Kayaking Down the Tarn.

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Another excursion, this time on the River Tarn, which was faster flowing than the Dordogne, less busy and more dramatic, especially in Les Détroits, ‘the straits’, where the ravine narrows and is closed in by cliffs on either side…

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Once again, we stopped regularly to swim, including a stop at the campsite which was conveniently situated for lunch.

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This time the younger members of the party each had their own boat, which was definitely a better arrangement, and they enjoyed larking about standing in their kayaks and rafting up to traverse across the front of each others boats.

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If anything, this was even more enjoyable than the Dordogne paddle and unlike that trip, when I was tuckered out by the time we finished, I would have liked to continue, although that’s not possible because the river enters a dangerous jumble of boulders downstream.

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Once again, I only took photos when we stopped, whereas Andy has more photos, including many excellent ones of our respective kids. You can find his post here.

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Kayaking Down the Tarn.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: The Tarn Gorge

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After our week in the Dordogne, we drove to the Tarn Gorge for another week’s camping, this time at Camping La Blaquiere. Even more so than at Camping Maisonneuve, we spent a great deal of our time on and around the campsite, particularly swimming in, or jumping into, the Tarn.

This is limestone country, like the area around the Dordogne, but very different scenery; the Tarn cuts deeply into the Cévennes and the steep sides of the gorge are girt with crags and huge towers.

This…

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…is the stretch of the river where we did most of our swimming. It was deep, crystal-clear, fast-flowing and absolutely full of a wide variety of fish: I took to wearing goggles whenever I swam, so that I could dive below the surface to observe them.

This…

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…is the only photo of the camping site I took. It shows the small cafe, where we ate twice, memorably watching a three-piece band segue from The Ram-Jam Band’s ‘Black Betty’ into the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’, an unusual combination.  As the light faded whilst we ate, I watched Alpine Swifts, which are larger than those we see at home, hurtling along beside the cliffs across the river.

I was endlessly fascinated by the way light changed with the time of day and the weather. This photo…

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…was taken relatively early in the morning. Just right of centre, you can see a rock formation poking above the horizon….

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The kids decided that it was a man and a woman. Later in the week we travelled past the campsite in a bus and I’m pretty sure that the driver pointed out the same rocks and said that one was Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’. Presumably the other is one of his wives, or many mistresses.

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Later in the week we had several afternoons which brought dark clouds, rumbles of thunder and sometimes rain.

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Which really added to the drama of the views…

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This stretch of the river…

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…is just downstream from the campsite. It was favourite with the Dangerous Brothers because the rocks on which I was standing to take the photograph had several spots from which to leap into the river, some of them really quite high up. That’s two of the DBs talking on the far bank: DB Senior, our B, and ODB – Old Dangerous Brother, or Andy, who is an honorary member of the team. I think he was quite chuffed to have somebody with him who shared his appetite for reckless self-enganderment. I know our boys certainly enjoyed it. Little S climbed to the highest jumping point numerous times, but in the end, on our final day, it was B who actually jumped.

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The photographs were taken from the far side of…

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…’le champignon’, the mushroom rock, another landmark which the bus driver identified.

Morning walks for bread only went as far as the campsite reception; the villages up and down the valley from the campsite were both a little too far away for a morning croissant and baguette walk.

This is La Malène…

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Which was upriver.

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And which has a bridge over the Tarn, handy for taking photos…

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The village in the other direction was Les Vignes, where we did most of our grocery shopping. It was almost as picturesque as La Malène, but I don’t seem to have taken many photographs, preferring instead to concentrate on being fleeced by a consummate salesman who lured me in with a complimentary glass of peach wine and samples of his wares, before ruining me financially by selling me some of what was surely the World’s most expensive salami. It did taste good though.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: The Tarn Gorge

Canoeing on the Dordogne.

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One given of our trip to France was that it would include some canoeing on the two rivers we would be staying close to. This is something Andy has done on his previous trips and promised to be a real highlight of the holiday. In the event, the whole trip was great and it’s quite difficult to choose a favourite part, but the canoeing certainly didn’t disappoint.

