Lake District 2017

After our week in the lake district last year, we were keen to do a longer Buttermere swim and also explore some areas of the lakes we hadn’t got to.

Saturday (Manda)

Saturday we arrived in Penrith accompanied by David and Brian to pick up our very small hire car, which with 3 tall adults, little me and our accompanying swimming paraphernalia meant the poor car was destined to have a challenging weekend.

We follow various Lake District residents on Instagram/twitter so we were grateful that  @suzannaswims (who now offers bespoke lake district swimming tours and @lottiethompson gave us advice when we ask where to swim in Derwent.

For our Derwent swim we started from Calfclose bay, where you can park 300m away in Great Wood NT car park.  We swam off with the idea that we would probably do around 15 minutes/1k taking into consideration we didn’t want to get cold (me, Katie and Brian were skins and David was in his thermal wetsuit!) and we were saving ourselves for Sunday’s race.  Despite the initial face burn the water felt “ok” or at least I thought it was until I tried to talk at 14 minutes and could hear I sounded almost drunk!  We promptly swam back to shore and therefore, ended up being in the water for around 30 minutes.  A quick change on the shore and a dash to the car where the heaters were turned up to the max.  Poor David who wasn’t remotely cold was subjected to sauna like conditions for the drive!

We dropped our stuff off at our hotel on the banks on Thirlmere.  Despite this being a non-swimmable lake/water (who knows what it is!!) this was a great location for us to be based as only 25 minutes from Keswick, 20 minutes to Ambleside and 40 minutes to Buttermere.

It was also a 5/10 minute drive from Dobgill car park where you can walk 20 minutes (uphill) to Harrop Tarn.  Following the instructions provided to us by Lottie, we eagerly set off.  According to Lottie getting there takes “10-20 minutes depending on hill fitness”…needless to say we are not hill fit!  The walk takes you up through the woods and then slowly you can hear water gushing getting louder and louder.  After coming out from the woods, you are greeted by a waterfall.  What a magnificent treat.  Further along the path, the tarn appeared.  We made our way through the grass/bog (see pics of Brian bearfooted!) to the water’s edge.  The water was Baltic.  We took it in turns to have a swim – it lived up to my magical expectations and then some.  Rolling hills, lily pads on the water, dark black water, pine trees, no one around -> MAGICAL.

After a quicker dash back to the car whilst the light was fading, we headed back to the hotel to pick up Katie, where she was deservedly resting at the hotel and headed to Ambleside for some pasta and then went back for an early night.

Note: if you do fancy some lake crawling, please ensure you read the below:


Sunday (Katie)

So Sunday was the day of the race.  It dawned nice and sunny but no sooner had we packed the four of us and our luggage into our tiny Citroen C1 it had started to rain and that turned out to be the order of the day.

The race didn’t start until 10.30am but we had heard horror stories about the state of the parking in Buttermere Village so aimed to arrive nice and early.  Having traversed the winding roads into Buttermere with our car barely making it up some of the hills we arrived at 8.30am and secured our parking spot.  It was still raining so we stayed in our car to wait it out.  During a short gap in the rain we rushed to register and for refreshments in the café which had opened early especially for the swim.

Manda, Brian and David were doing the 10km race.  I (Katie) was originally entered into the 10km as well but I am expecting a baby next year and severe sickness means I have done a total of 5 training sessions in the last 8 weeks which meant that I wasn’t feeling up to the 10km and dropped down to the 5km.  I almost changed my mind back again when I saw that the 10km race hats were purple!

The time soon ticked away and we were changing into our wetsuits and heading down to the start of the race.  It was still raining….we waded through what I can only describe as a bog to get to the start (okay well maybe not a bog but I am from London so I am mudaphobic) and arrived at the water’s edge.

The start of the race was about a 5 minute walk up the lake so I waved goodbye to Manda, Brian and David as their wave was starting 15 minutes before mine.  Soon it was our turn and I was walking up to the start.  One good thing about the cold and miserable weather was that it didn’t actually feel ‘that’ cold getting in.  It was one of the things I had been worried about, after a summer of a lido of 18 degree plus the advertised 14 degrees of Buttermere was quite intimidating.  I was wearing my booties though which helped keep me warm.

We all piled into the lake and started swimming…then about a minute later we all stopped again.  Oh you we were only swimming to the start!  You could see a lot of confused people frantically trying to re-set their Garmins.  Finally we were really off.  I swam down to the first buoy which seemed to have come loose and drifted to shore so a load of us then had to swim back up on the other side to next to the next buoy.

Conditions for the swim were really tough.  You felt like the wind was in your face the whole time which was making the water pretty choppy.  I wanted to give up a 100 times but before long I was at the top of the lake and then across to the other side and which point I had no choice but to swim back down.

I finished in 1h 30 mins which given my lack of training and extra human baggage I was actually reasonably happy with.  I do think the course was a bit short though as there were a couple of buoys at the top end of the lake on the course map which I don’t think were there.

After finishing I, very inelegantly, exited the water and went to retrieve my stuff.  I was walking back to the car when I found Manda huddled under a tree getting changed.  ‘I thought I might find you here’ I laughed.  ‘I wasn’t cold’ she replied ‘just miserable’.  I knew what she meant.  Buttermere is absolutely beautiful and a still one of my favourite places I have ever swum but the rain, wind and waves had not made for the most fun experience this time round.  Manda wasn’t alone with an early exit.  Out of 170 registered to swim only 56 people finished the 10km.


