Ella Foote joins a women-only group in the Lake District
All the lakes and beauty in the Lake District and I am in an empty car park under the A66 dual carriageway just north of Keswick. I am due to meet the Bassenthwaite Swim Babes and trying not to judge the swim spot on first impressions. It’s a cool evening and I haven’t warmed up since my last dip at Aira Force. I wait in the car, hoping I have the right spot.
I am not alone for long; cars roll in and swimmers roll out. Dryrobes, tow floats, wetsuits, towels and buckets of kit move toward water with yelps, giggles and chatter. No doubt about it, these are the Babes! I am given a warm welcome and once I pass under the bypass to the pebble beach and slip-way, I can see there is plenty to be excited about this swim spot.
A large red buoy bobs on the water about 200 metres from the shoreline. The landscape is classic Cumbria. There is a real mix of swimmers, including a complete novice preparing for her first open water swim. The support and friendship in the group is joyful.
We wade out into the water, it is a lot warmer than I expected. Despite being one of the largest bodies of water in the Lake District, Bassenthwaite Lake is really shallow. I swim out towards Buoy No. 9 and as I do it starts to become clear what makes this spot so special. Skiddaw dominates the skyline as you swim into the middle of the lake and soon the bypass bridge is hidden by the trees and just a small hole in the greenery can be seen. It is a bit of a ‘through the wardrobe moment’ like I have been transported into a watery wonderland from urban blocks of concrete.
The group reach the buoy together, the newest Babe is proud to have made it that far. We tread water, some rest on tow floats and bob. We chat and share stories. It’s lovely. Some continue down the lake towards a yellow buoy, others duck and dive just enjoying being in the water at the end of a working week. I sink below the surface, surprised at being able to see the bottom. I reach for the ground, it’s shallow but not enough for me to reach.
Bassenthwaite isn’t as popular as some of the other meres, tarns and lakes in the area. I can see how it has been overlooked, a lake you drive past on the way to other swim spots, but it has lots of charm. Founding member Emma Bundock tells me about swimming its length, around four miles, on her birthday one year. Claire Shepherd, who started the group with Emma, owns a bed and breakfast at the top of the lake. They share the water with a sailing club and Claire tells me how she has become the lake watcher, informing the group when the water looks good and when it’s clear of boats.
We all make it back to the gap in the trees together, the longer distance swimmers catching up with the more relaxed of the group. Weekend chat, hot drinks and chocolate are passed around. It isn’t just the location that has charm, the women do too.
Quick Q&A with founding member Emma Bundock
How did you get into outdoor swimming?
I moved up to Cumbria in 2004. I often thought about swimming in the lakes but was too scared to do it alone. After having kids I piled on the weight and joined a weight-loss group. It was there that I met Claire. We soon became friends – she used to make me laugh as she would blame her weight-gain on full-fat Coke after swimming. When I told her that I would love to swim in the lakes she invited me along to swim with her. In April 2014 I did my first swim in Bassenthwaite. I have never looked back.
Why a women-only group?
We are not against male swimmers we just wanted an escape from men. We love them dearly but sometimes you just need a bit of girly time. Bassenthwaite Swim Babes was formed in 2015 and membership of the group has grown to over 160 female swimmers.
How do you organise your swims?
We used to arrange our next swim after finishing the last. We decided to start the Facebook group to get with the times! Bass Swim Babes Facebook page was created. We quickly had to change the name though to Bassenthwaite Swim Babes as we discovered a pornographic site called Dirty Bass Babes – we still laugh about that now!
What are the group ambitions for the next year?
There is talk of a Bassenthwaite Swim Babes 2020 Calendar!
Bassenthwaite Swim Babes Club Facts
Fave after swim snack: on the lakeshore it is coffee and homemade cake or biscuits
Join them on a Sunday Morning at Peel Wyk car park to swim in Bassenthwaite, find times and other opportunities by joining their Facebook Group.
Find them on Facebook: Bassenthwaite Swim Babes
Visit: Outdoor Swimmer readers can get a 25% discount at Claire’s B&B with promo code SWIMOBH19 at ousebridgeguesthouse.co.uk