Days Like This, No 18: A Dip in Goat’s Water

tarn 10

tarn 1WE British are collectors of junk and tickers of lists. Men in particular, if left unmolested, will amass sheds full of lawnmower parts, used spark-plugs, obsolete tools and jars of reclaimed nuts and bolts just in case the unforeseen occurs at some distant date in the future. But things go much, much deeper than this. We are more than mere hoarders, we men, we are savers of cigar tubes, stashers of stovepipes, magpies of marbles, accumulators of cloud types. We collect locomotive numbers, Codd bottles, chimney pots, beer mats, military tunic buttons, Bazooka Joe cartoons, football programmes, ring-pulls and road signs. We are foragers of fossils, fungi and fountain pens; gatherers of glass eyes, graptolites and garden gnomes. We set ourselves lists and tick off our victories: pubs visited; home games watched; roller-coasters ridden; buses glimpsed. And we walkers in particular revel in websites that support our strange habits and massage our more extreme perversions – we Munro baggers, Wainwright wanderers, Corbett collectors, Furth filchers, Graham gatherers and trig-point tickers (a particularly vigorous and dedicated walker type). We are the crazy British with our Scotch pie contests, Welsh bog-snorkelling championships, Ulster marching season and English morris dancers. Eccentricity unites our otherwise disunited kingdom. This is the one thing we really are in together . . .

This is a retro post for Because They’re There. It’s a letter from the past featuring a memorable walk and the contemporary events surrounding it . . .

tarn 5And you women out there, do not assume you are not infected. You may not be avid collectors of briar pipes and Lister engine serial numbers, but you certainly have your idiosyncrasies. My wife and I were once shown round a semi owned by a single woman of a certain age, and every available surface was crammed with statuettes of monks and ornate rolling pins. I felt at home yet extremely uneasy at the same time. And when it comes to mugging Munros and capping Corbetts, so far as men and women go that’s surely a level playing field, if you excuse the rather unsuitable metaphor.

tarn 4I have a theory that collectors and eccentrics are moulded from birth by great-aunts who act in the best interests of their cherished nephews and nieces but push too far. I base this theory on my collection of foreign matchboxes being established – when I was aged three – by my Aunty Agnes, who had a neighbour who travelled extensively and thought it would advance my education by bringing me matchboxes from every country she visited.

By the age of eight I had several shoeboxes filled with matchboxes, shoeboxes being in plentiful supply because there was a K Shoes factory less than half a mile from the front door. I had matches made from wax, made from paper, made from wood, made from anything that matches can be made from. There are none left now because me and my brother struck them all. How we didn’t turn into arsonists is beyond me.

tarn 6Let’s talk Victorian bottles. Has anyone ever visited the South Lakes Wild Animal Park at Dalton-in-Furness? There’s a pond in the central enclosure where, back in the 1970s when it was nothing but overgrown mining subsidence, I spent many weekends digging in a Victorian tip for old bottles – me and about four other young men. If we did it now we’d be eaten by lions. I think that’s why most collectors live in sheds and deal in safe stuff.

tarn 7I have a mate who makes trout and salmon flies but doesn’t tell anyone. He even writes books about the subject, yet the people in his office are completely unaware of his publishing success. How cool is that? I have another friend who collects embossed bricks, and the only reason I found out is because I started collecting them myself and they cropped up in conversation. Admittedly, it was a sort of bloke-to-bloke conversation with lots of blokish guffaws. I don’t collect them any more because they wear holes in your rucksack. And they get very heavy when you carry one from Geldie Lodge to Braemar.

tarn 3And so we arrive at the crux of this post – it’s a paean for a previous passion. There was a time when I had an ambition to swim in every tarn in the Lake District. I achieved quite a score during the first couple of summers. I got quite a tally before a woman came on the scene and changed my habits. I’ll give Anne her dues, she did take the plunge in Burnmoor Tarn one sunny September day, but romance inevitably drew the curtain across my noble and wholesome pastime.