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Actually, this spot, featured in the first three photos, is a strong contender for favourite for me. This was the same day that Andy and I had walked, in clearing mist, to the bakery together, and, whilst we were there, we found a canoe hire place and booked four three-man boats. Later, we were all back in Castelnaud for a bus ride to our start point, near a village called Vitrac if I remember correctly. This shingle bank was the first of many places along the river where we stopped for a cooling swim and the warm honey-coloured rocks, the incredibly clear water and the numerous fish we saw made it very memorable. We watched a couple of fish which were really quite large. I think they were Barbel, although any opinion I give about fish must be taken with a huge pinch of salt. One of them was persistently shadowed by a much smaller, stripy fish – a perch perhaps? Although, why a perch would trail alongside a much bigger fish I don’t know.

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The river was quite fast flowing here and we found it best to swim downstream and then walk back up before heading back down again.

This…

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…is another one of our stops. The river was even more powerful here, but the main current was on the far bank, under towering limestone cliffs. On our side the water was heavily silted and very warm.

The Dordogne was generally very warm. When we stopped at Castlenaud Andy and I had a memorable demonstration of just how warm whilst the others went off into the village for ice-creams.

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We swam upstream to the mouth of the Céou. The water flowing into the Dordogne from the Céou felt positively icy and the Dordogne like bath-water by comparison. It was a strange experience, since you could swim through alternate pockets of warm and cold water.

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The mouth of the Céou is just about dead-centre of the panorama below.

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From Castelnaud we paddled on, to eventually stop between Beynac and Les Milandes. I think there was some talk of the whole route being 16km. Regardless of how far it was, I know that I was very weary that night on the campsite. Missing from my photographs and description is some of the spectacular scenery we canoed past: Beynac was stunning and Roque Gageac even more so, but I didn’t have my camera with me, relying on my phone which, most of the time, stayed safely inside the watertight plastic barrel which had been provided. Andy has a waterproof camera and has more and better photographs, so I’m looking forward to his post of this trip on his own blog.

Canoeing on the Dordogne.

To the Bakery and Back

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Each morning I walked into the village to buy the day’s bread, sometimes with Andy, but usually on my own. The bread was delicious, but I enjoyed the walk too. These photos are from those walks and also from other times when we had occasion to walk into Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. That first photo is looking back towards the campsite from a very misty morning, although the mist was rapidly clearing.

This is the same view…

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…on a relatively cloudy day and this…

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…is a panoramic view from a little further along the road, in more typical weather conditions.

The view in the other direction was very much dominated by the village and the Chateau towering above it, and often, in the mornings, montgolfières rising above that.

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Here’s part of the village…

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…when the mist had just about dissipated.

Not only were the views excellent, but the meadows along the route held lots of interest too.  These blue flowers dominated…

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I think that the flowers are Meadow Clary, a relative of Sage, which has a very limited distribution in Britain, but seems to be abundant in France. The insect is a Hummingbird Hawkmoth which is only seen as a migrant in Britain, although by coincidence I saw one today whilst out for a local wander. I also often saw Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying along a wall which bounded part of the road, seemingly investigating nooks and crevices, although I’m not sure why they would do that.

This…

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…is a Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth, which can, apparently, also be found in Britain, but not in our area and I’ve certainly never seen one before.

One of the things I loved about our visit to France was the profusion of butterflies, although they weren’t always cooperative in posing for photos.

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This Scarce Swallowtail was kind however, and moved a little closer after I took that first photo…

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Wild Carrot flowers were also very common in the meadows and where the flowerheads had curled in on themselves and gone to seed there was a very good chance that you could see Striped Shield Bugs…

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…they were hard to miss!

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Spider’s webs, on the other hand, only became obvious when the mist washed them with silver droplets.

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The wall alongside the road was home, appropriately enough, to Wall Lizards.

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These two are my favourites from the many photos I took.

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The area around the wall also seemed to be the territory of some small orange butterflies which eluded my camera at first, but then turned out to be Gatekeepers which we see at home.

