Last December, dreaming up goals for the New Year (many of which often go unfinished) and inspired by past happy memories of Lake District dips during my 3 and a bit years living here, I decided to set myself a challenge for 2022.
To take a least one monthly dip in a lake, tarn or river and preferably in a new to me location each time.
I’ve never been a particularly good swimmer but inspired by a after run dare from a friend to go for a dip in the River Greta in my first summer in the Lakes in 2019; I dabbled with lake dips – a hot hot summers day post-hiking in Wastwater, the deepest lake in England, a morning after a night of wild camping in Derwentwater and a bracing autumnal dip on the shores of Rydal Water with hot chocolate and Grasmere gingerbread as a reward.
I love buzz of immersing myself in cold water – the sense of overcoming something difficult and the feeling of a deepening connection to the landscape.
So, here is my recap on a year of wild dips in the Lake District (and one in Scotland) – I hope this inspires a wild dip adventure of your own 😊
January – Windermere
I kicked off the challenge under muted winter skies in late January, hopping on the bus to the largest lake in the Lake District, Windermere and walking to Millerground, a popular spot for swimmers in both summer and winter.
My backpack was full of warm layers of clothing and a flask of sweet potato and ginger soup. A cool winter breeze made me shiver as I stripped down to my swimsuit. It took a few moments of walking in and out of the icy water before I submerged myself for all of 20 seconds, using the horizon line of the fells to steady my breath before stumbling back onto the shoreline and climbing into my many warm layers and devouring the soup.
February – Loughrigg Tarn
On a late Sunday afternoon, as the sun began to wane, I hiked from my home in Ambleside over Loughrigg fell to the banks of Loughrigg Tarn. I adore this spot, the striking skyline over to the Langdale Pikes, sheep grazing quietly in the fields.
I found a quiet spot away from the main footpath. Despite the still searingly cold water, it felt a little easier this time, perhaps from the confidence of that first dip in Windermere and the promise of warmer weather to come. I felt a quiet sense of achievement as I warmed up with my hike back over to Ambleside just as the sunset over the fells.
March – Great Langdale Beck
An unseasonably warm few days in March saw me go on a mini adventure hiking from Ambleside for a night in a hostel in Elterwater in the Langdale Valley.
I awoke early, taking the footpath down to the shores of Elterwater to see the sun begin to rise. But the water there looked full of reads, murky and unappealing. On my return to the hostel, I spotted the perfect spot on the shores of Great Langdale Beck where I waded right in just as a tractor trundled over the bridge above.
Luckily the hostel was only a few hundred metres away, and I headed back wrapped in my travel towel, the hostel owner laughing in dismay when he asked where I had been.
April – River Cairn (near Dumfries in Scotland)
I had intended for the challenge to take place solely in the Lake District, but for some reason, I didn’t get out much in April.
I did spend Easter weekend with my family up near Dumfries in the Scottish Borders, a quiet valley that felt miles away from civilisation. After a misty Easter Day run up the nearest non-descript hill, I dunked my tired body in the River Cairn not far from where we were doing a home exchange and celebrated with a salted caramel hot cross bun on my return.
May – Crummock Water
For my birthday weekend at the start of May, I booked to stay in an Air BnB with my two oldest and dearest best friends for a weekend in Ennerdale in the Western Lakes. The weather on my birthday was shocking, but we drove to Buttermere for a stroll and a warming pie at Syke Farm Cafe.
Despite suggestions from my friends that maybe we could go to a spa, I suggested how about a rainy dip in Crummock Water? It was met with a somewhat muted but OK, it’s your birthday kind of response!
Swearing and cursing, we got changed in the car at Lanthwaite Wood and plodded down to the iconic viewpoint at the end of Crummock Water where we waded right in, pausing to chat and drink in the scenery.
A fine way to begin my 37th year and one of the most memorable dips of the challenge.
June – Grasmere
June seemed to slip by in a flash as I began a new job and finally climbed Helvellyn. Again, I never quite found the moment to adventure to a new lake or tarn, so I decided to bend my self-imposed rules of heading to a new place each time and instead went for a second dip in Grasmere.
I wrote these few words as I returned home to dry off….
‘When the sun shines hot and bright during the day, a little too hot for your pasty complexion. But at 6pm the heat hazily softens, and I head to the lake forgetting my towel but not really caring.
