“Never say “no” to adventures. Always say “yes” otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.”
Those are the wise words of Grandpa Potts from the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Not one of my favourite films but a quote that I seem to be following more and more as I get older. It was definitely this kind of attitude that led to our summer solstice exploits last week.
This time last week we were heading home from our trip with smiley but tired faces after a day of adventure. I can’t believe it’s a whole week ago! I’ve needed a bit of time to process everything and get a bit of rest before I tackled this. I hope I’ve done it justice, it really was a perfect day.
On Wednesday night we’d arrived at our basic but functional camping barn for the night and proceeded to heavily carb load in the local pub. Oh, how hard it was to resist the five hand pulled ales, all lovingly crafted in the back yard of the pub. Don’t even get me started on the full wall of whisky and gin behind the bar. But we were on a mission and we all behaved. It felt very odd, this is not normally how a pub trip with the Short One and Jac pans out!
A quick pack up and an excess of porridge the following morning and off we went. A 7am start up Scafell Pike. What a beautiful day! 10C to start, rising to the high teens by the afternoon with a bit of intermittent cloud cover. It was a tad windy, but that paid off in part.
I managed the walk surprisingly well. Given that I’d essentially sat on my bum for the previous four weeks to make sure my cold didn’t turn into a chest infection, I felt surprisingly good. I must have built a decent base level of fitness with the random training I’d put in beforehand. I’ve certainly never climbed a mountain that easily before.
It gradually got windier and windier as we climbed, with freezing hands we topped out, after a little scramble, to the saddle between Scafell and Scafell Pike. Wow, all thoughts of how cold the wind was were forgotton. That biting wind was keeping the air clean and well scrubbed. No hot weather haze, rain or low level cloud. I’ve climbed a fair few big hills but I have NEVER been on a summit with a view that clear. But before the summit proper we had another important job to do.
I’ve never skinny dipped. Not for any prudish reason, the opportunity has just never really arisen. We’d discovered a few weeks before our trip that there would be a little tarn on our way up Scafell Pike which also happens to be the highest standing body of water in England. Now that seemed like a perfect secluded place for my first au natural dip.
Slightly sceptical about whether there’d be any water in it we eagerly looked for a glint in the sun as we finished the scramble. Bingo! Found it. A brief jaunt across the fell. Rapid strip off and in we dipped. It was a peaty little number, clear water on top but hiding a thick mire of smelly peaty rotting-ness at the bottom. Quick shoulders dip in and out we climbed with whoops of exhilaration. The howling wind and a quick rub down with a tea towel meant we were quickly dry and more appropriately attired for the rest of the walk. Just in time, before a few more people appeared at the top of the scramble we’d just done.
The view at the summit was breath-taking. A full 360 panorama of the Lake District and beyond. I soon identified the previous Sunday’s swim at the Lakesman triathlon in Derwentwater and we could trace most of the Short One’s ride along the coast too. It was easy to pick off every summit as we turned.
But it wasn’t just the Lakes on view. Scotland, the Isle of Man, the Pennines, Morecambe Bay and beyond. I didn’t take my proper camera as I was trying to save on weight to speed things along but I’m more than a bit gutted I didn’t. It was a rare missed opportunity for some once in a lifetime photos.
It felt fitting that I could see all of these things. They’re all places that are important to Sarah and Phil, who have done so much to raise money and awareness for the PHA, the charity I’m fundraising for with this trip. Phil is from the Isle of Man and, thanks to a temporary suspension of Sarah’s place on the lung transplant list, they were able to visit there together a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time Sarah’s been over, to a place she loves very much, in over two and a half years. I waved to Phil’s parents from the top.
But it wasn’t just the Isle of Man I was looking towards for inspiration. Phil undertook the immense Montane Spine Race in January this year. A race along the entire Pennine Way in the middle of winter. From the Peak District all the way up to the borders of Scotland. I spent a whole week following his little dot on the tracker willing him on, hoping he was OK, keeping my fingers crossed the weather would improve. He did it, I have no idea how, it looked brutal, but up there on the top of Scafell Pike I could see most of what he’d achieved in that epic week in January. You are a true inspiration to take on adventures Phil!
I really didn’t want to come down, I could have stayed up there all day and got intoxicated on that view. Alas, we had other things to do that day. With a heavy heart we headed off down. A simple but steep walk back. The Short One shot off in front to practice a spot of fell running in preparation for a future race whilst Jac and I generally took the mickey out of her prancing fairy running and remembered the comment Aidan (Jac’s husband) had made about looking after each other as she repeatedly disappeared out of view.
A beautiful, clear, mountain stream follows the bottom half of the path back down. After a few stern “no you’re not going in’s” from Jac, she finally conceded a few hundred metres from the car. An undies dip this time but a lovely little pre-cool before our big dip in Wastwater.
A quick refuel, and change into wetsuits followed, before we looked for our get in for the big swim. Me in my long sleeved suit, the Short One in her sleeveless in the hopes of keeping her shoulders pain free and speed up for the full distance. Our walk back down had given us a constant clear view of the conditions on Wastwater. We could see the wind squalling down valleys, kicking up waves, even generating a few white horses. The first part of the swim was going to be a bit choppy!
But gosh that lake’s clear! I don’t think I’ve ever swum in water so clear before. I could see so far. The drop off at the edge, where the gently sloping shoreline suddenly drops off into the deep V that forms the lake bottom, 80m down, was stunning.