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I think that this first one is on a Hemp Agrimony flower and that this one…

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…is on Horse Mint.

The road crossed a bridge over the Céou which was a good place for spotting fish and also more Beautiful Demoiselles…

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Male.

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Female.

Right at the end of our stay, we came down to the bridge because some of the party wanted to emulate some swimmers we had seen by leaping from a high branch into the water.

In the event, only E managed it, not because of the height of the jump, but because of the difficulty of climbing the tree – there was a crude ladder of planks nailed to the tree-trunk, but one of the rungs was missing. Here’s E just before she jumped…

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The rest of us had to content ourselves with jumping from the bridge itself or from a small wall beside it…

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Which, frankly, was quite high enough for me.

To the Bakery and Back

Three Weeks Under Canvas: Camping Maisonneuve.

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So – you’re on a peninsula in the extreme north-west of Wales, where do you go from there? Southern France of course! I’m glossing over the epic journey, the overnight camp in Kent, the ineptitude of Eurotunnel and the one a.m. arrival at Camping Maisonneuve. Suffice to say, it was a very long way.

The campsite was Andy’s find (as was all the planning for the trip*), and what a good find it was. Situated near the village of Castelnaud-la-Chappelle, on the banks of the River Céou, a tributary of the Dordogne, it had a heated swimming pool, but we were all much more taken with the pool in the river itself. And with the diving platform by that pool…

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I have lots of photos of various members** of the party jumping in, but I’ve used one of B because he particularly loved jumping, bombing or somersaulting into the water, something he seemed content to do all day long.

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The water was surprisingly cold, much colder, we discovered, than the nearby Dordogne, but even Little S, who suffers particularly in cold water, all skin and bone as he is, coped well with it, probably because it was so warm out of the water. So warm, in fact, that even TBH and our friend J got in on the action. Well, I say ‘action’…

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The heated pool, and the wooded slopes of the Céou valley.

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Our pitch. This must have been early on, it got much more untidy than this: knowing that it probably wasn’t going to rain made it very tempting to leave stuff lying around outside. It did rain overnight, once, during the week that we were there, but otherwise the weather was superb.

I have lots of photographs from our two weeks in France, well over a thousand (don’t worry, I won’t post them all), so I’ve decided, I think, to stick, on the whole, to short(ish) posts, with just a few photos in each.

*Planning and organising stuff is another one of his strong suits and this trip was researched and planned impeccably. All went very smoothly, despite our best efforts to misread, misinterpret or otherwise not follow his careful instructions. Cheers Andy!

**Of the seventeen who put in an appearance in Wales, twelve continued to France. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll see some familiar faces in the posts which follow. Unlike our annual gathering in Wales, this is not a long-standing tradition, but a new venture, although, if you go back far enough, some of us us have made summer trips down to the Alps together before, long before any of the kids were born.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: Camping Maisonneuve.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: Kubb at Towyn Farm

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So, as the title implies, we’re recently back from three weeks of camping. The late-evening photo above shows our trusty Conway Countryman trailer tent, with Carn Fadryn in the background. Long-suffering readers will know that this was the thirteen annual get together at Towyn Farm near the village of Tudweiliog on the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula (although, only our twelfth, because we skipped 2009 to go to Germany for my aunt’s birthday instead.)

This year we were a party of 17, at least when everybody was there. Different members of the group arrived and left at various times, some only there for the weekend, others staying for longer. We were late, the boys and I arriving early on the Sunday after an early-hours start. We should have been there on the Saturday, but muppetry on my part, including not being able to locate the pump for the tap (it was in the sink) and not remembering, until B reminded me as we were about set-off, that the number plate on the trailer needed to match the ones on our new (to us) car. TBH and A arrived later still, on the train, having stayed behind because A had her DofE Bronze expedition that weekend.

