Thursday, 26 August 2010

Monsal Dale

Yesterday we went to Monsal Head in the Peak District. I was going to describe it as a village, but it's little more than a pub at a crossroads on the edge of a steep valley known as Monsal Dale. The River Wye (not the famous Wye in Wales) flows through it. None of us had been there before. Karen and Phil wanted to take photos - mainly  of the weir although, as it turned out, it was a very photogenic area, so they took a lot of other photos too (more of these later, once we've processed them). I fancied a swim. The area is a wonderfully rich place to wander around. We followed a path through the woods which led onto a disused railway line, which crossed a spectacular viaduct. We didn't go over the viaduct, as we wanted to find the weir - and the path to the weir lay another way. There is much to explore and we quickly decided we wanted to revisit the place later.

We hadn't got far when we bumped into a couple and got talking. She showed me watercress growing on the river's edge -I wouldn't have recognised it- and recommended the pub, which we went to later. I said I was looking for somewhere to swim and her eyes lit up: she had grown up locally, she said, and had swum in the river often, but the best places were further downstream where it was deeper.

The way to the weir lay through a field full of cows and heifers. They were docile enough and stood looking at us with the usual mixture of innocence and obstinacy. The river to the left of the field looked particularly inviting: it was wide, slow-flowing and deep enough for  a swim. Once we reached the weir, I left the others to snap away, changed behind a bush and lowered myself in. It felt quite warm after a minute or two and I set off upstream, at a slow breaststroke. It was raining gently and, since the water surface was at eye-level, I got a great view of the drops of rain hitting the surface. There were one or two ducks about, the odd duck-feather floating on the surface and the whole place stank of fish (it would, wouldn't it?). Trees lined both banks, although I at last got back to the cow field. Most of the cows were very young and probably hadn't seen a swimmer before: they all looked very startled and  came down to the water edge to watch. Their reaction was the sort one would expect of humans had they seen someone flying, unaided, in the sky. I decided it was time to get out and made for the bank. The edge of the river, where the water was inches deep, was lined with a thick ooze. I couldn't stand up, so I tried crawling out towards the jostling semi-circle of heifers, only my arms sank up to the shoulders before they reached a firm surface, my legs to the thighs. I persevered and, as the bank got closer, so the mud got less deep. The cattle made way for me as I staggered out.

It's great to be able to do things related to a book as you're reading it: to travel round Dublin while reading Ulysses or go for long walks in the woods while reading Lord of the Rings, for example. To be able to go for wild swims while reading Deakin's Waterlog is a real treat. As I made my muddy way along the bank I was reminded of this passage:

I scrambled out with the help of the reeds but still managed to daub myself in a woad of black silt, so that I had to face my walk back along the bank in my swimming trunks, looking like some neolithic erstwhile inhabitant.


The Weaver of Grass said...

Words fail me.

AquaMarina said...

wowee you are taking to this like... errr... a duck to water!! Have you seen the outdoor swimming society and their facebook pages - if not I think you'll like them:)

George said...

What a nice adventure, Dominic! You are really taking this swimming thing seriously. As I read the description of you slinking out of the river mud, I had a flashback to a film I saw as a chid, "The Creature of the Black Lagoon." I trust that you've cleaned up by now and are off to translate your experience into music or poetry (these two words may assume a duality that does not exist).

Rachel Fenton said...

I love the imagery of the cows watching you swim. Very lovely to read.

the watercats said...

Man you've been busy! I haven't been swimming this year.. but spent many a fantastic day in a place called Dowde's Pool, a stones throw from where I live now. It is a natural pool, a good fifteen foot deep, not massively long, but very nice. You can jump off rocks and slide down the waterfall... Most summers all the yoof of town put on backpacks and walk the six miles or so to spend the day there... and you haven't swum wild until you swim nekkid.. it is an absolute must for a lifetime :-)

Totalfeckineejit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Totalfeckineejit said...

Crazee with bells on.I don't swim. Never learned.It's a tradition here for fishermen not to learn,It teaches a respect for the sea.Ok, I'm not a fisherman , but still, I could be one day, so just in case.

Poet in Residence said...

Hardy is what you are, Dominic.

I can imagine that you're already looking forward to breaking the ice on your local pond on New Year's Day.

Argent said...

Really enjoyed reading this. I've swam in the sea but never in a river. I swam nekkid in a swimming pool (as a little kid) but I do remember to this day, the feeling of freedom and feel of the water.

Dominic Rivron said...

WG: I just wish I'd found the right buttons to press to get myself into Roger Deakin ages ago. It's a fantastic book - and like all fantastic books, life-changing (even if it's in small ways).

AM: Yes thanks! They are very useful.

George: Very clean, thank you. I was pretty particular about washing down after that one. As Phil drily remarked "Mud? No Dominic, it's not mud. Think of the cows..."

RF: Thank you. It was a special moment.

thewatercats & Argent: re skinnydipping: I might be squeamish but thoughts of pike and eels and their nasty pointy teeth mean I keep the trunks very firmly on.

TFE: I always half wanted a boat (my dad had a few boats, at one time or another). I've just realised...I've got one! We are our own boats!

PiR: Perhaps I am. I'm sure we both know a lot of these things people think are hardy are in fact postively enjoyable. Getting into cold water for example is like beer and cigarettes. First time you think it's dreadful/why do people do it? Second time isn't quite so bad... 3rd... 4th... Soon you're just doing it because you like it.