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Diary of a wandering swimmer – waterfalls of tea

Kate Gillwood was born in Galashiels, Scotland, raised from three years old in Yorkshire, found herself in London for 30 years and eventually escaped back to Scotland. She was raised to swim in rivers (the Wharfe at Appletreewick, for example), open air pools (Otley) and the sea, so open water swimming is not new. She started taking part in organised events about 10 years ago, putting on a wetsuit for the first time for the Great Scottish Swim in 2011. Now living just a few minutes from Portobello beach, one of her favourite things is to start the day with a sneaky swim in her local waters. She also likes to explore new swimming spots and share what she finds.

The swim

17 degrees? I’ve not swum in 17 degrees for months…and months. More so, I realise I have not swum in a river for many years. What a treat! Not only do I get warmer water but I’m enveloped by that fresh summer smell so reminiscent of past days that you only get in limestone country. I’m surrounded by the lush green brought back to life by rain then warm sunshine, typical of a northern English summer.

My heart, buoyed by a physical reconnection with my mum, was ready for a river experience with new swim friends. This was important. Someone reached out and invited me along. I am so grateful to Sue Davis for her warmth, and with Jill and Tracey also from the group, plus I finally got to meet the Dales Dipper himself, Les Peebles. All-in-all I enjoyed a true Yorkshire welcome.

There are always green fields, livestock of some description and of course the famous dry stone walls. But when you get to the river’s edge and you watch the mysterious, dark water slowly carve its way through the limestone rocks, I can’t help but wonder why this scene hasn’t been used as an advert for Yorkshire tea with its deep brew colour. Do not be fooled, the deep channels hide a myriad of flows and eddies, even where the surface circles slowly, drifting with innocuous peat foam bubbles. Here the water is more solid than the rock as it has cut through the formations over the centuries, carving its best path. In this stretch, as with similar rivers in the area, it creates shelves, rapids and waterfalls. There are many pools where you can enjoy the river cascading onto your back.

Our short journey down a track and along the bank was lined with vegetation singing with wildlife, birds hopping in and out the hedges offering us a fleeting glance. We came off the track and onto a grassy then wooded bank to change at a small rocky ‘beach’ area.

The water closed round me like a peat blanket as I pushed off the shore into the deep channel. This is a wide pool-like section of the river where the upper rushes of the current seem to have taken a break. We swam, chatted and enjoyed the calmness, making our way towards the rocks where we threw ourselves off backwards for a great, if unflattering, photo opportunity. But who cares, this is freedom, an escape from the troubles around us, a dip away from the masked horror in the world.

This was a real Yorkshire delight. As my dad would have said…ee lass, that’s grand in’t it.


The unflattering photo…

The location

I was swimming in the River Ure near Redmire in North Yorkshire which sits on the Eastern side of the Yorkshire Dales. You can get buses from Darlington or Catterick but you should check current timetables to plan your journey. By car take the A6108 off the A1 or the A685 off the M6. Remember you will be driving on small country roads so drive safely, slowly and take in the scenery. When you come in to Redmire find somewhere to park and walk down to where the main road through the village bends and turn onto Mill Lane. Walk all the way to the end, through a gate (always close gates behind you for livestock), down the grassy hill to the river’s edge. Walk along the bank, taking in a scramble up some rocks and through bracken ‘dens’ till you find a small beach type area. The Ure can be a fast flowing and dangerous river. Take care to check the weather and don’t swim if there has been heavy rain. If you want to swim with locals contact the Dales Dippers on Facebook or via the @thedalesdipper on Instagram.

Contact me

If you have any suggestions of places I could swim email me on k.gillwood4@gmail.com or find me on Instagram @kategillwood4

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