The idea of conquering fear suggests that a fear that was once felt, irrational or not, is somehow destroyed or replaced. I'm not sure I agree based on my experience. Some days, swimming is just as rewarding as a day running in the mountains, gill scrambling or climbing and other days, it is mentally tiring and has the soul-destroying feeling of failure. Still, I'm learning to be at ease with the fear and more importantly to maintain a calm mental state even though part of my psyche is screaming at me to run away and it's this that is making me realise that I've not truly known the environment I've been playing in, but simply falling in love with what I see on the surface.
Two mini adventures have come from my refusal to turn away from the open water and to swim on a regular basis. The first was a swim-camp outing and the second, something I never really even thought of, despite it being blatantly obvious as an adventure, to swim run from a summit to sea.
The Swim camp adventure was simple. An evening swim out to an island in the middle of Derwent Water, tow warm clothes, shelter and sleeping kit in a tow float and spent the evening on the island, having a meal and enjoying that sense of utter seclusion despite the close proximity of civilization. The swim was more challenging than normal, with strong winds from the jaws of Borrowdale creating fairly hefty waves. Once on the island though, the trees sheltered us from the winds and as the sun began to set, the weather seemed to calm itself. We set up camp, Andy with his full complement of Alpkit goodies, me with my minimalist approach of a survival blanket turned into a tarp, bubblewrap groundsheet and my super light sleeping bag. Other's visit these islands by other means and it was obvious that the place had a history of being used as a wild camping or midday picnic spot. We cooked our evening meal, set up camp and then sat, enjoying the peace of the island whilst we were rewarded for out adventurous efforts with a unique view of the sun setting over Derwent Water.
Can you just go back and do that again shout they are ready to look see them paddling into wast water. goggles on i off swimming the big waves with a small sense of uncertainty but calm knowing have safety support if need it.
The swim is tough, having spent two hours submerged in the colder water of the beck and with large swells making breathing a delicate operation. Despite the challenge, I'm amazed by the beauty of the water. A deep turquoise with flecks of gold floating at different depths. Wast Water is a truly amazing lake to swim in as it's clear waters allow you to really appreciate how deep it is whilst giving you great views of the Screes on its west shoreline dive deep into its black belly. I remember my first panicked swim and my trip out to simply float face down in the middle of Wast Water. It's as though it's been one of those places that hold moment after moment of important memories, and more importantly, it's where I realized that the lakes have a hidden beauty beneath their surfaces and each has its own character and personality.
Three more hours of swimming and filming and I can feel the first tiring effects of the cold, so we call it a day and we head back to camp in the canoe. The next day, I set off from the same location and swam towards the River Irt. My old fear sat closer to my conscious thoughts, so I hugged the line of screes and immersed myself in the rocky underwater landscape, looking at the bright red weeds that floated up from the lake bed and was bemused that despite heading to the outlet of the lake, all the vegetation in the lake seemed to be bending in the opposite direction. Swimming to the Irt seemed to happen faster than I was expecting and the sudden change in the flora beneath the surface unnerves me. I stand in the shallows for a few minutes, regain some composure, remember the joy of floating with the current of Lingmell Beck and head back into the river.
Swathes of golden and dark green weeds bend and sway with the current and I glide above them as they slowly give way to a floor of rounded pebbles. I treat the river with more caution than before, heading to eddies and constantly scouting ahead. A weir is avoided by popping out of the river, walking on the footpath and then returning to it further downstream. I pass from shallows to deeper sections and all the while I seem to revel in the sense of exploration, a sense that maybe no one has ever been here before. With the current helping me along, it's not long before I reach my out point at Nether Wasdale and start the run section.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but having eyes
It's time to explore the landscapes that I love in a new way, as I keep finding ways to make fear my friend.