River Noe at Edale – the first winter swim of the season
“I drove out of Lincolnshire across country, past Sherwood Forest and Nottingham, to the southern extremities of the English highlands in the Peak District of Derbyshire, where the rivers Derwent, Wye and Dove flow down to join the Trent in the Humber at Hull.”
The air is damp as we pull on our boots for the short tramp from the front door of our sprawling holiday home in the middle of Edale to to the banks of the River Noe, heavy with fallen leaves.
Plans to swim at the lido at Hathersage, as Roger did on his swing through the Peaks for Waterlog, have been shelved, its Saturday winter opening hours conflicting with a tramp up to the top of nearby Mam Tor. And so instead, five of us are contenting ourselves with a dip in the wintry waters of the Noe. Three of us (myself, Tom and Joe) have donned wetsuits for the occasion, striding purposefully past the brooding gothic church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, fully clad in neoprene and walking boots, a surprisingly practical winter swimming combo.
However, Tim and Joey D, two hardy swimmers who have joined me throughout my attempt to revisit all the places on this epic swimmer’s journey, are going without. We hop the fence and make our way to the deepest spot we can find. The river here is just a few feet wide, the water moving fast as its flows off of Kinder Scout and on towards the Derwent.
Tom is first in. He gasps deeply as his feet hit the water. Despite the wetsuit, he’s not wearing neoprene boots like Joe and I, but he quickly wades further in and slips his head under the water. He surfaces quickly, his face a picture of surprise from the sheer cold.
I follow, nosing my way along against the current before dipping under and using my goggles to eye the riverbed. Brown pebbles and churned up silt obscure my view before I come up for air, a picture postcard view downstream of golden trees and a stone bridge greeting me as I whip off my eye protection. Joe drops in and soon we are taking it in turns to paddle gently along a small stretch where the water is just about deep enough for a swim.
Now it’s Joey D and Tim’s turn. Wearing only their swimming shorts, they slide in one after the other. Tim’s face glows with anguish as he adjusts to the freezing temperature. Joey D is first under, throwing himself in and dancing a jig as he rises up, his long hair slick against his face. He laughs maniacally as he splashes water up over his shoulders
Tim’s entrance is even more spectacular. Standing with his back to the current, he tombstones backwards, plummeting under before resurfacing in absolute, total shock. He screams ‘It hurts, it hurts’, as his face contorts in pain at first, before an endorphin rush takes hold. Now he’s grinning like a buffoon, shouting about how amazing he feels. I have a sudden pang of envy, before noticing the icy cold around my ankles. I realise I’d much rather be spending longer in here today, trussed up in my wetsuit, taking in the scene and wandering upstream over slick rocks, exploring the Noe some more.
We may have missed out on doing laps at Hathersage, but I feel like the fans of outdoor swimming at that hallowed institution would have been proud of our effort. As, no doubt, would Roger. No matter the time of the year, or the weather, a wild swim is always possible.