before. It was exciting that Jo was going to be able to experience Wastwater as we’d loved it so much the previous time.
Jo and her husband Jerry gave me a lift in their van and we arrived to find Mark A. had already got the barbecue going and that Laura and Mark B. had arrived. As the sun began to go down, the three of us who were swimming got into our wetsuits and into the water, feeling rather like minor celebrities as the others photographed and videoed us as we swam across to the island, got out on to it and waved, swam round it and back and then round to the other side of the picnic site. Despite gloves my fingers were already feeling cold, but the lake was as beautiful to swim in as before: crystal clear and little in the way of weed or tree roots, and plenty of rocks to get in and out on. I don’t have the words to explain fully the feeling of sheer joy and exhilaration of swimming in this lake: but the big beam on Jo’s face said it all.
Having got out, dried ourselves and put on several layers of clothing, the party began in earnest. It was a sort of bring and share picnic/barbecue and we had tons of food – starting with a Parsnip and Rhubarb soup I had made (recipe in the Covent Garden Soup recipe book) which was interesting: root veg. with a slight tartness to it. There were sausages, cheeses, salad, fruit salad and – of course – alcohol. Laura had made a fruit loaf and as a birthday cake I’d made a Black Forest Cherry Cake; my sister’s friend Sara brought some cupcakes but I don’t think anyone ate any of them, we were so full!
As our stomachs digested the food and the night sky grew darker overhead, Jerry and Mark A. got their guitars out and we had a sing around the campfire, watching a string of head torches coming down into Wasdale Head from Scafell. It was a magical, magical evening and one of the best birthdays I have ever had: when Anne said she could have stayed there all night and have waited for the sun to come up, I knew exactly what she meant (perhaps sometime we should do that!). What can beat being outdoors on a lovely evening, with exercise, good food, good company, and music?
p.s. we cleaned our wetsuits, etc. thoroughly – with a mild detergent and a thorough wash-down – after Derwentwater as we don’t want to go spreading any non-native invasive weed species around the Lakes