It is quite apparent as the leaves begin to turn, leaving the river bank with a tide line of the fallen, that time is slipping away. As a consequence, if I am going to get anywhere close to having swum at 100 different places by the end of the year then as I am being sent off hither and thither I will have to broaden my swimming horizons also.
Leaving the house at 5am the sky is peppered with stars, there is not a hint of breeze and the chimes of the church clock resonate down the empty street. As we head northward through the dawn the day turns into an absolute beauty and as the person who’s memorial service we are heading to was a passionate hill walker it seems a fitting tribute. None of us in the car have ever seen the Lake District look so stunning and as we have made the journey in plenty of time we have a moment to stop at Wast Water for lunch with a picture postcard laid out before us.
Lunch can wait.
I have swum in the lake before but this is too much. The water is warm, far warmer than the Dart yesterday evening. And clear, so clear. The lake bed just fades out of view so I duck dive, down, down, my ears hurt, I pat the angular stones on the bed fluffing up a cloud of algae then back to the surface before I implode.
I am tempted to swim across the lake but that is not why we’re here.
Sunday morning and the weather has closed in. The tops are capped with clouds and the patches of blue are fleeting before the stiff and chilly breeze. All these cloud do have a silver lining however, the breeze will be at my back as I swim up the lake.
It is 3 miles to the head of the lake and from the bench where I get changed it looks a very long way off beneath the miniature skyline of Great Gable. Lucy takes my shoes and will see me at the first mile point (where I swam from yesterday).
Despite deciding to go inside of the first small island where, it turned out, the water was no more than 12 inches deep over the boulders I am exactly on target for a 30 minute mile and I have been enjoying the scenery too.
The second ‘mile’ is a bit over that to Overbeck Bridge and my swim unravels slightly. The scenery is now boring and slow moving, my mind wanders off and I swim poorly as a result. I decide to swim closer to the shore to get a sense of progress but the breeze is now fetching a swell across the lake which is worse in the shallows and as it turns out the endless vista of pebbles 20 feet below me gives no sense of progress; they are all exactly alike. I later imagine there must have been a current at work against me as when I reach the fields and trees that prelude Overbeck my progress against the shore suddenly jumps in pace, or maybe I’m motivated by seeing 2 friendly faces on the beach.
The beach is blank and empty. We have swum here before so they both know where the car park is, so where are they? Clouds and silver linings. Had they been there I might have called it a day having just had a little twinge of cramp in one leg (a sure sign I am swimming badly) and it is getting late, that ‘mile’ took 45 minutes. However, nothing for it now, I have to go on, diagonally across the open water to the beach by the farm, which again I’ve swum from before and is our rendezvous point at exactly 3 miles.
The irony of this last leg is that despite the fact that there is nothing to see beneath me and despite the fact that there is now quite a chop in the water on my right side so I have to breathe every time to my left or get a mouthful of lake I feel I am cracking on at a good pace. Every time I take a quick sight ahead Scafell is exactly at 12 o’clock so I am swimming in a dead straight line and more importantly with each sighting the farm has got closer.
And there they are. I had said 1 hour 30 minutes but it is probably closer to 1:45. I stumble my way through the slippery stones in the shallows and on to the beach. The foot of the lake is now hidden by the distance but Great Gable is an awful lot bigger than it was 2 hours ago. Lucy jokes that I’m late and should swim back and get the time right. I actually feel I could, I am warm and not in the least bit tired in my arms.
Maybe next time.
As it turns out by looking at the map again later my pace in the middle mile was slower, but only by the smallest fraction. How strange then the way that in that middle mile though I was close to the shore it seemed to be going by so much slower than when there was nothing to gauge my progress against except for some point off in the distance.