We quickly got changed and then went back to see the boys finish.  David was beaten by only a few meters into second place in a time of 2h 28 minutes.  Brian in a hitherto unseen racing gentlemanliness let the lady he was swimming with finish in front of him coming in fifth in 2h 39 minutes.  Well done guys!

After finally getting changed and dry (well drier!) we couldn’t face going back to the lake for the prize giving so we headed back to Keswick for some well-earned lunch.  We mooched around Keswick eating fudge and drinking tea until it was time to get back for our train.

A lovely weekend despite the rain and race conditions – we will definitely be back in the Lakes next year!


The Lake District: “Wild swimming” adventures

As we were staying in Coniston for an extra week we decided to try and turn ourselves into wild swimmers.  Here how we got on…

Coniston (Manda)

One dip just in this beautiful water wasn’t enough, so realising that there was a water entry point a 5/10 minute walk from the cottage we were staying in, we put our wetsuits back on, refastened our tow floats and walked casually along the road in our flip flops.  Our hope of doing this bizarre walk unnoticed fell flat on its face within seconds when a shout of “Amanda, Katie” was heard… Josie was staying in cottage by us and was starting her journey back to London.  We said our goodbyes and off we ventured.

After Katie said goodbye to our flip flops (not sure who she expected to steal them) we waded into the water. Now hands up it was me (Manda) who thought this was a good entry point but there were several moments that I questioned this during and after.


First point: #weedgate

More on this shortly..

Second point: #swangate

Upon entering the water there were 2 swans with signets making their way over to us.  I was calm at this point as we were about to swim off in the other direction but THEN one decided to come after us.  Faced with flashes of Outdoor Swimming Society posts describing broken arms after swan attacks, I screeched something in Katie’s direction and then proceeded to head down sprint away.  After what seemed like a lifetime I stopped and glanced back to see the swan not moving but I am sure it was giving me evils and Katie had not swum away with any sense of urgency and was a good 50m behind.

We had a lovely 2 km swim in the rain and mist. Cautiously we made our way back to our entry point.  Katie hoped that her flip flops were still there, I was more concerned that we didn’t have round 2 with the swans.

Now going back to first point.  To get into the water we had to wade and swim through some weeds.  This didn’t seem like an issue until the next morning we woke up with “swimmer’s itch” – millions of (well not literally) tiny bites all over our bodies .  A week and a half later we are still suffering from the blighters.

Buttermere (Katie)

After a chat with the owner of the Swim the Lakes shop in Ambleside, we had some good insider knowledge of the best approach to taking a dip in Buttermere.  After over an hour’s drive, the last bit winding through the hills, we eventually arrived in at the Fish Inn in Buttermere, which is the best place to enter the lake for swimming purposes.  We changed in the car park and then wandered down to the lake in our wetsuits with tow floats in hand.

The lake was as beautiful as promised.  Our aim was to swim to the other side of the lake and back.  The challenge was that we only had about an hour as Miles needed feeding again soon. After about half an hours swimming we still looked like we were miles from the other side and decided to turn back.  Looking at the Garmin map afterwards it looks like we had made is about three quarters of the way over.

Buttermere was much colder than Coniston had been particularly in the middle as it is fed by a waterfall. On the way back my hands were so cold I had to swim fists.  I don’t think either of us are destined to be channel swimmers!

We arrived back to quite a bit of interest from the locals. Apparently a group of ladies were quite concerned that we were swimming given we seemed to need flotation devices.  We reassured them that we were competent swimmers and the tow floats were mainly for visibility!

Grasmere / Rydal Beck (Manda)

Fuelled by our wild swimming success, we decided to go for one last dip before heading back to London. The choice was between Coniston again, a waterfall near Rydal or Grasmere. I (Manda) researched in Facebook, wild swim and various other places and decided that now we were proper Wild Swimmers a small hike to a waterfall would be no problem for us. Rydal Beck we are coming for you.

Katie drove as far as she could up the hill that lead to the waterfall and then we proceeded to walk up. We had Google Maps so what could go wrong.. We reached a point where we were meant to turn off left and there was a path, however, it was covered in fern. I’m sure it was manageable but we decided to head back. Our wild swimming days were days were over!

Instead we headed to Grasmere and thanks to lakeswim 2016 Facebook page we knew where to park and where to start swimming from. Due to the time we had lost gallivanting around trying to find a waterfall we didn’t have much time to swim in Grasmere but the little time we did spend in there was bliss.  We kept turning on our backs and floating around so we could admire the beautiful scenery.  This is one we will defo be heading back to in the future.

Swimming in Lake District resources:

These are what we used in deciding where and how to swim:

Lake district national park swimming page:

Explains what waters/lake you can and cannot swim in and additionally, which one have less boat traffic etc.

Swim the lakes:

The chap who runs this gave us excellent advice re where to enter the water at Buttermere.  They have a brilliant shop in ambleside that caters to all your swimming needs.  We are looking at doing one of their trips in 2017.

Swim secure:

Tow floats for purchase.  Note: you can also buy these from swim the lakes (see above)

Wild swim map:

Search for swims and dip spots on this map.

Lakeswim 2016 facebook group: find on facebook

Lots of chat and resources (including excellent files that show entry points, where to park etc) on the waters.