This landscape is littered with remnants of its industrial past. On the high moor, there are tin mines – old ruined buildings, filled in mine pits which leaves great craters in the Earth. In other places gunpowder towers, and the pathways along the river is littered with the remnants of cottages, and outhouses. Walking alone along the woodland path, I can’t help thinking about the people that lived and worked here in centuries past. It must’ve been a hive of activity. I can almost imagine the ghosts of those people walking alongside me. And I wonder, if to them we would’ve looked like some post-apocalyptic society? If they came and visited today, they would find solitary walkers, an absence of people, and those who are out are socially distanced (hopefully) groups of people cycling or walking. And very few people just stopping to take in the sound of the river, the birds overhead, the rustling in the undergrowth, or the privilege of seeing a heron taking flight along the valley.
This morning the air is biting. Frost flowers have erupted on the woodland floor, burgeoning from deadwood, blooming for a few hours, only to melt again when the sun becomes warm. The river is clear, green and gentle today. Without the swelling of heavy rainfall on the high ground, it’s meandering through the valley wending me along the path to my swimming spot. So far this morning the world is still quiet - it’s not yet filled with peoples voices. All I can hear is birdsong and the lilting voice of the river.
The mossy trees lean in to one another, reaching out across the path, the branch tips almost touching. There are no signs of leaves yet, other than the golden crisp dry remnants of last year. The branch tips are glowing almost lilac. The path is still muddy, the leaf litter becoming mulch underneath my feet.
Dippers fly upstream from me, their black and white bodies camouflaged against the grey stone. Often I hear their chirping song before I see them.
The swim spot when I find it is perfect. A waterfall at either end, sending Jacuzzi like bubbles into a deep wild pool. Slate stone slopes gently into the water, and as I’m changing a salmon leaps out of the water, and a heron flies over. The temperature is icy cold. (without a thermometer, I estimate it to be about 3° or below – even below bum achingly cold). The current is just right-it’s gentle enough to let me strike out to the opposite bank with my weaselly breaststroke, and then make my way up the pool towards the waterfall. Then the satisfaction of bubbles dancing on my skin, and then the swoosh of the water as I let the current take me back down to my entry point. After a while, I noticed that my skin has turned a fetching shade of lobster, and that will be the cold water. Three dips in and out and it’s time to emerge, dripping, slightly high from the adrenaline and the endorphin rush, and cold to my core.