A small intermission to report on yesterday’s activities. We decided to walk the Ingleton Waterfalls trail, a marked walk which runs from the village of Ingleton in Lonsdale up the River Twiss past numerous waterfalls to Thornton Force, an impressive waterfall which was painted by Turner. The trail, which is about four and a half miles of well marked and maintained pathways and steps, then runs across the moor with fine views south across the Dales, to the River Doe and Beezley Falls, from whence it drops down along the river back into Ingleton again. It’s an excellent walk, long enough to be stretching but in no way challenging, through beautiful countryside alongside two glorious rivers.
One of the big appeals of this walk for me was the possibility of a swim. Last week I swam in the Lido once and in a heated chlorine box once, which doesn’t count even if it is outdoors. By yesterday I hadn’t had a swim for a week and was getting antsy. Last Christmas one of the seasonal books for sale was volume of cat poetry (ie a volume of poetry “by” a cat, rather than a volume of poetry for cats – that would be stupid). It was entitled “I could pee on that”. Before I started outdoor swimming I would never have thought like this, but now, whenever I see a suitable body of water, even in a picture, I think “I could swim in that”. This week, surrounded by water in becks, streams and tarns, I have become desperate, my swimming muscle twitching like crazy every time I hear the tinkle of even the smallest rivulet. Ingleton Falls by report offered many places to swim. We packed our swimming togs, the day was warm; we were good to go!
At the start of the walk where the river ran relatively flat along the valley bed there were a number of swimmable places, but swimming at the start of a walk when only one or two members of the party want to swim doesn’t work, somehow. Everyone is fresh and eager to press on and there is no appetite amongst the non-swimmers for a nice sit down and a good laugh at those plunging into freezing water. Up we went, through woods of hawthorn, oak and mountain-ash, past rapids and cataracts pouring and leaping downwards through rocky glens thick with moss and overhung with ferns. The path is well-marked with many places to view the waterfalls safely from a height, the steep drops prudently fenced off. You could have swum, but only if you weren’t too worried about broken limbs and incidental fatalities.
At the top the path opens out to a wide flat glen with Thornton Force at its head, poring impressively down into a wide dark pool. You could definitely have swum, but it wasn’t particularly inviting. For one thing, it was very public. For another, it just didn’t look very….. interesting. In any case, we had spotted an ice-cream van across the valley and after a long hot climb the mood of the party was very much for pressing on.
An short ice-cream stop later (Joseph’s Ices, estd. 1902, parked right at the top of a rocky track, possibly the highest ice-cream van in England, certainly one of the most enterprising and definitely the only one half-way up Ingleborough, and most excellent ice-cream it was too), we pressed on. From here the track passed over the ridge between the two rivers and then plunged into woods again at Beezley Falls. This was where we had thought we might swim, but again, the track was firmly fenced. Notices stating forbiddingly “It is dangerous to leave the path” sat frowningly above steep drops to deep pools lined with rocks and topped and tailed with falls and rapids. Swimming: possible, but not inviting. Onwards, then, and heading downhill we entered a Middle Earth wonderland of steep-sided gorges, foaming falls, and deep canyons at the bottom of which the river raced dark and dangerous. It would have been a brilliant place to film Sherlock’s struggle with Moriarty above the Reichenbach falls, but swimming, not so much.
Down and ever down, and I was beginning to give up hope of a swim. We crowded together onto a viewing bridge to admire Snow Falls, an impressive drop of white water, the last marked waterfall. I was almost reconciled to not swimming when the path dropped down and opened out to a wide sunny glade next to the river. The bank had fallen away to form a little shingle beach next to a large rock sloping conveniently into the water. At the upstream end the water tumbled over a small waterfall into a broad, deep pool nestled between mossy rocks, from where the water got gradually shallower until it rattled over a small rapid and off downstream. You couldn’t ask for a better swimming spot and as I came down the steps towards it I was mentally stripping off and plunging in.
To my surprise nobody else seemed that keen. Fortunately they were quite happy to array themselves on various rocks and grassy spots while I changed. Mindful of the edict that you should never jump into unknown water, I waded in from the “shallow end”, gaining a round of applause from my small audience as the water reached my waist and a cheer when I plunged in and swam. And, Oh My God….
It was perfect. Possibly the most perfect spot I have ever swum in in my life. The water was perhaps ten degrees, cold enough to be interesting but warm enough to feel pleasantly refreshing once I was used to it. It had come straight off the moors and was silky soft, clear and sweet and brown as beer, turning limbs to bronze in downward-slanting shafts of sunlight. The pool slanted easily downwards from the entry point, rapidly becoming more than deep and wide enough to swim. The current was barely there, just enough to feel as you swam upstream between the rocky walls to the little waterfall, where a rocky shelf was perfectly placed to allow a swimmer to stand in knee-high water looking back downstream before plunging in and swimming back. It was long enough to feel like a proper swimming pool, not a big one, but certainly twenty metres or so. It was the gentlest form of wild swimming, and perfect as it was, I had it completely to myself.
At least until my friends joined me. Two others followed my example and swam, the others came and sat on the rocks and dangled their toes and squealed at the cold. We swam for maybe twenty minutes, up and down to the waterfall, “round the island”, a mossy rock sticking out of the stream, waving hands and feet in the air for photos, but above all swimming, in a perfect natural pool. A tiny swim in the great scheme of things but balm to the soul and refreshment to the spirit. One of the loveliest swims I have ever had.
Yeah. I could swim in that.