Anyway, once we were safely pitched up, we had the usual marvellous time. The mornings were often misty and damp, but the weather always improved by the afternoon and we spent our afternoons on the beach. In fact, we settled into a rhythm of a late and leisurely breakfast, a late lunch and a very late evening meal, usually followed by one final visit to the beach, in the gloaming, and a late retirement to bed. I’m not sure whether the prevailing weather dictated our behaviour or if it just fit in conveniently with our lazy inclinations.

After so many visits, we have a routine for the beach too, alternating swimming with games of tennis, cricket and some frisby throwing. I don’t have any photos, because I don’t like to take my camera to the beach. After all of the fresh water swimming we had been doing, the temperature of the Irish Sea came as something of a shock – it was freezing. But that didn’t prevent some of the kids from spending hours in there.

The game of Kubb has become part of our regular routine too. My brother bought us a set several years ago, and it has to be one of the best presents ever (and he excels at presents). I’ve never seen anyone else playing it and our games always seem to attract attention and questions wherever and whenever we play. (As does Andy’s enormous space-age trailer-tent).

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It’s a good game for parties like ours, since up to twelve can play, in two teams. Essentially it involves knocking down wooden blocks by throwing wooden batons at them, which makes it sound rather dull, but it isn’t at all. When we play, it also involves a great deal of barracking, banter, gamesmanship and accusations of cheating and, in the case of the game in these photos, a fair deal of hubris too. The team on the right here, who had, in fairness, won once already, had been ahead in this game too, but are now on the point of losing.

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You can find the rules here. Andy will be disappointed to find that ‘kubbs that right themselves due to the momentum of the impact are considered knocked down’ since that happened to him and, despite his quite correct insistence, we overruled him and let the offending kubb stay upright. Disappointed is probably the wrong word. Disgruntled, unsettled, indignant, might all be closer. Indignation is one of his strong suits, though, in truth, his bark is much worse than his bite. Once he knows the truth, we will never hear the end of it, that’s for sure.

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During one of our late trips to the beach, I think on the same evening that I took this photo, we saw several seals popping above the surface briefly to watch us, watching them. I’ve seen seals along this coast before, but usually early in the mornings, and not by this relatively busy stretch of beach.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: Kubb at Towyn Farm

At Swim Two Becks

Skelwith Bridge – Elter Water – Elterwater – Little Langdale – Slater Bridge – Stang End – Skelwith Bridge.

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Continuing the theme of my last post – novelty versus familiarity – this is a route I’ve walked countless times over the years, but this iteration was unlike any previous version. It was late afternoon, after work, but still very hot. Skelwith Force was a bit of a misnomer for the normally thunderous waterfall, now relatively tame. I was heading for this large pool in the River Brathay.

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Purple Loosestrife.

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Purple Loosestrife – Emily – is this what’s in your garden?

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Before I got to this point in the river, I was examining another clump of Purple Loosestrife when this Shield Bug landed on my hand and then on the path. I think it’s a Bronze Shieldbug, but I’m not entirely confident.

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Harebell.

Anyway, the reason I’d strayed slightly from the path and stuck to the riverbank, was that I was looking for a place for a swim. This looked perfect…

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And it was! The water was deep and quite warm, but cool enough to be refreshing. It was almost immediately deep, straight from the bank, but I found a place where I thought I could ease myself in, except that the riverbed was so slippery that I lost my footing, both feet sliding out from under me, and fell in anyway. It was a beautiful spot for a swim, with stunning views and a host of damselflies and dragonflies keeping me company.

A short walk upstream, past what looked like another ideal place for swimming, brought me to Elter Water…

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The lake, not the village. I’d had an idea that I might swim here too, but, as you can see, the water was very shallow close in and further out I thought I could see a great deal of weed, which I found a bit off-putting; I decided to bide my time.

If I wasn’t swimming, there were plenty of fish that were…

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I still had my wet-shoes on and paddled into the water to take some photos. The fish weren’t very frightened of me…

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I changed back into shoes more suited for walking, but retained my rapidly drying trunks; I had plans for more swimming.

