A walk that went swimmingly (and a small hill thrown in)

  • Hills: Irton Pike
  • Classification: Outlying Wainwright (only my 2nd!)
  • Swim spots: Tongue Pot and Kail Pot, River Esk: Wast Water: Gill Force (near Boot)
  • When: Friday 17 and Saturday 18 September
  • Who: Me and the mountaineering minion (at least for the walking bit – he doesn’t swim)
  • Distance: No idea
  • Weather: Bit mixed, but lovely for the 2nd swim.
  • Post walk drink: Pale ale, followed by Merlot (again)
  • Post walk watering hole: The Strands Inn, Wasdale (again)
  • MAMBA factor: Surprisingly high given where I was
  • Uses of the arse crampon: Came in pretty useful for getting in and out of the water.
  • Mishaps: None to speak of, though the straight up the front route up Irton Pike was a bit brutal. Almost a car mishap.

Apologies in advance to my usual readers: this blog post does not contain much in the way of hill walking. It does contain a bit of hill walking, and definitely contains plenty of photos of the Lake District, but the hill walking was a peripheral part of this walk – well walks really as it was spread over 2 days – rather than the prime focus.

My usual readers are probably also wondering where the now inevitable opening rant is! At the time of actually doing the walk / swim, there didn’t really seem to be a lot to rant about – for once on the Friday work managed not to intrude on my supposed day off, and I was able to just enjoy the day without stressing about being pulled into conference calls whilst either on or only just off the hill. That said, at the time of writing I am still reading news posts suggesting impending doom; increasing case rates of the Omicron variant which may yet lead to us all being locked up again in the not too distant future, despite that (at the moment anyway) it seems to be significantly milder than previous variants and not to be translating into increasing numbers of people actually dying. I suppose we can only wait and see but the whole thing seems to be never ending and staring into a Covid- hit 2022 when I haven’t really mentally processed 2020, never mind 2021, yet is frankly just depressing. A scientist friend thinks it might be another five years in a worst case scenario before we are out the other side of this which is even more depressing. We have got to find a way to live alongside this and try and get back to something approaching normality before it is gone for good.

Anyway, back to the walking / swimming! Where this all started dates back to summer 2020 and Stuart giving me a voucher for Swim the Lakes which runs guided wild swims in and around Ambleside. I’d wanted to try wild swimming for ages – I used to swim in the sea in Wales when on holiday as a kid / teenager and always enjoyed it but had never really swum in rivers or lakes. Suffice it to say that I loved the swim in Windermere and have now found a managed open water swimming venue in a lake about 2 miles from my house which I go to regularly. It’s fair to say that I now have even more kit to store as what started off with a swimming costume last Autumn then led to the acquisition of increasing amounts of neoprene in order to enable me to carry on swimming in the winter (lockdowns permitting). Stuart also started coming along and we both now swim at the lake including a rather bracing dip on Christmas Day. In some ways, I’m probably enjoying the swimming more than hill walking at the moment – as I’ve said in a previous blog, as I’ve come closer to finishing the Wainwrights I’ve started to put increasing amounts of pressure on myself which given I am prone to getting stressed anyway is not particularly helpful. That stress doesn’t really exist for the swimming, and it’s actually a brilliant way to de-stress, as well as a fabulous cure for a mild hangover (it isn’t sensible to go cold water swimming with a stinker of a hangover though, as you can lose the ability to regulate your temperature). 

I’d always intended to get some swimming in on my break to the far West, and swimming in Wast Water was high on the list – in fact a definite bucket list sort of thing. I also wanted to take in some of the wild swim spots in Eskdale and in the end that was what I went for first. The weather on the 17th started a bit marginal, and also I was knackered after 2 days of walking in a row and a night of not great sleep, so I made the decision not to try to get up a hill and instead to combine a walk with the chance for a couple of swims before heading to Wast Water later on. I was parked up in a layby near the foot of the Hardknott Pass just before 9.30 with my swimming costume, water shoes (very helpful with anything rocky underfoot) and a towel shoved into my rucksack – I decided to leave the wetsuit in the car for this one. 

The walk in along the River Esk was lovely, although at the start the cloud was down on the hills. My first goal was Tongue Pot, which is apparently quite a popular wild swimming location where people often jump from the surrounding cliffs – not my cup of tea! The walk of about 2 miles on the flat was lovely and I arrived at Tongue Pot, which is a deep pool of water with a small waterfall at its head, to find one other person just getting out but otherwise had it to myself. I got changed quickly and eased myself in to the water, which was cold enough to be bracing but not so cold I could really have done with the wetsuit! I had it to myself for about 10 minutes until a couple of young blokes turned up and did a jump from a lower bank, before realising the water level wasn’t deep enough for any of the higher jumps. I probably stayed in for about 20 minutes just chilling out (literally!) and enjoying the experience before getting dressed and walking a bit further up the Esk to some more falls, which would be well worth coming back to another day to try and swim in. 

