Fellow readers… I’ve finally managed to push my wild swimming season into December and have completed my first wild swim!
Since discovering the joys of wild swimming, it has been an aspiration of mine to have a Christmas swim and finally, this year, I’ve managed to achieve it, thanks to the help of David.
After all the Christmas shopping had been done, there was one weekend free before Christmas. On a cold, foggy Saturday we drove up the motorway in darkness to Bassenthwaite Lake in the Lake District. While most of the UK was covered in cloud, we arrived at the shores of Bassenthwaite at 9am to the sun rising golden in the east and low mist hanging seductively over the lake.
We accessed the lake at Blackstock Point where there is free parking just off the A66, though the car park is easier to get to while driving south from Cockermouth.
We walked around the edge of the lake looking for good access points. From where we made camp, the lake was very shallow and didn’t make for the best swim. I later read that Bassenthwaite Lake is only 21 metres deep, but I can attest that the water was cold. I think I need thicker gloves as my hands bore the brunt of the cold and kept clawing, so I kept the swim short. I swam for seven minutes, but maybe it should have been shorter as I am not cold water acclimatised and it took me ages to get dry and dressed! I did feel very cold after the swim and it took about half an hour to warm up (I had a hot coffee and cake afterwards), but I loved feeling the cold of the water, being surrounded by wonderful vistas, and seeing ducks and geese silhouetted in the low winter sunshine. Below is a video of my first Christmas swim, and hopefully not the last.
I wish you all a very merry Christmas (if you celebrate it) and hopefully a better new year than 2020 and 2021!
With the British weather still not warming up for skins swimming (well for me at least). I forsook a swim and headed instead for a walk with David to Dodd Wood.
View from Dodd
Dodd Wood,managed by the Forestry Commission, is a fell that overlooks Bassenthwaite Lake. It is part of the Skiddaw range and has an elevation of 502m. It is 50m higher than Catbells and without the scramble to the top!
After an early start, we arrived at the pay and display car park at 10am and promptly paid the £6.30 for all day parking. There is a cafe and toilets on site, and the forest was already busy with walkers and families.
To start our walk, we headed for the lower Osprey viewpoint. Since 2001, Ospreys have been breeding in the area, after travelling from Africa.
Lower Osprey Viewpoint
There are two viewpoints at Dodd Wood both equipped with long range telescopes and friendly volunteers. There is also an online webcam where you can view life in an Osprey nest. At the time of visiting the female was incubating three eggs. We didn’t see either Osprey. At the lower viewpoint there are feeding stations for woodland birds such as Jays and Coal Tits. There are even visiting Red Squirrels but when we were there they never showed.
Woodland Bird Feast
From the second viewpoint David and I walked through an overgrown path that joined up with the way-marked (in green) Dodd Summit route. We took our lunch overlooking Derwentwater before heading up to the summit.
The summit had fantastic views overlooking Derwentwater, Bassenthwaite Lake, Skiddaw and towards The Solway Firth, though it was a bit cold and windy on this cloudy April day!
Derwentwater from Dodd
Bassenthwaite Lake from dodd
On our way back down towards the car park, we walked along a woodland path with grassy embankments. From one such embankment came the chirrup of birds. At first glance we couldn’t see anything, but then David lifted his camera and pointed to a small round hole in among the moss. There were three open mouths awaiting their parent.
Nestlings by David Evans
We walked a total of 4 miles, but it sure felt longer! After a coffee, we headed back on the road towards home. We’d had a tiring yet enjoyable day!
Have you visited Dodd Wood? What are your favourite woodlands in the UK?
I did not hold out much hope for the weather over the weekend. The forecast predicted rain and heavy cloud. Yet David and I decided to keep to the plan I had devised anyway. So, the following morning we left the B&B before sunrise and headed towards Keswick. We parked the car at the Theatre by the Lake, and walked towards the lakeside.
Sunrise at Derwentwater
NT Centenary Stones
A white dawn broke over Derwentwater. From Friar’s Crag we walked towards the National Trust Centenary Stones, though they looked rather underwhelming with the water having receded. From this bay I planned my first swim of the day. At 9am the water was cold and there was no one about save David and I, and the lake! It was magical, and I loved it!
Swimming at Derwentwater
As an early birthday present David had gifted me a waterproof camera (nick-named Wilson (I’ll explain why later!)) which I trialled at Derwentwater.
After my swim of about 10 minutes, with burning hands and numb skin, I attempted to get dry and dressed. With the sun breaking through the clouds we retraced our steps back towards the car before heading into Keswick for our walk towards Walla Crag.
Derwentwater from Walla Crag
The walk took us through some nice woodland and across a fell. The whole walk took about two hours. Parts of the ascent was steep, muddy and tiring. We touched the peak of Walla Crag at lunch time. I ate my fruit salad, buffeted by a chilling wind, while looking towards a blue Derwentwater below. We couldn’t have asked for better weather!
We arrived back at the car earlier than anticipated. So looking at the map, I chose Bassenthwaite Lake to visit, being only 15 minutes drive from Keswick.
We luckily managed to find free parking alongside the lake. Indeed the lake seemed almost deserted, much like early morning at Derwentwater! With having a spare swim suit in my rucksack (as you do). I made the impromptu decision to go for another swim!
I had intended to have a sunrise swim at Derwentwater and a sunset swim at Loweswater, but Bassenthwaite became my second swim of the day!
I was not in the water for long. I felt cold, probably because I had not fully warmed up from the swim that morning. After a cup of lukewarm coffee, we headed towards Loweswater for sunset. Much like the sunrise, the sunset did not really happen, but we enjoyed a pleasant autumn stroll along the lake, before I donned my bikini and waded out into the cold and very reedy water.
Loweswater was my shortest swim that day, more of a dip. I did not like the reeds catching at my ankles, so I cut short the swim to shiver on the pebbly bank as twilight fell.
We decided to risk driving the 30 minutes to Ennerdale, a designated dark sky area, in the hope that the clouds would break long enough for us to do some star gazing. We arrived tired and hungry around 7pm and waited for the night to darken. There were no other tourists, save us. We stood listening to eerie calls of birds roosting before the sky above became emblazoned with a multitude of stars. There were wisps of cloud but none could detract from the faint ribbon of the Milky Way. I loved gazing up at the sky and feeling the peace of the area. We will definitely have to visit again when the night is more clear, but what David captured is good for his first attempt.
We returned to the B&B exhausted yet feeling accomplished. It had been a tremendous day, though at times it did seem endless! We had achieved many firsts in the 14 hours of travelling! I had amazingly completed three swims/dips in one day! Loweswater and Bassenthwaite were new lakes to us, and it was the first time David had seen the Milky Way.
It will be hard to top such a day!
Have you visited any of the lakes mentioned? What were your memories of them? Have you been star gazing, seen the Milky Way?
Do continue to follow me as I write about my final day in the Lake District.