6/100 – Wastwater 

Wastwater is the deepest lake in England and one of my favourites in the Lake District. The valley of Wasdale is much less touristed than many others and the lake is hemmed in by towering mountains, including England’s tallest peak, Scafell Pike. The famous Wasdale screes tumble down to meet the shore on one side, making an around the lake walk, like the ones at Buttermere and Derwentwater, impossible.

As a swim spot, it’s cold – very, very cold. There’s a stoney beach, across the road from a small car park, that I’ve swum from before. It’s shallow for quite a while and pretty windy, and before I’ve even got my toes wet I’m having second thoughts. So I paddle in my cardigan to test the waters and my resolution. And I decide I’m going in.

It’s so cold. So, so cold. And the water is black and foaming where it breaks. It’s not so much a case of swimming as of kicking up at the right moment to avoid a face full of water. Despite the kicking, I get a few anyway. I try to swim against the waves first, so that when I’m tired I’m going with the water’s natural sweep.

The mountains from here are so tall that they swamp you and this valley is much wilder, more ragged, than any other. Green and brown and grey dominates the landscape and the low lying cloud echoes the wilderness. Three trees, skinny and bent, stand on a knife edge crease of a hill, blown into distortion and used to withstanding the moods of the inclement weather.

I don’t swim across to rest at the base of the screes as I’ve done before. It’s too rough for that, and I’m too cold. When the hairs on your arms stand up even in the water, you know you need to get out. I’m shivering for a while after, and I have to have the car heater at full blast long after we’ve left the slate skies of Wasdale and started to see the sun break through the clouds. But it’s all worth it. I love the Lake District, and this is one of my favourites – the wildest of its outdoor swims.

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