We walk down the fern lined road towards the lake and turn off down a small forested slope. At the foot of the hill there’s a small wooden footbridge over a rusty orange river. The iron must be heavy in the soil here, because the colour is astounding, rich and red and slubby. I stand on the bridge and watch leaves and twigs spin through, the sky only referenced by the glitters of white in the ripples – the red is too strong to be disrupted by a sunny sky.
Turning just before this bridge leads us along the river, toward the edge of the loch. As it gets closer the trees open up, falling away to reveal a large grassy clearing edged by inviting silvery water. It’s a youth campsite, the sign tells us, but right now it’s empty. No one here but us. It’s perfect for a swim launch pad.
There’s a semi circle cut out of the chalky brown mud at the edge, like a bite out of a chocolate cookie, and that’s where I get in. It’s ideal. It drops down quickly. I spend too long standing semi submerged calling back to the bank and the wind starts to chill me. Can I change my mind, get out now? No, I’ve gone too far. Got my swim socks on and everything. So I have to push forward.
There’s always that brief moment of WHY, why am I doing this to myself? I like being warm and alive. But it’s only the briefest instant. Then your chest seizes up with the unbelievable temperature and the only thought left is coldcoldcoldcold. And then your chest opens up, something clicks and the freedom, the exhilaration kicks in. I did it, I can.
The water is chilling but thrilling, clear and icy and beautiful. The sky is surprisingly blue and it trickles about me as I kick out, clouds shattered into mirror shards as I break reflections with my finger tips. There’s a huge mountain towering above us. Later, looking at a map, I’ll see that it’s Ben A’an, and, comparatively, it’s not that big. We’ll go on to climb it and look down on these water bodies as if they are only droplets, but as I swim and look up I don’t know that yet. I just know that the green contrasts impossibly with the sky, and the crest of the peak is knobbly, like the hand drawing it slipped half way through.
Suddenly, my foot hits something big and I scream. I’m far from the shore and the primal fear of not knowing what’s beneath in the darkness tugs at my heart. I kick again, panicky and quick, to get away from it and it’s still there, big and bobbly. And then logic catches up with me and I realise it’s a gravel bank. The shore, while far enough away to convince me I’d unearthed a prehistoric creature of the deep, curves out here in a long finger and the unseen underwater surface clearly rises to meet it. It feels impossible that here I can stand and have only my ankles submerged and yet two strides away I can stretch my legs down straight, dip down to my full height and my feet flounder through the depths.
Heart out of mouth, I keep swimming, marvelling at the sky, the mountains, the forest, the water. Most of all, and always most of all, it’s about the water.
Moments after I change, a group arrive and start setting up tents. If I’d been just a little bit slower, I’d have had an audience. It always seems to be the way somehow. But you have to just not worry. If you think about it too much you’ll never do it.
And it’s always worth it.
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