After a bit of a break, I walked down the same path I’d come up to get to my next stop, Kail Pot, which is another little rocky gorge. By this time the sun had come out and it was quite warm – I’m not sure how long I was in the water for this time but I really didn’t want to get out. There was another lovely little waterfall and it sort of felt like nature’s Jacuzzi! 

I eventually got back to the car at about 1, had my sandwiches (which I’d annoyingly forgotten to put in my rucksack) then drove off to Wast Water where I parked up near a shingle beach just off the road. Given Wast Water is so deep it has a reputation for being seriously cold so I definitely thought the wetsuit would be needed for this one! As it turned out I probably didn’t actually need it, but better to be on the safe side, and for the same reason I also strapped on my tow float, which is basically a buoyancy aid but also means you are more easily visible to others (e.g. paddle boarders and the like but also boats). I stayed reasonably close in to the shore but it was certainly a scenic swim with views back to the brooding mass of the Screes and ahead to Yewbarrow. All in all a lovely day and – looking back – a real highlight of the year. Afterwards I drove to Wasdale Head, on the way back getting stuck in a very Cumbrian traffic jam – after which the car initially refused to start, rather worrying somewhere with no phone signal.. Fortunately it did start on the 2nd try!

The following day the weather dawned murky and damp; I’d had thoughts of doing a hill but was still pretty tired, and most of the lower hills in the area that I’ve not done are ones such as Green Crag where you need to be able to see where you are going. After three lovely days my enthusiasm for getting soaked on a hill was also somewhat lacking! In the end I drove to St Bees in the morning, where there was glorious sunshine, and swimmers in the (rather choppy) bay where the tide was right in. 

After some lunch, I headed for Eskdale and another swim spot near Boot, parking up at Dalegarth station. The swim spot this time was Gill Force, which rather confusingly isn’t actually a waterfall but a little wooded gorge with a deep pool. Again no wetsuit required for this one, though it was quite cold given it doesn’t get much sunlight. Fun though! 

By the time I was out of the water and dressed, the weather had cleared up a bit but it was too late to try and make for a serious hill. However, on the way back I decided I might as well double my Outlying Fell total with a visit to Irton Pike. A slight navigational mishap meant that I started off taking the wrong path and having to double back before realising that the steep – no make that very steep – path heading directly up through the woods was the one I wanted! I knew there was an easy route off involving a bit of a double back to the path to Whin Rigg but thought I might as well make a circuit of it… not my wisest decision as it turned out!

The path was steep. No make that seriously steep. It was also rocky in parts and almost entirely in woodland. By the time I finally got clear of the trees I was melting and given this was meant to be a quick up and down I hadn’t brought much in the way of water. However, once clear of the trees the gradient massively eases off and it was an easy pootle to the rounded summit which on a clear day I would imagine gives terrific views. As it was the views I got were still pretty good although the higher Wasdale fells were in cloud. Outlying Fell total doubled, I took the easy angled path which heads off in the direction of Whin Rigg, then picking up an easy forest track which joins the Whin Rigg path lower down. In hindsight it would have been a lot easier just to take this route on the way up but I guess there has to be a mishap of some sort in one of my blog posts! 

Once back at the car it was back to the Screes Inn for some post swim Merlot and a nice meal for my last evening there. The forecast for the Sunday was rubbish so I just had a relaxing evening with a few glasses of wine after a lovely couple of days in and out of the water! There are loads of wild swim spots in the Lakes, so I suspect my future trips will not just involve packing the hill walking gear… 

12 thoughts on “A walk that went swimmingly (and a small hill thrown in)

  1. The nice photos didn’t quite manage to make up for your scientist friend’s opinion that it could be 5 years before we are out of all this rubbish. . All very well for me, but at ages 16,18,21 and 28 the grandchildren are going to be well and truly messed up by the time it ends. There is a limit to the number of Tik Tok friends (or whatever they have now) that you can tolerate before emerging into the real world. Good for you for getting out. and bagging a Wainwright even if only a peripheral one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fab swimming spots, I’ve heard of the ones up along the Esk and looking at your photos they seem to be as good as described. I’ve always fancied Birks Bridge as well although that means heading up and over Hardknott pass from the Esk side

    Liked by 1 person

      • I found it easier driving east to west over the pass, you can see up the pass from the bottom and judge if anyone is coming down, the zigzags on the east side are a longer version of those at the back of Hallin Fell. The western side is a mismash of hairpins which seem far steeper than the other. The other way in to Cockley Beck is from the south through the Duddon Valley I suppose

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I will take you over Hardknott, Tessa, though it is a moot point whether you prefer to drive it yourself, or be driven by an octogenarian with a dodgy visual field…DVLA is currently trying to make up its mind as to whether I can have a new license, as it forgot to remind me about the regular eye test until 6 months after my old one had expired….so haven’t been driving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good luck with the DVLA and appreciate the offer re Hardknott. May well take you up on that at some point. I don’t think my ancient Mini would make it up the pass even if I felt my driving skills were up to it. Only been over once as a passenger (with an ex driving, well over 20 years ago) and he point blank refused to drive back over it.

      Like

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