It’s funny, the depth doesn’t seem to bother me in freshwater so much now. Beyond a certain point you can’t see anything, it’s just dark blue, or brown, or black or green depending on what’s in the water. Unless I see something move I tend to be OK with it. It’s only when I get closer to the shore and start to make out shapes on the lakebed that I start to get anxious. What was that? Is it something coming to eat me? It never is and I’ve got better at managing the irrational fear but in Wastwater I didn’t have it once. When I could see the bottom I just spent my time looking at the rocks or the beautiful green, low growing plants and the long, bright pink weed that pops up every so often. At one point I even spotted an old gravestone. I think I was on such a high that we were finally doing this that those bad thoughts didn’t happen.
The scenery kind of helped too. Every time I breathed I got a glimpse of the iconic Wasdale view. The might of Great Gable flanked on either side by the slopes of Yewbarrow, Kirk Fell, Lingmell and Scafell with Wastwater cutting through the foreground. It’s one of my favourite views. Not a clear blue sky but the broken cloud cover added a greater sense of depth, the shade contrasting against the bright green fells that were dappled in sunlight.
The benefit of swimming with the Short One on such a trip is her speed………or lack of it. She’s by no means a slow swimmer but I’m a little bit faster so we never swim side by side. Our plan for this swim was for me to swim ahead at a gentle pace then swim back once in a while to check she was OK. It also afforded me the chance to stop, enjoy the view and take a few photos.
I did stop a lot but never for long. The depth of the lake and all those fells overshadowing Wastwater mean it’s a cold lake. I didn’t measure it but I’d put it at about 14C when we swam. A good 6C colder than our local reservoir at the moment. Add to that the healthy headwind we had and I soon cooled down if I stopped for too long. The same applied to the Short One. We checked in with each other about half an hour after we’d set off. I’d already spotted Jac waiting for our first check up on the shore. The Short One very sensibly admitted she needed to get out and warm up. Dryrobe on and hot tea in hand and the Short One was shivering. Uh oh, she’s not going to manage all of it if this carries on I thought. And so she opted for a change of suit to cover her arms from the cold water and the wind. It would mean a slightly slower swim and potentially painful shoulders but it was worth a try to ensure she could make it through the whole thing.
Cue comedy undressing and re-dressing by a lake in high winds. Getting a wet swim wetsuit off is, in itself, a challenge. It sticks to you and then itself, it’s quite an art. However that pales into insignificance in comparison to trying to get a dry wetsuit onto a wet, slightly shivery body. It took all three of us to manhandle the Short One into her long sleeved suit. Much fumbling, giggling and hoiking later and she was ready for action. Warmed up and ready to go.
Thankfully, after our little wetsuit change stop, the wind died down and the waves we’d been battered by for the first half an hour calmed down. We could get into a nice relaxed rhythm. Jac met us a couple more times on the shore but we were doing well and didn’t need a re-fuel or a warm up. The Short One closely followed the shoreline whilst I stayed out in the depths doing laps backwards and forwards to her.
I’d started the stop watch on my cheapo watch as we set off but hadn’t really looked at it. Eventually though I started to feel a bit tired and my tummy started rumbling. I could see our end point, a little island by a beach. It must have only been 500m further on but I was feeling a bit light headed. I looked at my watch and realised we’d been in the water for over three hours and, with the exception of a cup of tea half an hour in, I’d not eaten or drunk anything in that time. No wonder I was getting a bit woozy. Thankfully I’d stashed an energy gel and a water bottle in my tow float so I dragged myself out on some rocks, enjoyed the sun and took on some fuel. It soon kicked in and I felt refreshed by the time we met Jac, lazing in the sun on our get-out beach.
That doesn’t mean the hunger had gone. Once we were out we turned into ravenous beasts. Jac had brought down cake, jelly babies and hot tea. We practically inhaled all of that then ate even more when we got back to the car to change for the bike leg. I’ve always said this, but cold water definitely makes you HUNGRY!
And so, with a quick change and some more food off we set on our trusty bikes. A relatively short ride out to the coast with a few undulations. Mostly downhill but a few ups to get me puffing and realise just how tired my whole body was from what we’d done so far. Jac had driven out to our finish point but met us on her bike for the last few km down into Seascale and the waiting Irish Sea.
I was kind of sad to be getting off my bike, it didn’t seem like a long enough ride but I think my body was done. In total the whole trip had taken us twelve hours, we’d set off at 7am and finished at 7pm. We didn’t rush, it was never a race, just a challenge to see if we could both do it. For me it was whether I could do that much in one day, for the Short One it was whether she could swim the full length of Wastwater. It turns out we both definitely could. The Short One even managed to make her swim into 6.5km rather than the expected 4.5km thanks to her penchant for swimming near the shore. That’s more than double what she’s ever swum outside before. Hats off Madam!
Obviously we couldn’t finish our trip without having another dunk, so fully dressed in our biking gear, we jumped in the rather wavy Irish Sea. It was really warm!
None of this could have happened without the Short One’s madcap suggestion, Alex Kashefi (Barefoot Alex’s) inspiration, the best support crew ever that is Jac and our ever patient families who let us have a day off! Jac & Short One also need credit for most of the photos. Thanks you lot, it was ace!
After my early scepticism on whether I’d be able to do it, a last minute bike makeover and the staving off of some dodgy lungs, we did it. I think I’ll stick with Grandpa Potts’ ethic. Adventures are everywhere. It doesn’t have to be an outdoor one. Anything that challenges us beyond our usual comfort zone can be classed as an adventure, be it a different career, a new hobby or trying that new restaurant you’ve not been sure of. Do it. Take it. Grasp it. If it doesn’t work out chalk it up to experience and find another adventure. Regardless of the outcome it’s always worth it to avoid slipping into that “very dull life”.
Still time to support the PHA here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/summit-seapha