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A different view of the fells: Fell running and open water swimming

It is all to easy to get a one dimensional view of something, even something as majestic and complex as the fells. To see the fells as merely something to walk or run up, a challenge to pit oneself against. The beauty observed is from the summit, you look across to the other fells on a level with them, convincing yourself that you are, even for a brief time, their equal. When looking to them from below, a snatched glance out of a car window or a wistful gaze while walking at valley level, you can miss their beauty, looking instead at the best way to ascend. Searching for the network of paths and trods that wind their way to the summit, you imagine yourself climbing, steadily, searching for that summit. Sometimes, you forget to see the fells from the bottom.

The day started, like many good days do, with the call of an alarm. The 6.30am alarm snapped me to wakefulness on a cold, dark autumnal morning. I looked across at the cupboard on the other side of my room which housed my running gear. A damaged ACL has meant that cupboard has remained unopened for quite some time. I can almost imagine the creak of hinges and the explosion of dust and cobwebs as I finally come to open it. Instead, I rise and reach for my wetsuit, pulling my legs into the skin-tight neoprene before exiting my room. I brush my teeth, staring out of the window. A street light projects a halo onto the floor outside. A cat skirts into the light, looks about and bolts, startled by a noise in the distance. I rinse and spit, grab my keys and step out of the house. The air is crisp, and my breathe appears in front of me like a spectral cloud. I walk slowly to the car, feeling the chill of the morning air on my hands, reminding me of the moment when I would have to submerge myself into the icy water of the lake.

The car window is covered in a thin veneer of ice, I turn the heaters on, and, as the ice begins to melt and trickle down the window, my mind invariably wanders to thoughts of running. These crisp mornings are what fell running dreams are made of. The crunch of frosty ground, the sting of cold air on breathless lungs, the tingling of exposed skin as you get back to the car. The soft light catching the summit of the fell and the view over the surrounding fells as you stand amongst them. Windscreen clear, I put my indicator on, check my blind spot, and pull out into the road. Driving towards the lake, there are few cars in site, I wonder if anyone has been deterred by the cold, dark conditions. Anyone who ignored the call of the alarm for an extra hour in bed. As I drive, the sky begins to lighten, revealing mist swirling in the farmland to either side of the road, giving the world a simplistic, near otherworldly aspect.

I arrive and park, walking down to the lake, wondering what quirk of fate has lead me to decide to do this. Is this really how I want to start a work day? Surely more sleep or a leisurely rise before going to work would be preferable to this? Walking slowly into the lake, my body slowly submerges in the water. The cold takes my breath away, despite the protection of my wetsuit. I begin to swim, a clumsy front crawl, the best I can manage with my damaged knee. I look ahead, mist swirls around me, shrouding the floating buoy, my usual target to swim out to, hiding it from view. I traverse by memory, first to the red buoy, then to the yellow boat and finally the green buoy comes into view. I tag it in much in the same way I would tag a summit cairn. The fells on the far lake shore have been revealed, the mist retreating to show iron grey fells ahead of me. Turning my back on them I kick out, swimming my clumsy front crawl back to dry land. As I swim, I turn. I don’t know what made me, I was determined to get back to the warmth and dry. Maybe I sensed a shift in light, maybe just some form of instinct, but I turned, floating on my back, clutching my float. I saw the Langdales, free from the mist, bathed in a pink light. They had transformed. They were beautiful.

I lay there, akin to the otter, clutching my float and watching the light play on the fells. They were too far away to identify any features, to look for routes or points of interest. I looked at them as one may look at a painting or a sculpture. As beauty personified. I felt no desire in that moment, as I bobbed in the water to be on them. I hadn’t abandoned my desire to go to the fells, but in that moment, I appreciated their beauty. Not as something to conquer or to run up. Not as a supposed equal, standing tall amongst them. But appreciating their distant, massive form, as I lay in the water, looking up at them. Several other people were emerging, dog walker, fellow swimmers, paddle boarders. I wondered if this was how they always saw the fells? As something to be witnessed from afar, a backdrop of pure beauty.

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