Today we travel back to 1978 and the height of my tarn-ticking career. It was a time when Lakeland roads were wider because cars were smaller, summers were believed to be hotter, and walkers wore proper boots and breeches – even in the pub after a day on the tops. In fact, it was mandatory to wear them in the pub.

tarn 10aMy walk begins in the hamlet of Torver, just south of Coniston. I leave the 1,000cc Mini Estate on the corner near Scarr Head, its six-foot fibreglass aerial trembling gaily in the morning breeze as I follow a track towards Tranearth Quarry and Little Arrow Moor. With my parents’ dog, Laddie, scampering around my heels I climb Coniston Old Man by its south ridge and bask in glorious sunshine on its bony summit.

Out comes the trusty Zenit E communist camera to capture outstanding views on Kodachrome 64 slide film. Click: a full-frontal of neighbouring Dow Crag . . .

tarn 11Click: a close-up of the happy Laddie, with Low Water and Levers Water in the background (both already ticked off the tarn list) . . .

tarn 15Click: a telephoto shot of the Red Dell copper workings, showing the Old Engine Shaft waterwheel pit and flume tower . . .

tarn 16Click: a telephoto shot of the Scafell range, with dark clouds massing . . .

tarn 12Click: the Furness Peninsula and Duddon estuary . . .

tarn 13Click: a glance back toward the Old Man’s summit . . .

tarn 14Then off I tramp to Goat’s Hawse and the path down to Goat’s Water, listening to the enthralling clink-clink of karabiners and the conversations of climbers echoing from the warm rock walls of Dow Crag, high above my shoulder.

tarn 17tarn 18tarn 2But what’s this? While I’m taking pictures of the climbers, dark clouds roll in and blot out the sun. A cold wind roars along the valley and sucks any remaining warmth from the air and earth. It’s not a day for tarn ticking.

We British, though, are made of stern stuff. Out come the trunks and in the water I go.

It’s at times like these that the prospect of collecting old lawnmower parts never seems more alluring.

A dip in Goat’s Water (yes, I know that has two meanings), August 1978

tarn 19

 

Advertisements

About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Hiking, Industrial archaeology, Mountains, Scotch pies, Tarns, Walking, Waterwheels, Weather and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Days Like This, No 18: A Dip in Goat’s Water

  1. I used to collect acorns, but never knew what to do with them once I’d got a huge amount stacked up, and also frogs. We had loads in our back garden and I’d put them in an old sink out there, then wonder why there was none still in the sink the next morning….
    As for swimming, I had a funny one there, too. As a youngster, it was a point of principle that I had to go swimming in the sea on every single day of our ‘summer’ holiday. I have many memories of cold, lashing down rain, and my parents sat on a beach, wrapped up against the freezing winds coming in off the Atlantic while I forced myself into the water….Absolutely mad!

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Blimey, Chrissie. I usually have about one swim a year in the sea these days, so I take my hat off to you there. I think the last time was at Beadnell last year, and to be honest I don’t think I got my head wet.
      Just think of all those oak trees you could have grown from those acorns. You could have saved the planet. And the frogs would have been really pleased.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  2. mbc1955 says:

    When I was young, I used to collect sugar lump labels. You remember, those little packets of two sugar cubes, each with their own individual labels, advertising little cafes and motorway services, or just regions. It wasn’t that I gave the habit up, it was just that sugar lumps stopped being offered (hardly surprising, if you waited for one to melt in your tea, it would have evaporated before whatever industrial process had bound the grains together had given up the ghost), so labels stopped being made. As far as I know, I was the only one ever to collect these fascinating little things (and I refuse to check the internet to discover that there was a fanatical group of collectors…)

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Martin, you’ve stirred some forgotten memories there. Those sugar lumps used to be everywhere. And if you were in a cafe with your grandparents or aunts they used to let you pinch the lumps and stuff them in your mouth and pockets. It was a treat.
      I must admit, though, it never occurred to me to collect the labels.More adventurous than collecting stamps I suppose, and better for licking.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  3. alan.sloman says:

    Egg cups…
    Why???

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A super bit of writing and a great read as always. That bit about the roads being wider back then had escaped me- you are so right 🙂

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Thanks for that, Iain. My old mate Peter Frith told me the roads seem narrower these days because the cars are bigger. But that road between Broughton-in-Furness and Coniston has definitely shrunk. It might be the constant rain that’s done it.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  5. A great read and a reminder that I haven’t walked that way since 1996. Must do something about that. My collecting passion is old walking sticks. Mind you I need them now. A great blog as always. By the way my own has moved to http://www.thefreedomtoroam.com

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Thanks for that, John. Collecting old walking sticks sounds a pretty noble hobby, and the only one so far that could be considered useful (unless there are people out there who eat dozens of boiled eggs every day). Thanks for the link to the site.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  6. andywham says:

    I did once think of writing a guidebook to the best swimming tarns in the Lakes, wiuth an eye of a future multi volume version covering Scotland. Cicerone were quite interested at the time (I think) but in the end it came to nothing – I think I got fed up of my recce outings being blighted by bad weather!

