Quarry swimming possibly sparks more debate in the outdoor swimming community than any other topic apart from wetsuits (wear one, don’t wear one, wear one sometimes but not others, who cares? Quite a lot of people actually, well they have opinions but whether they care or not is a slightly different thing.)
On the one extreme is the school of thought that says if you swim in a quarry you will surely die. On the other hand there are those who think that a land (water) owner who puts up a fence and signs to keep you off their property and out of potential harm is infringing their freedom. Swim and be damned may as well be the second groups motto.
Quarries can be hazardous, who knows what has been dumped in there from wrecked cars to toxic chemicals. There is a quarry in Derbyshire called the Blue Lagoon which looks lovely but the water has dissolved caustic soda from the land around and it will blister and burn skin.
Quarry water can also be cold. This may not be so much of a problem for those who swim through winter but it can be unexpected. The top 18 inches of Left Lake a few days ago was quite pleasant, maybe 15C, but reach down to arms length and there was a sudden temperature thermocline to sub 10C.
Perhaps then the advice should be ‘approach with extra caution’.
I had my eye set on the small granite quarry on Caradon Hill and after a couple of hours walking around the mines in the blazing sun I was set for it. Then the sound of a swing shovel working drifted down to me and as I crested the rise I could see the sun glinting off the arm. Approach with double extra caution. The machine is working down the slope and I can slip through the rocks to the flooded bit without being seen and remain unseen so long as I change amongst the jumble of rocks. Guerilla swimming.
The water is very clear with a deep blue tint, there does not appear to be much rubbish and there are familiar plants in the shallows. The quarry is small, barely 20m square but the sides drop away steeply into the blue, it is evidently very deep, I will stay at the surface. The breeze is caught by the bowl of the rocks and scurries this way and that whipping up ripples that run after the wind, colliding and splashing. The breeze drops and instantly the surface is like glass. Then the breeze and ripple return again.
I circle the pool twice in each direction. Reaching down with my toes there does not seem to be a sharp temperature change which possibly means the water is flowing and is possibly the source of the stream that feeds the mine reservoir further down the hill.
I am drying and having a staring contest with a sheep and completely fail to notice the sound of machinery has changed. The bulk of the bright yellow dumper rises into view 20m away and I hope that the man driving it is watching where he is going and not looking at what is probably for him the overly familiar scenery. Against the sun reflecting from the pale rock I am probably quite effective hidden in plain sight. He drives on, I get dressed , now if anyone comes I can always just claim I was paddling my feet, so long as they don’t notice my dripping wet hair.
Ten minutes later back at the car and I am roasted again. Three hours later after prowling the airless burning desert of dumped spoil at Phoenix United mine I am melting. Fortunately Golddiggings Quarry is only 15 minutes walk across the open moor where there is at least a breeze. The quarry is busy with a bit of a party, several people are jumping from the highest point whilst two others are circling the water in blow up boats.
The water is less clear than at Caradon but still pleasantly warm though the breeze whips up the water in places. I make a couple of circuits but my days of mad jumps are far behind me now, so it is time to head for home.
Driving along with the windows down my hair is very nearly dry by the time I reach Callington. On a whim instead of turning for Saltash I head off towards Gunnislake and Kit Hill. There is time for another quarry whilst the sun is shining.
About the same size as Golddiggings, Kit Hill Quarry is however more enclosed and now late in the day about 1/2 is in shade. This is a popular dog walking place and I can’t help but feel that may have something to do with the grey-greenness of the water. It is however warmer than either of the others and I do a slow circuit in the dwindling sunshine.
It has been a day of contrast and in 3 weeks I’ll be back this way once again.