Country diary: moss and ivy have taken over this wild swimming pool


Gilsland Spa, Cumbria: The sides of the Victorian pool are half-hidden by the glossy emerald leaves of wild garlic

Gilsland Spa hotel stands empty at present, dominating a promontory above a wooded gorge, with far views to the north Pennines. Victorian tourists came here for the mineral springs – both sulphurous and chalybeate – and its romantic scenery. A path, wide enough for crinoline or horse and cart, leads steeply down through beech and sycamore. The bank above is sprinkled with the yellow stars of lesser celandine and a tumble of daffodils. Below, the hillside drops away, covered in bluebells and the fresh green of woodrush.

Descending towards the River Irthing, we take a side path soft with crushed leaves, narrowing and weaving among spring greenery to the “chink chink” of chaffinches. With such little rain, the polypody ferns on the mossy trunks are dried and curling, and the river that I’ve seen in spate runs slow. All around in the deep gorge, the song of a wren echoes.

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