Alone through the woods, the heat penetrates the canopy until I reach Grasmere lake. I find a quiet patch of stony beach away from the families and friends chatting and laughing over picnics and tiny BBQs.
Rocky, reedy, a little bit murky…a challenge but a cool relief from the heat of the day. Electric blue dragonflies dance and skate over the surface of the water. A brother and sister get to grips with their new paddleboard, mum swimming alongside a glowing orange toe float. Silver Howe standing tall on the shoreline, emerald green with the summer bracken.
And then suddenly, almost out of nowhere, a rain storm’.
July – Bowscale Tarn
The highest dip of the year! Out on a Saturday adventure with my friend Amy, we had planned to do a circular walk up to Bowscale fell and drop down for a dip in the tarn, but the recent heavy rain had made a river crossing impassable, so we returned to the car and found an easier route up to the tarn.
Despite it being the middle of summer, the wind whipped around the mountain tarn, making it feel bracing. Tiny waves bobbed on the surface as we splashed around for a few minutes before retreating to the shore for hot chocolate and rice crispy cakes.
Location wise, this was one of my favourites of the year, it felt an adventure to get there and it had a wild, isolated feel tucked up high in the far northern fells.
August – Buttermere
As the country baked and basked in a heatwave, I caught the first bus from Keswick to Buttermere, dropping down to the lake at 10am with the temperatures already high. I loved the cooling sense of relief from this dip, the iconic Fleetwith Pike towering to my right, my bag hiding in the shade of Butness Woods.
Buttermere is one of the first Lakes I visited back in 2019, and it will always remain a really special and significant valley to me. It felt a joy to float and splash in the morning water before the crowds began to gather before I escaped to neighborouing Whinlatter Forest to cool off.
September – Easedale Tarn
This was one of those September days when summer still lingered: a clear blue sky and beating sunshine as I hiked a couple of miles from Grasmere to Easedale Tarn.
Hot and sweaty from the uphill hike up Sourmilk Ghyll, I had considered a dip in the waterfall but instead pushed on to the tarn which would provide less of an audience in the amphitheatre amongst the central fells. This felt like another sweet relief as I floated around in a corner of the tarn tucked away from the raft of visitors, and I revelled in what was likely to be the last warmish dip!
October – Bassenthwaite
On a wet autumn day in Keswick, my friend Amy drove us out to Bassenthwaite (the only true lake in the Lake District). We lingered in the car, waiting for the rain to ease a bit before Amy decided we should just go for it!
We attempted to take shelter under a tree as we got change with a bemused dog walker asking what the hell we were doing! We waded in whilst admiring the first tinges of autumn colour on the neighbouring shoreline and Whinlatter fells.
I walked back up the muddy footpath wrapped in only my waterproof jacket and dived back in the car for hot chocolate before warming up with a walk at nearby Dodd Wood.
November – Blea Tarn
I had pictured a dip at Blea Tarn on a beautiful blue sky day, the Langdale Pikes providing an iconic backdrop. But as it was winter, the sky remained grey through the sunshine, and when I hiked up to the tarn from the Langdale Valley, I felt too shy to take a dip in the spot I’d dreamed of; walkers and visitors were milling about.
So I retreated to one corner of the tarn, setting my bag upon a muddy log before purposefully striding in – it was surprisingly not mega cold! I went for a little hike around the tarn afterwards, the winter light dancing over the fells and warmed up with a whisky by the log fire at the famous Old Dungeon Ghyll pub.
December – Derwentwater
And so to the last hurrah in early December, before the country was gripped by a cold snap. I broke the rule again of returning to a spot I had previously dipped in. To Derwentwater, near Keswick, the first place I lived in when I moved to the Lakes in 2019 – the place I fell in love with the Lake District, the place I had refound myself after months of feeling lost.
I walked out to Calfclose Bay, carefully looking for a spot I wouldn’t get questioned by curious passers-by. A shingle beach, a golden hour sky, the familiar curve of Cat Bells in the distance. Stumbling over slippy rocks, I submerged myself in and gasped for breath but felt the sweet sense of elation and completion. I had done it!
Celebratory mulled wine from my flask and a mince pie, followed by a dance to Mariah Carey and a walk to Friars Crag to round off a memorable year of wild dips in the Lake District.
Catch up with my previous reviews of the year….
Not strictly an end-of-year review – but most of my highlights in 2019 were from the summer!