In fact, before I’d left for this part of the Lakes, I’d been poring over the map, looking at blue bits which promised the possibility of a swim. As is often the case, I’d got carried away and had identified numerous potential spots and was toying with the idea of linking them together in an extended walking and swimming journey reminiscent of the central character’s trip in the film and John Cheever short-story ‘The Swimmer’, with your’s truly in the muscular Burt Lancaster role, obviously.

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Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. I saw, and photographed, loads of them.

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Silver-Y Moth. I saw lots of these too, but they were very elusive to photograph.

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Lots of Harebells too!

The short climb from the village of Elterwater over to Little Langdale was hot and sticky work, but brought the reward of views of Little Langdale Tarn and the Coniston Fells…

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This…

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…is the River Brathay again, flowing out of Little Langdale Tarn.

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Slater Bridge.

I thought that this pool…

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…just downstream of Slater Bridge, might have swimming potential, but couldn’t be sure that it was deep enough, so wanted to check the pool I’d seen before, back toward Little Langdale Tarn.

The ground beside the river, even after our long dry spell, was still quite spongy and full of typical wet, heathland vegetation, including lots of Heath Spotted-orchids.

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Good to have an opportunity to compare these with its close relative Common Spotted-orchid which I’ve photographed around home recently.

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This pool turned out to be ideal again. I dug my stove out of my bag, to make a cup of tea ready for when I’d had a swim. Whilst I was busy, a dragonfly landed on a nearby boulder. I grabbed my camera, but the photograph came out horribly blurred.  It does show a dragonfly which is exactly the same pale blue as a male Broad-bodied Chaser, but with a much narrower abdomen, making it either a male Black-tailed Skimmer or a male Keeled Skimmer, probably the latter, based on the distribution maps in my Field Guide, which makes it a first for me.

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White Water-lily – the largest flower indigenous to Britain, but it closes and slowly withdraws into the water each day after midday.

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Yellow Water-lily.

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Once again, the water was deep right to the bank, but somebody had piled up rocks under the water to make it easier to get in and out. The water here was colder than it had been further downstream, quite bracing even, somewhat to my surprise. I enjoyed this swim even more than the first. The low sun was catching the Bog Cotton on the bank…

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…and was also making reflected ripple patterns on the peaty exposed bank, which were stunning, but which I can’t show you because they were only visible from the water. In addition, the Bog Myrtle bushes growing along the bank were giving off a lovely earthy, musky fragrance.

It was eight o’clock by now, and I expected to have the river to myself, but a couple arrived for a swim and once they were changed and in the water, I got out to enjoy my cup of tea.

Returning to Slater Bridge…

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I watched two large dragonflies rapidly touring the area. They were so fast that my efforts to take photographs were doomed to failure. I thought that they were Golden-ringed Dragonflies, like the ones I saw mating near to Fox’s Pulpit last summer. At one point, one of them repeatedly landed momentarily on the surface of the water, or rather splashed onto the surface, making a ripple, and then instantly flew on again, only to almost immediately repeat the procedure. I have no idea what purpose this behaviour served. It was very odd.

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I still had a fair way to go to get back to the car, but also the last of the light to enjoy whilst I walked it.

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The post’s title is meant to be a punning reference to ‘At Swim Two Birds’, Flann O’Brien’s wonderfully nutty book, which some people claim is even better than his ‘The Third Policeman’. I probably should reread them both to see what I think now, after a break of a few years; if the house weren’t stuffed to the rafters with books I haven’t ever read, I would set about that task tomorrow. ‘At Swim Two Becks’ seemed appropriate when I thought I had swum in Great Langdale Beck and Greenburn Beck and before I had examined the map again and realised that in fact I’d swum in two different stretches of the River Brathay.

Of course, Heraclitus, whom I am fond of quoting, tells us that you can never step into the same river twice. You can, however, walk the same route twice, but it will never be the same each time. Previous blog-posts of much the same route, none of which involve swimming, Burt Lancaster, John Cheever or the novels of Flann O’Brien:

A walk with my Mum and Dad.

A walk with TBH.

A snowy walk with friends

A more recent walk with different friends.

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At Swim Two Becks