Cowside Beck – Looking for the tufa pool
“At length I came upon a small spinney of ash by the banks, and the promising sound of a waterfall. And there, just below, was the elusive tufa pool and the sparkle of animated water chasing its tail around it…I stripped and dived in. It was so cold I might have flung myself into a bed of nettles.”
After my stolen swim at Beezley, Dave slowly inches the car up the ‘cruel road’ towards Settle, Cowside Beck nestled deep on our right. Map in hand while I scour Waterlog for navigational tips, Jim barks out instructions on where we should pull over and set off in search of that ‘elusive tufa pool’.
There will be no ‘no swimming’ signs here, and I’m desperate to find this secluded spot and soak my bones and sunbathe on its banks. We alight on a passing place directly opposite Yew Cogar Scar, grab our bags and set off across lumpy, ankle–bothering fields, the beck now visible low in the valley.
The heat of a summer afternoon makes me walk faster and soon the others are far behind. My legs buzz with the scratch of thistles, the nip of nettles and the occasional tick of a teasel. Bounding down, I keep one eye on the bobbly ground and another on the stream, which now stretches before me in a straight line, the cliff–like barrier of the scar throwing its white and black waters into sharp relief.
I keep Roger’s descriptions in mind, peering into the distance to try and spot that spinney of ash, gnarled trees growing perpendicular to the walls, wide holes in the otherwise narrow riverbed. With me I also have a post from the excellent Ben’s Watery Travels blog about swimming in this very place, replete with pictures. I look at them on my smartphone in hope rather than expectation.
After half an hour’s walking, I reach a wooden fence along the banks of the beck. A grouse bursts from the tall grass, causing me to let out a stifled yelp just as I find a convenient crossing down to the water. With the grouse happily landed and hidden away on the far side, I haul myself over and crunch down into the stony shallows. I give my hands a quick wash and find the water positively Baltic compared to Beezley. Walking back towards Malham, I trace the river flow and look for signs. Here the slopes of the scar seem far less brutal than in Roger’s description, and so I turn myself around and make my back along the water.
For an hour I keep walking. A dipper seems to follow my every move, darting off to a rock in midstream, stopping to splash in the foam and then setting off just as I reach him. A pair of buzzards circle overhead, their distant caw echoing through the valley. I’m reminded of what Jim told me about this pair when we saw them from the road earlier.
‘Don’t worry, they’ll only peck your eyes out when you’re dead.’
And so I concentrate even harder, the thought of swooping birds of prey and the passing time making me realise I really do need to find this tufa pool now. I start seeing these rocky outcrops everywhere, imagining swimming places where there are none.
With the afternoon waning, I realise that my quest to find the tufa pool is going to have to wait. The gorge has almost reached farm fields and sheep chomp grass all around me. Resigned, I decide to test the waters anyway. I pull off all my clothes, yank on my still damp neoprene shoes and wade in naked for my first ever skinny dip. The icy water does sting, but after a day of submersing myself in Kirkby, Ingleton and Beezley, the pain is minimal.
It’s more a of bath than a swim. And soon Jim appears behind me.
‘Get some bloody clothes on,’ he shouts. I dutifully pull myself into my boxers without drying off properly and we scarper up precipitous walls to the Settle road. I keep turning back, wondering, hoping that I can come back and swim here again before the summer is up. I’ve come so close and back in Malham, I torture myself by reading Roger’s passages over again. Already, I’m laying plans to return.
Well Joe, as you’re such an avid Waterlog fan, I’ll let you into a couple of secrets. Firstly, I didn’t find the pool on my first attempt either – in fact, I walked right by it without realising. As you probably noticed, the most difficult thing about getting there is knowing just when to drop down to the beck; misjudge it and you face an arduous, ankle-twisting walk in quite possibly the wrong direction. Of course this only adds to its allure, and the sense of achievement when at last you dive in. You need to drive quite a bit further along the ‘cruel road’ as it plateaus out along the ridge. Just before the descent into Darnbrook, there is a wall and cattle grid. Park here on the right hand verge, look across the gorge and you will see a smaller beck spouting from the hills beneath a limestone crag. This is the cave Roger explored, and the smaller beck is where he warmed up after his dip in the tufa pool, which lies at its confluence with Cowside Beck. Cross the road, walk straight downhill towards the beck (steep!) and you will come to a fence. Climb the gate with the old ‘No Access’ sign (this pre-dates CRoW) continue downhill and skirt a little to your right. By now you should see the ‘spinney of ash’ and the pool! Not the most adventurous way to get there, but it sounds like you’ve had your fair share of hard work. Hell Gill next?!
Ben, I owe you one! Thanks so much. Hell Gill will happen, although I can’t say I’m too excited by the prospect! I’m away for a bit, but taking up the challenge of getting this all done from the start of August. I’ll let you know how I get on at Cowside.
Good stuff, I don’t dare go to Hell Gill so I’ll be very interested to see how you get on.