Wastwater, Lake District

Wastwater Lake District

Dark, dramatic and stubbornly cold – Barb Brown’s favourite wild swimming spot is a lake with attitude


To write about my ‘favourite wild swimming spot’ is a really tough ask – so many to choose from! – and naturally, different favourites keep leaping to the top of the list depending on all sorts of things: the season or the time of day or what the weather and water are busily plotting together – as well as all the boring stuff like time available and accessibility.

Then there are the fabulous places which I daren’t mention here – the Ninja swims that need keeping under the radar – and those beautiful, moody, temperamental rivers which require a long getting-to-know to build the care and respect they deserve and can’t just be jumped into, straight from the page.

But there are some places I keep coming back to. The ones we make a special effort for, the ones that touch your soul ... like this one did for me just very recently.

A special shade of grey

Wasdale isn’t on the way to anywhere and it’s a long, windy, squeezy drive to find it – tucked away in the Western Lakes, making a stark, dramatic stand against the leafy prettiness of softer dales to the north and east. Somewhere, on a celestial paint chart, in the palette between Soft Dove and Slate Black, there’s a colour called Wastwater Grey... a very particular shade. Herein lies the mighty Wastwater – no-nonsense, darkly deep, stubbornly cold, its giant screes rising straight up out of the water, its depths sinking further and blacker than most. It’s a lake with attitude: uncompromising, sure of itself, “that ‘ard”!

Yet in the pink of a warm May sunset, it invited me in for a swim and my heart sang and I couldn’t leave. So I stayed until the sun waned and the people went home and the first stars twinkled – and still I couldn’t go..

Camping overnight at Wasdale Head, I knew I’d be in for an early start next morning – the birds here are bursting with too much song to lie a-bed and the sheep (who apparently never sleep!) make up for their lack of musical talent with sheer volume and persistence – so sure enough, I was woken, bleary-eyed, at 4.30am to the sounds of a Cumbrian morning.

Wastwater Image 2

And many shades of green

Along the dale went I, as the light blossomed and the sky gently lightened to Wedgewood blue. Sat on a rock, brew in hand, cozzie and Robie on, I waited in the silence for the coming of the sun. As the first shy rays tentatively peeked out from behind Scafell Pike, I shed my belongings – and all my cares – and let the water claim me.

I swam head-up and slowly (just like always), taking in every second of the show – sunbeams shooting skyward from behind the shadowy fells, the water riffly and soft as satin, the valley gradually brightening with the thousand greens of an early summer morning, the scent of old rain on the wind.

Awe-struck, emotional, completely in the moment, close to tears, I watched and listened and smelt and felt it all... every sense on high alert, blood fizzing, spirit soaring. Pure joy... which is, for me, what wild swimming is all for. I wish everyone a swim like this – wherever you go, whoever you’re with, whatever you wear (or don’t), look for the beauty in the smallest things. It’s there and it’s all free!

Seize the feeling. Experience it all. Find the joy.

Happy swimming folks!


Email your favourite wild swimming spot to: editor@outdoorswimmer.com with the subject ‘Wild Swimming’

01 Cover March Copy

Issue 47 March 2021

  • Swimming with MND - How Alex Francis is redefining adventure with a regime of cold water swimming
  • New Horizons - Meet lockdown's army of new swimmers
  • On the Dry Side - How other sports can support your swimming.
  • UK Travel - Wild swim walks in Cornwall
  • The Native Origins of Freestyle - how white people named a style of swimming indigenous people had mastered millennia before

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