Caught by the River

Floating: Swimming Cowside Beck

Joe Minihane | 17th August 2017

Joe Minihane’s Floating: a life regained – 3 copies of which are up for grabs on tomorrow’s newsletter – sees the author reenacting Roger Deakin’s wild swimming tour. The following extract recounts a swim at Cowside Beck in the Yorkshire Dales.

Joe Minihane in Llyn Cwm Bychan, Snowdondia

I couldn’t bring myself to come all this way and not go in search of the tufa pool on Cowside Beck one last time. I felt transformed after Hell Gill, much like Roger says he had been, and was ready to take on one final challenge for the day before falling into a post-swim snooze on the drive home.

I was also armed with some new information, handed to me by a fellow Deakin acolyte. It offered a specific place to aim for on the high road opposite Yew Cogar Scar, so I could stride directly over right-to-roam land and into the pool.

My last time here I had bounded down the high-sided valley in shorts and T-shirt, sinking naked into the shallows when I realised I was lost and would not find the pool before the sun went down. But on this September afternoon all was grey, although the rain had at least cleared up, offering dry passage down to the water.

I put on my walking boots, Dave choosing to rest his legs in the car and listen to the latest news about the Scottish independence referendum. The noise of an angry radio debate dissipated as I set off.

I held the OS map and a printout of the directions, determined not to go wrong this time. I vaulted a low fence with a ‘No Access’ sign, staggered to my knees and stood up to see the most perfect natural swimming pool a hundred feet below. I could hear its light burbling as it tickled the low rocks and skirted the moss which surrounded its banks. There was the spinney of ash Roger had spoken about, one of the trees lying prone across the stream.

In that moment I had the most intense childhood flashback. I was clambering the solitary ash tree at the bottom of my parents’ garden, peering over the wooden fence and beyond the nettle beds to the narrow path cutting through the copse which marked a border between our estate and the next. Older kids rode dirt bikes along the track, their engines whining like wasps.

That sound buzzed in my ears as I ran down to the tufa pool. I had stuffed my damp wetsuit in my bag, but there was no way I was getting in with ‘the condom’ on. I lay my towel, jacket and flask within easy reach on the high mossy banks and stuck a hand into the water to check just how cold it was. Extremely.

The natural moss steps made getting in a breeze, but pushing off I was immediately out of my depth. I could see the bottom of the pool beneath the eddying rush, limestone slick with weed, and stuck my head under. It sent a huge shiver along my spine, but I resolved to stay in for as long as my body could take it. I had missed out last time and I wanted to enjoy the cold water here for as long as possible.

I swam in short circles around the pool, laying across a submerged rock at its edge to stare off downstream. Looking in the direction of Arncliffe, I could see just where I had gone wrong a couple of months before. If I had explored another hundred metres further upstream, rather than turning the other way in frustration, I would have found this place then and been able to skinny-dip and sunbathe in the opening of the little cave which stood next to the top of the pool.

Any regrets were short lived as I jumped out on the far bank and went for a quick explore around the cave. If it had been warmer I would have drifted off here for a few minutes. But by now I was aware of my skin turning bright pink. I slipped back in and swam a few more laps, before realising that I needed to get out before the shakes really set in.

I got dressed methodically, taking my time to enjoy the solitude of this special swimming hole, nestled so deep in the valley that it remained a happy secret to those who ventured this far off the path towards Malham Cove.

I knew Dave would be waiting, wondering where I was, but I poured myself a cup of tea and sipped at it for what felt like an eternity. I offered up thanks to the water gods, the local geology and those handy instructions from a fellow Waterlog aficionado for bringing me to this place.

Taking one final look, I turned and ran up the hill, my heart pounding in my ears, the most powerful endorphin rush gripping my system and sending me into an ecstatic high. I crested the hill, took a deep breath and felt the cold beck water tingle on my skin as I walked towards the car.


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Read a previous extract of the book here.

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