The secret to enjoying the Berkshires is to revel in all that is hidden. Nowhere else lends itself so well to adventures and exploration.
That’s why Brian Mastroianni’s series on small, wayside shops and towns was such a delight to read. That’s even why arts previews in general have such appeal -- you learn the background ideas that go into a piece of work. You learn why you should appreciate them.
And part of this wealth of all that is hidden in the county is the swimming holes. You can find lists online aplenty of places to swim, but follow the sound in your ears. Follow the river. Use common sense, of course, but trust your sense of adventure.
There’s a place in Williamstown that I first discovered the summer of my senior year of high school. The members of National Honor Society had to do community service as a part of our membership, and so friends and I worked with the Hoosic River Watershed Association to clean a riverbank. We spent hours in the sweltering morning pulling litter off the shore, including litter of incredible proportions: shopping carts, tires and what appeared to be an anemone of rubber tubes that simply would not dislodge from the ground.
But I was amazed. I had lived for years in Williamstown and never seen a place so serene, so lovely. There’s a swimming hole just at the end of the trail, lush and sunny with the bent branch of an old tree acting as a fence of sorts. But then, when you sneak along the trail, past what seems at first to be the destination, you discover a second swimming hole, better than the first.
The water is deep, with a gentle current. The bank is wide, and all you can see are the trees and undergrowth all around. It’s quiet enough to feel all alone in the world, but not in a lonely way. Maybe that makes the most sense when you’re there with a dear friend.
It doesn’t really matter which swimming hole you find yourself at. They all have this feeling, like it’s the first night at summer camp and you’ve just been told of a plan to sneak out that night at 3 a.m. In the water, you keep your ears open for footsteps on the shore.
There’s a place in North Adams that’s at the end of a well-traveled trail in the forest. But you find a secret sanctuary of sorts once you reach the spot. To get there, you step from rock to rock, grabbing, hands and feet, like a game of Twister, up the stream to base of the waterfall. Crouching there on a slippry boulder, you’re enclosed in a half-cylinder of rock, safe and secluded. There’s only room up there for a couple of people, and the water is only a few feet deep, and the current is fast.
I found another swimming hole with a friend one day. He said he knew of a spot next to a cemetery, but he’d only been there before at night ... in the winter.
After driving in circles through the back streets of Adams, we decided to consult Google, and Google directed us toward the swimming hole in question. (The whole not consulting the internet aspect of my advice? Better in theory than in practice. You’re never too good to ask for directions.)
The water was especially chilly that day. I watched my friend leap off the rocky bank in the river below. His face, when he came up for air, was one of shock and pain -- apparently, going into the water all at once did not, in fact, make it better. At least the spot was deep enough that he didn’t actually hurt himself.
We basked in the sun on a slab of rock that seemed custom-made for us. The spot was quiet. Time stood still.
Perhaps an hour later, a family came for a dip. We watched, smiling, as the girl ran up to the cliff edge, backed away, glanced at her mom, ran up again, and continued this dance until, finally, she went plunging into the water. She emerged gleaming and smiling. We watched her convince a brother that the water really, really wasn’t so bad.
My friend and I left, because this was their swimming hole now. We could find another place to go.
f you go ...
Please respect the sanctity of these locations. Leave them as you found them, unless, of course, they’re littered and you feel like cleaning up. But most importantly, give these secret spots to those who respect them
Here are some tips so you stay happy and safe:
Wear appropriate footwear-- water shoes are often a good choice, especially in spots that are slippery, rocky or littered.
Don’t swim in reservoirs. Seems obvious. Clean drinking water is good.
Watch out for fast currents.
Don’t swim after a heavy rain; the water is more likely to be polluted.
Don’t swim during a thunderstorm.
If an area is marked as being closed to swimmers, don’t swim there. There’s probably good reason why it’s closed.
Bring whatever you need to weather the weather: towel, sweatshirt, sunscreen.
Use common sense.
As I said, it’s better when you find the spot yourself. But I will point the way to some of the places I mention.
North Adams waterfall: When I went there, I asked a woman outside gardening whether there was a swimming hole nearby. She was wonderfully helpful. So if these directions don’t make sense, hopefully the woman will still be there.
Park your car on Marion Avenue and you’ll see a trail marker. The trail is preserved by the Trustees of Reservations, and it’s a pleasant, easy to moderate hike up to the falls. (This spot is officially called the Cascades Trail.)
Adams cemetery: Drive to Bellvue Cemetery in Adams. Take every right-hand turn possible within the cemetery until you’ve reached a small parking area. There’s a clear path to the swimming hole. It’s in the area of the Mount Greylock State Reservation.
For more explorations, visit swimmingholes.info