Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Forest Lido

This all sarted on Saturday 28th August 2010 when decided to kick off our Wild Welsh Swimming adventure by diving into a secret lake in the middle of a forest not far from our hometown.

We were both excited and a little nervous, years and years of being told that swimming out in the open was extremely dangerous had managed to convince us we would be likely to survive our first outing. We told our mother that if we were not back within 3 hours we would probably be dead, she laughed nervously and told us to be careful.

It was quite a warm day and we were dressed in shorts, t-shirts and 'bushman' style hats. We were each armed with trusty walking sticks for bashing vicious nettles and any aquatic monsters. We parked the car at the edge of the forestry and set off on the walk to the lake. I had stumbled across the lake a few years ago whilst out walking the dog with my wife. Even back then i can remember thinking it would be nice to jump in and cool down but my conscience told me not to be foolish it would be far too dangerous.

We walked along the path for about 20 minutes until we got to the rusty metal railings protecting us from the black water. After a short while scouting around we found an area where some of the bars had either fallen or been kicked off. We scrapped through the gap and slid down the bank to the edge of the lake. The surface was like black glass reflecting the trees that hide this place from the likes of the mighty google satellite and the sun. The lake is formed behind a damned valley and used to be part of an old colliery. It is about 20m wide and 50m long and the icy water flows over the top of the old dam like a weir and falls back to the valley floor 10m below.

We knew this lake would be cold so we opted for wetsuits. I chose to wade in from the bank, Owen chose to jump from the dam wall once he had gaged the temperature by my facial expressions as i entered the water. I climbed down and sunk into years of silt and the water around my feet turned from black to a powdery brown. I could see the bottom drop away below the surface,one more step and i would be fully under. I looked up to Owen on the wall and could see him giggling like a child, obviously enjoying watching me and seeing if i was going to go through with it. It seemed like i had stood there for hours before i leaned over and dived into the water. It was cold, very cold. I inhaled deeply as i broke the surface but could hardly breath. I swam over to the wall and informed Owen that it wasn't that bad, of course he could see straight through the lie. I held onto an old rusty iron bar protruding from the wall of the dam to let my body acclimatise to the burning cold. I looked up to to see Owen jump over my had and plunge straight down into the black water, disappearing from site. When he surfaced he was gasping too, waiting for the initial pain to subside but i could see the surprise on his face as he realised it wasn't getting any better. He grabbed old of the bar too and large chunks of rust fell off and sank down through the water.

After a short while the pain eased, slightly, and we decided to swim. We put on our goggles and pushed off the wall into a front crawl, i got about 4 strokes down and realised that i would have to swim breaststroke to avoid the waters vice like grip on my head which felt like someone driving the tips of icebergs into my temples. About halfway along the lake there were two fallen trees on opposite banks, half submerged in the water. Their long branches like wooden fingers splitting the lake in two. We swam through the trees as their branches brushed against us bringing the image of drowned men's arms into my head, the fear of every unexpected touch pumped more adrenalin through my body. Once through the trees we floated around for a bit and the silver flash o a fish jumped just behind Owens head.

 Owen noticed the water moving at the top of the lake, we both watched it imagining what long lost horror could be living in the lake, making its way slowly towards us. No matter how improbable, it took me some time to get the image of a giant abandoned crocodile out of my head. We realised it was caused by water entering the silted up shallows at the start of the lake, we made our way back to the dam wall just to be on the safe side and decided tat was enough for today.

We climbed out of the water and got changed on legs wobbly with cold. Once changed we started the trek back to the car. On the way we collected some chopping board sized offcuts of timber left behind by the loggers and their chainsaws. We spotted a few chanterelles on the way back, not enough for a meal so we left them be. The numbness from the cold stayed with us for a couple of hours. I could feel it in my bones, not for the last time.

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