    Liked by 1 person

    • McEff says:

      Hi Andy. The guidebook to the Lakes tarns sounds like fun but a chap would have to be petty keen to attempt the Scottish version. A very quick dip in Loch a Choire Mhor at the foot of Seana Braigh one hot and sweaty day was enough to put me off loch dipping.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  7. thatssojacob says:

    American here, and a collector. Formerly T-shirts, now windchimes, bookmarks, and samples of friends’ handwriting/signatures. I don’t know why.

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Jacob. Thanks for your comment. I like the idea of the handwriting, because the ability seems to be dying out because we all use keyboards most of the time these days. And thanks for pointing out that this collecting craziness extends across the Atlantic.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

  8. I used to have a shed full of lawnmowers, not lawnmower parts, but I’m down to three now. I seem to collect things without knowing I’m collecting them. Lost count how many rucksacks I’ve got, but none of them are the right size for what I want.

    I’ve never swum in a tarn; paddled in streams, but never gone the whole hog and dove in. I know of some men who have attempted to swim in every Lakeland tarn, but gave up because they were difficult to find when they dry up in summer.

    Narrower roads today: that explains all the road works. And I thought they were being widened. There’s currently a major road narrowing scheme on the M6 just outside Lancaster.
    Chris

    Like

  9. John Arnison says:

    I have over 300 hats, all mens and yes I do try to wear them. I have never taken Goats water,but must try soon.
    Now Wastwater is good for the old waist line, or so I hear!

    Like

    • McEff says:

      John, I have nothing but respect for a man who owns 300 hats and wears them. I like hats but my collection of nine or ten is not worth mentioning.
      If Wastwater is good for the waistline then I’ll be in for a dip this weekend.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

  10. John Arnison says:

    A another thought. Get hold of a book called Eccentrics, by David Weeks, a great read. Hope you are very well and enjoying the sunny weather.

    Like

  11. Dave (B) says:

    The plugs you cut off failed electrical appliances, immediately prior to consigning them to the skip: how many do you have, and why? I don’t know how many I have, which tells its own irrational story; even more irrational when I know that they will never, ever, “come in useful one day”.

    I keep them next to small offcuts of timber, dating back to the autumn of the great storm in the wildwood. Thank you for allowing me to unburden – if you ever need a plug (circa 1980s), or a 4″ offcut of tanalised featheredge board…

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Thanks Dave. You gave me a laugh there, because after my father died a few years ago I was rummaging through his shed for a 13amp fuse and found a whole drawer stuffed with old plugs. And the bugger had taken the fuses out of every single one of them!
      All the best, Alen
      PS I might take you up on the offcuts.

      Like

  12. beatingthebounds says:

    “Has anyone ever visited the South Lakes Wild Animal Park at Dalton-in-Furness?”
    Yes – many times!
    I’m an inveterate hoarder and list-ticker to boot, but a bit useless at both – no sticking power. Brooke bond tea cards spring to mind for me – I had loads, but mainly because my gran stock-piled them for me – I wonder what happened to those? First day covers. Coins old and/or exotic (but the kids have scattered those all around the house). Post-cards. Walking stick badges. Badges! 7″ singles. Tent pegs – I’ve just come back from my Mum and Dad’s with great bags full of them – might be useful at some point! Church window depictions of George and the Dragon. Gardens designed by Lancaster architect Thomas Mawson. Castles etc etc etc

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Blimey, Mark, you should write a book about that lot. I remember the Brooke Bond cards as clearly as anything. There was always a race to open the box after my grandmother had been to the Co-op (or t’Cope, as we used to call it). I had a collection of them, and like you I haven’t a clue what happened to them.
      I went to school in Dalton-in-Furness, and in those days the area that is now the animal park was just a wilderness of hawthorns, overgrown mineral railway lines and haematite-mining subsidence. It’s strange to go there now and see giraffes and rhinos wandering about the place.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  13. Steve Bibby says:

    Smashing story, Alen. I suddenly feel slightly emptier, though, having read it. Not because I haven’t swum in any tarns – ever – or because I only own a single woolly hat (and even then it’s apologetically, and only when very cold). It might be because I don’t collect anything, and I think I perhaps should. It’s just that I’ve been waiting for “the thing”. It’ll happen, I suppose.

