Cowside Beck – back to the tufa pool

“I wondered how many walkers must have slid into these tempting waters, remote and hidden though they are. Sunlight reflected back off the rounded white rocks on the bottom, and soft cushions of fine, tight grass and thyme were scattered languidly around the margins.”

The thought of a proper, skin–tingling swim after the visceral ride into the bowels of Hell Gill is all too much as we pull up on the verge of the road high above Cowside Beck. Two months ago I came here and failed to find the elusive tufa pool, walking far off in the direction of Arncliffe and missing it completely. This time I’m not going to fail.

Armed with directions from a fellow Deakin acolyte, I set off directly down the steep side of the valley, the caves of Yew Cogar Scar glowering opposite. It is late afternoon and getting cold, a far cry from the summer weather on my last visit. Last time I skinny dipped in the shallows after stripping off shorts and a T-shirt. Today I’m togged up in waterproofs and a wooly jumper. There will be no lingering on the banks.

Each stride becomes a lunar leap. I think back to Molly and I running across the buoyant sea pinks and chasing the sunset on Bryher two weeks ago. It seems like a lifetime. Autumn has its hand on my shoulder and is trying to pull me back from entering the cold waters of the UK. It stands no chance.

After ten minutes of speed walking I reach a fence, hopping over past a ‘No Access’ sign, a remnant of a pre–Right To Roam age. And there it is. The light burble of the beck over rocks and into a pool perfect for swimming. The spinney of ash, their leaves still a vernal green. They will be the last to fall. Suddenly I am back in childhood, clambering up the solitary ash tree at the end of my parents’ garden, peering over the wooden fence and onto the footpath beyond where kids from the other estate ride motorbikes through the woods. I can hear the distant zip of their lawnmower engines as I run down to the water and drop my bag.

The sense of isolation down here is overwhelming, even more so than on my last visit. I strip off and resolve not to use the wetsuit, still damp from Hell Gill. I stick a hand in and steel myself for the burning sensation of the water on my chest.

I waste no more time. I plunge a foot onto one of the convenient steps on the near bank and push off, immediately out of my depth. It is spine–tinglingly cold. I check my watch and resolve to stay in for at least five minutes. If I could handle the Wharfe, I can handle this.

The edges of the water are stained a blue green, a reflection of the moss which piles up on the banks and makes for easy access. It takes me back to the dark greens of Scots Pines affecting the water of Helford Passage.

A single water boatman zips about on the surface, studiously avoiding my haphazard strokes, as I make my way towards the small waterfall which tumbles into the pool and carves it into the most idyllic swimming spot imaginable.

I climb out on the far side to explore a small cave cut into the limestone. It would be the perfect place for a shady snooze on a scorching day, much like the one when I was last here. But any feelings of regret for not finding the pool first time around are short–lived. I swim back across and let my body tell me that it’s time to get dressed. I do so slowly, methodically, pouring myself a tea once I’m done. I look across the water and give a small thank you to the water gods (and the local geology) for creating such a special place.

I take one last look before turning back, powering off up the hill, my heart pounding fast in my throat. The intensity of the endorphin rush is indescribable. I pause, take a deep breath and make my way back to reality.

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