Last day of my lake district holiday today. Boo. We decided that on the way home we would go and investigate a famed wild swimming site deep in the wilds of Langstrath Dale called Black Moss Pot.
The Pot is a series of waterfalls on Stonethwaite Beck, to start with there are some normal waterfalls and then there's a waterfall into a ravine through which the water flows for 20 metres or so before shooting out the other side. It scores 5 stars in the Wild Swimming guide book which we have so we thought we absolutely had to give it a go.
Having packed all our stuff and left the cottage we drove through Keswick to Borrowdale and turned off to Stonethwaite. The road ends in Stonethwaite but we were lucky to find somewhere to park quite close to the beginning of the footpath up Langstrath Dale. During the drive the rain had been sheeting down driven by the teeth of an icy gale but happily as we pulled up the rain stopped leaving just the howling gale to contend with. The walk to Black Moss Pot is supposed to take around 45 minutes but because we stopped to look at almost every other waterfall in the beck it took us a bit longer.
The footpath follows the course of the beck almost exactly as it winds its way down off the high fells of Stonethwaite and Langsdale, to start with we climbed up through a small campsite and the meandered up through a pleasant wood which the beck flows through in a series of waterfalls and cascades. One of them, Gallon Force waterfall is rated as a 4 star swim but we contented ourselves with just a quick look, eager to get up to the pot. The beck is very fast flowing and quite wide, with all the rain lately it was also quite full. The banks were littered with tree branches and stuff probably from the previous week when it must have been in full flood.
Leaving the wood the path heads directly up the floor of the dale with a glorious view between the shoulders of the fells either side towards distant mountains. In many places the path had actually turned into a river, no problem for me in my wellies but more of a problem for my mother and sister in their walking boots. The terrain at this point is quite bleak and aside from the odd small groups of ramblers dotted around the place completely empty. The wind howled down the valley towards us bringing occasional showers of rain which constantly seemed to be presaging a huge downpour that, luckily never hit us.
Our landmark was a huge house sized boulder on the opposite side of the river, we could it see it from, literally, miles away as a huge black tooth set upon a spur of the fell brooding over the beck that winds its way around it. Gradually, oh so gradually we plodded closer.
The wind howled, the showers showered and odd patches of sunlight would rush down the valley towards us briefly illuminating the fells in a wonderful golden light.
We arrived opposite the boulder, the guide book said to look over a wall for a natural rocky depression which we spotted immediately. Although we had seen pictures the pot it's self is quite spectacular, especially when you have the ridiculous idea of going for a swim in it. Upstream the river gently descends for a while in a series of broad waterfalls before being compressed into a 2 metre wide channel down into the ravine. The force of the water as it jets through generates a constant deep bass throbbing. The water emerges into the pot as a white cascade of foam and eddies, at this point the water has dropped maybe 5 or 6 metres into the depression so you're looking down into a kind of a box shape 5 metres below with with an enormous hosepipe of water at the upstream end and then 15 or 20 metres further down the ravine narrows again into a 1 metre wide channel which continues for 10 metres or so before widening out again into a proper river.
Basically it looks like a cauldron of boiling water, there's only one place where the eddies leave a small patch of relatively current free water but that's it. It looked daunting, freezing cold and a bit dangerous. Despite the cold of the water, the howling gale and threatening rain we decided we have a go at swimming it. We were a bit hesitant thinking of all sorts of reasons why it would be better to just not bother and walk back to the car.
We decided to get in the water downstream of the ravine and then swim up through the narrow metre wide channel into the pot it's self. This seemed safest as we could judge just how powerful the water was and check for dangerous rocks as we were swimming slowly rather than finding them whilst being hurled downstream into them.
We put on our wetsuits and made our way down past the pot to the river bank below it. I put my foot in the water, I suddenly could no longer feel my foot. It had gone numb. It was bone chillingly cold. Even below the pot the river was still flowing very quickly and was at least 8 to 10 metres deep. It was also gloriously crystal clear with a slight beer brown tinge ( probably from peat somewhere or other ). I prevaricated with my foot in the water, I knew getting in was going to hurt. I was trying to put it off.
Normally getting in and out of the water is the most horrible part of wild swimming, usually your tramping about in your bare feet over sharpened rocks or horrible nasty muddy reeds but here it was really nice. There was nice soft grass up to the river bank and then a rocky slab leading gently into the water. I was perched on the rocky slab with my feet, which I could no longer feel, dangling in the river. In front was a deep pool with some big piles of rocks upstream just below the surface of the water. It was really really clear water so you could see everything underwater which is also a nice change from most rivers I've swam in.
Eventually I just jumped in, it was absolutely freezing, my whole body went Gasp ! However there wasn't much time to think about the cold because instantly the current picked me up and started hurtling me downstream, even swimming breast stroke wasn't enough to make any headway upstream. The best I could manage was keeping pace with the current and remaining in the same position. Lucy ummed and aaahed for bit and then jumped in herself, shrieking. Instantly she set off upstream with fast front crawl which was just about enough to overcome the current and make progress towards the ravine and the entrance to the pot.
I set off in pursuit, the river was deep and with my head in the water it looked absolutely breathtaking, really an entirely different world. Now and again piles of rocks or outcrops reached up to the surface so we had to keep our wits about us to stop crashing painfully into them. The second I stopped swimming or reduced the power of my stroke to sight see at some new underwater vista the river would take you up again and crash you backwards into one of the piles of rocks, Exhilarating is just not the word, it was super mega exhilarating.
As we entered the ravine it got even more fun, the channel was much deeper and the current was much much stronger, only by swimming full power front crawl could we make any headway up it at all. Below us the walls of the ravine dropped down into an inky brown blackness, as we breathed out or when our hands entered the water in front of us tiny trails of bubbles would be instantly swept backwards. We made it into the pot, the current slackened off a little bit and in front of us was the enormous cascade of the waterfall from the river above. We didn't get too close to that because firstly the current was just so strong it was probably impossible anyway and also we were wary of any undertow.
We splashed about in the pot for a bit posing for photographs and had a brief rest in the sheltered area. We discussed getting out and jumping in from the rocks 6 or 7 metres above us. The water underneath was at least 15 metres deep at that point so it would have been quite safe but I just didn't fancy getting out into the gale above us and trekking around to the jumping off spot so we decided to give that a miss and come back when it was warmer and sunnier to do it.
Getting back was easy we just stopped swimming and were swept at high speed back through the ravine. Lying face down it was like flying as the rocky walls rushed past us, the only effort we needed to make was keeping an eye out for rock outcrops and fending off to go around them rather than face first into them.
It was such fun we swam back up into the pot and did it again. By this point I could no longer feel either my hands, feet or head so we decided to call it a day and head back.
Although we were probably only in the water for 15 minutes maximum it was still probably the most exciting swimming I have ever done. The remoteness of the spot, no roads or people for miles and the barren fells just added to the drama.