    I do have a swimming tale. Once taking a dip in the Tees I got caught by the current and was pulled under into deep fast water. Not a strong swimmer, I instinctively shot my arms upright to wave for help, which sent me to the bottom again. Someone made an effort to save me, and I gasped something which I was later told was “it’s too late for me……………save yourself”. A moment later my backside hit gravel with some force. I stood up, adjusted my trunks, and walked to shore. A man on the bank wearing a full arm plaster cast waved apologetically. With his good arm.

    I don’t trust water. I tend to side with W C Fields on that score.

    All the best.

    Steve

    Like

    • McEff says:

      That’s a tale and a half, Steve. I’ve never been swimming in the Tees and I don’t intend to after reading that. Redcar beach is the nearest I’ve been, and I can honestly say I’ve never experienced sea water as cold as it was on that day. That’s the North Sea for you.
      So far you appear to be in a minority of one in the collecting and crazy hobby stakes. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I suspect it’s a good thing.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  14. John Arnison says:

    Perhaps we could do a swap, a few plugs for an old hat,that sort of thing!!

    Like

  15. Jo Woolf says:

    Fantastic, Alen! I enjoyed this very much. As a former collector of fossils, shiny rocks and old bottles I can readily sympathise. Well, I still collect fossils and shiny rocks. I love how you have preserved all your old photos, too – that must have taken some doing, going through them all. I can almost feel the heat of those summers, because of course summers were better then. And the tarn swimming, bbrrrrrrrrrrr! You were brave. The sea sometimes tempts me in, though, the higher the breakers the better!

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hiya Jo. Ah yes, old slides. That’s a collection I’d forgotten about. I reckon I’ve got somewhere in the region of 3,000 stashed away, many of which have not been seen since the day I got them back from the Kodak laboratories in Hemel Hempstead. Fossils is another I dabbled in, but unless you live in a fossilly (is that a word) area they are hard to come by. And yes, the summers were better in those days. That’s a fact.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Steve Bibby says:

    Collecting requires systems and code, I suspect. I ‘gather’ bits of glass from Seaham’s beaches. And the odd fossil at Redcar and Marske (and last week at one of the old quarrys near Frosterley). I doubt that counts.

    Alen – when I was a kid (maybe 10) I remember me dad taking us over a mountain/hill. He seemed to forget that, having walked over it, the car would be on the wrong side. He hitched a lift to collect it.

    I recall needing a toilet stop so I persuaded mam to let me wander into this wooded glade near the road. I wandered off, looking for dock leaves, and stumbled upon a pool – perfectly blue and clear, with white stones lining it. It was about 6ft deep, and 10 ft across, and sort of rugby ball shaped. It was stunning. You could through a penny and see it flit to the bottom, bubbles streaming from it’s edges.

    Forgotten until now.

    Steve

    Like

    • McEff says:

      I like the idea of gathering as opposed to collecting, which is more formal. I’ll go along with that.
      That’s a fantastic memory. It’s like the beginning of a story. Hope the dock leaf search was successful.
      Alen

      Like

  17. Kaura says:

    An excellent collection of consonance.

    Like

  18. EchoohcE says:

    Great post Alen. When I was young I used to do a bit of tarn swimming in the Lake District; I think it started in the summer of 1976 funnily enough! It didn’t last long after that year…
    One memory I have of that year is snorkeling in Small Water, above Haweswater on the Nan Bield Pass route. The water was so clear I could see old bottles (including a Codd bottle) lying intact in the mud, so I dived down and rescued a few. The water was deeper than it looked – about fifteen feet or so! Good way to find bottles though.
    Cheers, Mike

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Mike. Great stuff. Small Water has been on my target list for many years. One of these days (warm days) I might finally get the opportunity to take the plunge. It’s a beautiful little tarn.
      I went snorkelling in Low Water, on the Old Man, once. Never found a sausage, never mind a bottle. It was good fun though.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s