For the last few summers, I have visited a university friend, Ella, at her home near Carlisle. Whenever she asks what I would like to do during my stay, my immediate and enthusiastic response is that I want to go to the washpool.
The washpool is wondrous place. It is situated part way down a river on a windswept fell in Cumbria. The river has been dammed by local stone to form a deep pool. At the top end, a gushing waterfall flows in maintaining it as one of the coldest places I have ever swum. The fell is in an area called Tindale, so named because of the tin mining that used to take place there. In turn, the washpool is so named because it is thought that miners would come to bathe there after work.
My first trip there was in chilly September. Ella dived bravely in, but I, not knowing where the deepest parts were, decided to wade slowly in. This was a big mistake. I was up to my waist and edging slowly forwards, half resolved to retreat from the cold, when the slippery weed-covered rock I was balancing on gave way to a huge drop-off and I was plunged completely in!
Gasping for air, I swum frantically round trying to keep warm until I became so numb I felt warm. Needless to say, that trip ended in uncontrollable shivering in spite of the five jumpers and hat I was sporting. But, despite that, the pleasure of my first wild swimming experience had me hooked.
In the following years, I visited during the hottest part of summer and spent the days idly relaxing in the warm grass, taking plunges in the freezing water and re-damming the pool.
It is hard to explain exactly what it is about wild swimming that so thrills me. I think it fills me with an excitement for and appreciation of all the little beauties of nature. If I had walked unknowingly past the washpool I would not have appreciated it half as much as I do having swum in it. It is heavenly to glide through the reddish-brown, peaty water with the reflections of the blue sky, green grass and yellow dandelions flickering across the surface. The cold of wild swimming makes my senses more alert; colours seem more vibrant, I can touch the weeds on the rocks and I am hyper-aware of my temperature and breathing. I can notice the contrast in size between the tiny water insects swarming and the epic view of the river winding down the valley, the contrast in temperature between the cool water on my legs and the warm sun on my shoulders.
Is there a more perfect way to spend the day? In these depths of winter, I dream about long summer afternoons spent there!