Sty Head and Sprinkling Tarns

Two more tarns ticked off the list of tarns and lakes to swim in this year!

Though whether it could accurately be called ‘swimming’ is perhaps a bit of a moot point… (where does that term come from? Ah… something debated in the moot? Yes – the internet has just confirmed that law students used to debate legal points in the moot).

The weather has continued to be rather wet and rainy, alternating with sun; wind from the non-prevailing north and east; and temperatures varying from quite warm to rather cold. I’d suggested to the Ladies of the Lakes whatsapp group that we should swim on Sunday 23rd. However the forecast looked dire, so when Penny said she was free on the Saturday and I knew I’d have to take the children down to Penrith, we made tentative plans to do something. The children’s plans then changed as well and in fact I only needed to take Edward down to his Dad’s at lunchtime, which gave me more of the day free. As it was chilly but relatively dry and Penny is still recovering from injuries, I suggested we walk and swim – there’s a 10km walk which starts from Seathwaite in the Borrowdale valley, and passes Sty Head tarn and Sprinkling tarn.

When we arrived at Seathwaite there were lots of cars parked on verges, and for a moment or two we wondered whether we’d get a space. I was optimistic that people would be beginning to leave, and in fact we found a space on a stony verge (as opposed to a grassy one) right up near the farm. Usefully, there are toilets there – they’re not huge and they’re a bit smelly (so were my feet after swimming and walking in wet trainers), but it’s nice not to have to look for bushes to hide behind.

The walk starts going through the farm, where there were cows sitting on and close to the path, which would be intimidating for some people and where it was definitely a case of trying to avoid cowpats. You rather got the impression that the farmer was trying to deter walkers – but judging by the number of walkers and tents we saw along the entire route, it’s a popular walk.

We went uphill up a stony bridle path – the paths on this walk were clearly man-made, with some bridges in places and signs of repairs in others. A waterfall could be seen cascading down the hillside, but the path took us away from this until it meandered its way back towards the gill at the top of the waterfall. Because of the rain recently the streams are quite full and flowing quite fast, unlike this time last year when a lot of them had dried up completely. Penny was regretting not having worn walking boots; I was happy in my trail shoes but we were joking that I looked a bit ‘ignorant’ walking along in jeans and trainers and carrying a paper bag (it had a cake in which I didn’t want to squash in my rucksack) and drinking from a can. I looked like the sort of person who gets criticised when Mountain Rescue gets called out – however I have to say that at least the tread is still good on my old trail shoes, even if the goretex uppers have holes in. I was also far too hot but knew that I’d need my waterproof jacket and its fleece inner after swimming.

We arrived at Sty Head Tarn having met a lot of people coming in the other direction, including a friendly, chatty Australian guy. It’s funny how some people walk past with their heads down and trying to avoid looking at you, as if they could get Covid from the word ‘hello’ (or perhaps they just don’t want to be sociable and would prefer to be on their own in the hills), whereas the vast majority will at least say hello and a friendly minority will chat.

At Sty Head tarn there were a few tents but it felt a little exposed, with a northerly wind creating little waves on the surface of the water. The path ran quite closely past the western side of the lake, and there were a few stony beaches to choose from. As we approached the water we could see how beautifully clear it was: although we could also see that it shelved quite steeply down. I got changed with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, and stepped into the water – the stony bit sloped down quite quickly and within little more than a meter of the edge I was out of my depth. And it was cold! I didn’t feel like putting my face in, though Penny put hers in and confirmed how clear the water was.

We didn’t stay in long as it was so cold: especially having a second tarn to swim in as well. After all, we said, this isn’t about how far we swim or how long we stay in but about trying out different tarns and lakes, often with different ways of getting there. We kept our wetsuits on and walked on uphill in the direction of Sprinkling Tarn, ‘wowing’ the views as we went.

We passed a couple walking in the other direction who we had been walking behind heading away from the farm (they’d taken the route directly to Sprinkling Tarn whereas we’d gone the other way). We were almost at the brow of a hill and they told us that the tarn was literally a few yards ahead. Sure enough we got to the top of the brow and there it was. It was a stunning way to approach it as you almost come across it by surprise, and it has more dramatic surroundings than Sty Head tarn. In some ways it’s reminiscent of Angle Tarn, but the more I think about the two of them the more I think of their differences. Both are gorgeous!

We got in quite quickly and again the water was incredibly clear. I still wasn’t brave enough to put my face in, and doing breast stroke was making my neck ache, so I didn’t stay in long: Penny swam for a bit longer and then once we were both dry we sat and shared the cake (out of my paper bag) and drank coffee. Sprinking tarn hadn’t seemed quite so cold as Sty Head, and was probably a little less exposed. We agreed it would definitely be one to come back to when it was warmer. Little did we know how much this view would be confirmed on the walk back down.

