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Leap back in. An Ullswater adventure

Re-wild yourself on an open water adventure to Kailpot Crag, just south of Howtown on the east side of Ullswater, where a gleeful swim and a courageous leap can leave you feeling like a child again.

Photos: Colin Nicholls

Jumping at Kalepot

“We’re heading south. It’s a lot wilder there.”

With these enticing words, open water swimming coach Colin Hill tugs the boat’s engine into a splutter, and we pull away from the Another Place’s jetty on a calm autumn morning. Ullswater is still and quiet after the ravages of last night’s storm, which has risen the water level by a good few inches, and there’s barely another soul on the lake.

“That’s my house over there,” Colin points out on the far shore as we gain some headway. It’s the perfect location for an outdoor swimmer of Colin’s calibre. A man who’s swum the Channel, and takes part in open-water challenges all over the world. I’m clearly in the right boat.

We’re setting out to Kailpot Crag, one of Colin’s favourite spots for a shoreline paddle. If you can imagine Ullswater – the second largest lake in the Lake District at just over seven miles long and half a mile wide – in the shape of a toppled over ‘Z’, we’re heading across the bottom stroke to the corner of the upward stem. The scenery does indeed feel more dramatic here: twisted, coppery oaks hang their branches over exposed rocks; the rolling, pastoral hills giving way to loftier volcanic fells.

We moor at Kailpot Bay and follow a trail, forming part of the Ullswater Way, that meanders up and over the crag to a tiny shingle beach, where we make camp. There’s no ignoring the jitters in my stomach as we wade into the water, but Colin’s humour and encouragement keeps me at ease, and he soon has me splashing my face and immersing my shoulders to acclimatise to the cold, my wetsuit thankfully softening the blow.

With a hesitant plunge we’re off, Colin leading the way, and I ease myself into the water with a casual breaststroke, keen to make the most of the scenery: the silver and gold hues of the water, and clouds banked up on the fells. After a few metres, we stop for a rest, treading water while clutching on to our tow floats, laughing breathlessly at nothing in particular.

“This is the joy of wild swimming,” Colin tells me, rolling on to his back, “It’s like being a kid again. It feels mischievous; naughty. You can’t help but giggle when you’re doing it.”

I soon get into the childlike swing of things, rolling like an otter and submerging my head for the sheer novelty of being in an underwater world, albeit for a few seconds. We wave at a passing steamer, then Colin gives me a few tips on my front crawl (I thrash my head around too much, apparently) as we round the corner and swim back to the boat. I manage the final stretch with my newly acquired technique, which still feels a bit rampant but I’m starting to get the hang of it, and not swallowing so much water. “Don’t worry too much about that,” Colin assures me. “With all the rain we’ve had, this lake is as fresh as drinking water.”


The lake lover’s leap

Clambering ashore, I realise it’s not quite home-time yet. “You up for a jump?” Colin asks me, nodding towards the crag. I clench my jaw into a smile. The inner child in me says ‘yes’, and it seems a shame not to listen to her.

The crag we’re scrambling up bears a plaque dedicated to Lord Birkett (known as the ‘Lakes’ Great Advocate’), who was instrumental in keeping the lake from being turned into a reservoir in the 1960s. It reads, “He loved Ullswater. He strove to maintain its beauty for all to enjoy.” ‘Cheers Birkie,’ I think, before I make my leap. It’s so much fun I do it three times.

The cold beginning to set in, Colin bundles me up in a dryrobe for our journey back to Watermillock on Ullswater’s northern shores. I give Colin a hurried goodbye, as I’m a bit late picking my daughters up from the hotel’s Kids’ Zone, but they don’t seem to mind too much, having just returned from a lakeside adventure themselves. “We had a picnic,” my three-year-old Anouska tells me.

After lunch, all feeling a little dozy-eyed, my girls and I hole up in the library, alternating between games of solitaire, colouring in, and Bananagrams. I’d planned to take the girls on an afternoon walk, but – I realise – it can wait, at least until after another cup of hot chocolate.

You can plan your own wild swimming adventure with Colin by booking online or via reception.  You must be a competent swimmer to participate; wetsuits and safety equipment are provided. Alternatively you’re welcome to borrow wetsuits and floats from the Sheep Shed to swim in the lake.

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