Beezley Falls – stealing a waterfall swim
“That evening, I swam alone at night fall in one of the village swimming holes: the black pool below the beezley Falls on the River Doe. The falls drop twenty feet down rock walls to a deep pool with wooded cliffs rising perpendicular either side of it for forty feet.”
Stuffed after a supremely unhealthy lunch at the cavers’ cafe in Ingleton, limbs quietly throbbing following my quick smart dip at the local village pool, we drive out to a nearby quarry road and plot our sneaky free trip onto the Ingleton Falls path.
At the very top of this £6–a–pop walk lies Beezley Falls. I’m determined to push myself under its white gush and be pummelled by the falling water, even more so to do it without paying for the privilege. And so Jim and I stride off over a meadow alive with birdsong, following a public right of way towards the dip in the valley where the River Doe flows.
A mistle thrush pips loudly and swallows sit watching us from a telegraph pole as we pass through a field gate. A lost group of Duke of Edinburgh students chatter loudly, endlessly consulting their maps and asking for directions to the nearest farm. We cross the Doe on a set of perfectly maintained stepping stones, a sign proclaiming an end to the public right of way and the sharp banks offering no chance of a sneaky trip to the falls without putting our hands in our pockets.
As we reach the ticket office, a smartly turned out warden, in matching khaki shirt, shorts and branded cap is loudly collecting fees from walkers. Jim is thoroughly unimpressed by the prospect, but my lack of cash means he has to sub me £1.50 so I can make my entrance before he beats a retreat.
Change wrapped in my palm, my hand plunged in my pocket, I can’t bring myself to pay. The thought of forking out to see part of one of our most stunning National Parks seems absurd, especially in these days of right to roam and easy access to our countryside. I know Roger felt the same. The whole scenario reminds me of his bust up with the landowners of the Itchen in Winchester, where I too managed to sneak in and experience those chalky waters under the noses of college staff. I think what he would have done and decide to brazen it out.
I nod, offer a bright ‘Good Afternoon’ and stride purposely off towards the falls. Before I can even see them I’m met by a huge ‘No Swimming’ sign. A few metres on, I look down at the water, cordoned off by a wooden fence. The deep, roiling pool looks like a wild swimmers’ paradise, made all the more alluring by the fact it’s out of bounds.
Roger speaks of returning here the morning after after his night time swim to find the place crawling with locals. Young daredevils swinging from the well worn oak bough, a ‘touch and go springboard’. A frayed rope swing. Local lads looking to impress onlooking girls.
There are no swimmers today. The bough is snapped and the rope is gone. My gumption fails and I walk on, looking for an easier point to nip in and steal a few strokes. Families and booted walkers stroll past me. There are signs everywhere, warning visitors not to leave the path, to stay safe and keep an eye on young children. That much would surely be obvious to anyone. I find this commodification of the countryside, these concrete paths and needless signposts, all thoroughly depressing. It makes me even more determined to flout the rules.
Downstream from Rival Falls, the next waterfall along, I find my chance. A retaining wall leads to some convenient rocks and there are no passersby. I quickly slip on my swimmers, pull out my waterproof camera and wade in. The peaty water is gorgeous, with a little foam built up from where it’s thundered down from the hills. I swim into the centre of the pool and circle it a few times, then push against the current where the water narrows. I daren’t go near the far lip for fear of slipping away towards Ingleton.
As I’m drying off, glowing with the joy of a stolen dip, a couple walk past and ask about the water. They grin and ask about the cold and the current. I take a pathetic amount of pride in having jumped in and stuck a metaphorical two fingers up at the owners.
Puffed up, I walk briskly back towards the top of the path. I’m about to pass the ticket office when the warden steps across my path.
‘You can pay here,’ he says.
‘OK. How much?’ I reply sweetly.
As I hand over my shrapnel, I ask how long the Ingleton Falls Walk has been a paid for attraction
‘Since 1885,’ the warden says proudly, handing me a ticket and leaflet which very clearly says ‘no swimming’ on it.
‘And did there used to be wild swimming here?’ I mention Roger’s visit, his description of locals decamping en masse upstream in summer.
‘When was this? In the 90s? No, we don’t have that any more. We got rid of the rope swing and there’s a very clear sign saying it’s prohibited. Some boys still come up and do it when I’m not here, but they run off as soon as I appear. We have the pool in the village for swimming.’
Warming to his theme, he delivers his piece de resistance. ‘We had a death at Kirkby Lonsdale. People shouldn’t swim here. It’s extremely cold and it could be dangerous.’
I smile, say a quick goodbye and hop back over the stepping stones. But the warden’s warning sticks with me. Of course, the death at Kirkby was tragic. But to equate that with swimming here at Beezley shows the worst kind of wilful ignorance. There’s no denying wild swimming can be unsafe in a waterfall and a river. But it can be just as dangerous in the sea.
I stood in the water at Rhossili Bay in May and felt the pull of a rip tide around my legs. I have felt the searing cold of Lyme Bay and swam at speed away from jellyfish. Surely it’s about being aware of your surroundings and taking care not to put yourself in dangerous situations. Throwing yourself from a bough can be unsafe, but it can also be exhilarating. Wild swimming is one of the last great unchecked freedoms on these islands. It still elicits fear and it remains a niche joy which the authorities seem to despise.
£6 lighter, I walk back across the meadow to the rumble of lorries pulling out from the quarry. I’m elated about my swim, bemused by my run in. Half an hour after tasting the River Doe, I’m ready for another paddle.