If we thought the walk up was pretty, the walk down was stunning. There’s a fairly steep descent immediately to the east of the gill (it’s called something at the top and then becomes Grain Gill lower down), which plunges down the hillside through a rock-sided chasm to start with and with waterfalls and plunge pools. The water in the pools lower down is a clear green-ish colour, which I wonder is due to Borrowdale slate; there were also some almost pure white stones on the path. At times you could see Derwentwater in the background; and we were lucky that the sky was fairly clear, although it was grey to the west. It was absolutely stunning and we agreed that we definitely needed to come back in warmer weather, and bring the others up there too: we agreed we needed to make it an all-day trip so that we didn’t feel the need to rush.

Meanwhile I needed to get home to my daughter, but I’m really hoping to be able to swim in Sprinkling tarn and the rock pools when the weather – and the water – is warmer.

The best things in life…

About five and a half or six years ago, not long before David left, one of his friends said to me that from reading my blog you’d think I was happy whereas when you met me I was a miserable git (those weren’t his exact words, but close enough).

I’ve looked back at blogposts from around that time and in fact I wasn’t always that happy, but expressed that at times I felt low. But I also know that I have always found some solace in being out and about on my bike or running; with friends; in music. But when your heart feels completely and utterly broken and life seems black even these things are not a consolation.

I think it says something about my general state of mind, therefore, that despite having been desperately upset about the children last week, it didn’t take me long to bounce back and to have a brilliant weekend. Having reacted incredibly emotionally to something on Wednesday evening, by the time I’d had a huge amount of moral support from friends I felt calmer though still tearful on Thursday. The weekend – which, as I don’t have to go to Newcastle to work on Friday, starts for me on Thursday evening quite often – got better and better from there on in.

I went for a bike ride on Friday morning with one of the Claires (I have several friends called Clare or Claire). Her two children are the same age as two of mine, and we’ve been talking about going cycling together for ages. I got side-tracked doing something at home so she cycled to mine, I cycled back with her to her house and had a drink, flapjack and a chat, and I then cycled home again. I hadn’t cycled all of the route before so it was good to try something new, and I saw exactly what she meant as I cycled home – the view as you cycle away from Heads Nook (her village) with the Pennine Fells ahead of you is a lovely one.

Friday evening I very nearly backed out of going to a concert with two friends, Anne and Mark, but was really glad I did go. It would have been so easy to have said “I really don’t feel like it and I need some quiet time and to do my ironing”. We went down to Salkeld Dykes to see Kinfolk in concert in a barn which has been newly converted by Michael Sanderson and Katharine May to a music room, big enough to put on small concerts. Michael plays and sings with Kinfolk as well as being a classical musician – he and his wife Katharine are also Eden Music/Eden Baroque. Kinfolk was performing at Music on the Marr the following night, so it felt quite a privilege to be able to see them in this smaller and more intimate setting – and it was great to be able to chat to them later. I’m never sure whether I’m going to like a whole evening of ‘folk’ music but this was fantastic – I was tapping my foot and smiling for almost the entire evening.

The following afternoon I was singing at Lanercost Priory, with James Booth on guitar, as part of the celebrations for the Priory’s 850th anniversary. I was relieved that I sang far better than I had for the choir concerts back in May (back then being affected partly by nerves and partly as I was going down with a cold) and I’m really looking forward to singing some more with Jim on guitar. Mark and Anne had said the previous evening that they were going to Lanercost on the Saturday evening to see Jerry King’s ukelele band. By now I was on a roll… not at all sure what I’d think of an hour of ukelele music, I agreed to go and again had a brilliant time.

On the Sunday I had arranged to meet up with my sister as she was staying with a friend of hers in Cockermouth. We went to Crummock Water and swam, paddle boarded and kayaked. Not only do I now want a bass guitar for christmas (as a result of seeing Kinfolk) but also I now want an inflatable kayak. The water was beautifully clear – until you got into the deeper part of the lake you could see the rocks beneath you quite easily: completely unlike Keswick the weekend before, which had been muddy, weedy, opaque and disgusting!

Having had a good time splashing about in the lake, followed by a picnic lunch provided by Rachel’s friend Sara, I headed over the Newlands Pass and valley to meet Penny. We drove down to Grange and ran along by the river Derwent (very shallow at the moment due to lack of rain, but very pretty) through Rosthwaite to Seatoller, before turning to go uphill and head in a northerly direction back to Grange. It was about 7 miles in total and we were not particularly quick! However there were some great things along the way such as the metal chain pinned into the rocks just past the YHA at Seatoller – the rocks must be really slippery when it’s wet weather – and Castle Crag, which is stunning. The view of Castle Crag from a distance and at stream level I felt was an almost alpine one – but then I’ve often thought that about Keswick, and also sometimes about Penrith, when I’ve seen them in the snow with the fells behind them. This time was more the summer mountain pastures aspect and I guess if climate change continues the way it is so far then actually that won’t be so inaccurate.

I stopped off at Rheged on the way home to buy some dinner for myself (even the food in the petrol station at Rheged is of a quality you don’t normally find in such places – including some beautiful French-style patisserie, though I didn’t buy any of those on this day). I sang to myself up the motorway and thought how lucky I was. I had had a weekend which had included friends (and my sister, who it was great to see), music, running, swimming, cycling and the beautiful outdoors.

What could be better (other than perhaps my kids having come along too, and enjoyed themselves)?