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Wild Swimming Spots in the UK

By: Thomas Muller - Updated: 20 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
British Waterways Rivers Lakes Bathers

Just the tonic for Britain’s clammy summers is slipping on swimming togs and leaping into the water, but rather than the stale vacuum of a indoor leisure pool, it is the nation’s many lakes and rivers that provide the ultimate in refreshment.

Rediscovering the Joys of Wild Swimming

More and more British swimmers and bathers are dipping their toes in the refreshing silken waters of rivers and lakes, and discovering the joys of wild swimming.

Despite being a popular and safe pastime for millions of mainland Europeans, wild swimming has long been frowned upon and discouraged by the so-called ‘nanny state’ of the UK. British swimmers have started to look beyond the stern warnings and realise that as long as it’s treated with respect and caution, rivers and lakes are perfectly safe places to enjoy the freedom of being submerged in nature. And with waterways reportedly cleaner than they have been for 150 years, there has never been a better time.

Finding an Outdoor Swimming Spot

Safe wild swimming is all about choosing the right place to swim. First-timers are not advised to simply find a stretch of water and dive in, because some waterways can be hazardous due to strong currents or litter. It’s best to heed local advice, and head for the established swimming holes. The River and Lake Swimming Association (RALSA) and the Outdoor Swimming Society both publish a list of recommended swimming spots on their respective websites.

The more experienced you become at swimming in nature, then the easier it will be to identify an ideal location.

Wales – One of the Last Bastions of Wild Swimming

Wales’ Wye and Usk rivers are a favourite amongst swimmers because their slow current and shallow upstream means the water is fairly warm. The riverbeds are also layered with big round pebbles that are kind to the feet.

The lack of public swimming baths in Wales has meant that wild swimming never really went away and so beyond the Wye and Usk, it is relatively easy to find good, safe swimming spots by following the locals. Particular river highlights include Island Fields in Brecon, Glasbury Bridge near Hay-on-Wye and Crickhowell on the Usk.

For the more adventurous, the small mountain pools up in the lonely rugged Rhinogs are a legendary balm for hot and bothered hikers.

Dartmoor and the Lake District

Another well regarded swimming hive is Dartmoor, where there are literally hundreds of pools. Their brown tinge may be uninviting, but this is merely peat staining, the water is pure and bracingly fresh. There are around 30 pools along the Plym river from Cadover Bridge and two decent spots at Spitchwick.

The Lake District is another magical area for outdoor swimming, with the small and easily accessible Buttermere and Crummock lakes being particularly bather-friendly. They are also blissfully free from that ‘scourge of the Lakes’, the motorboat. Other fabled spots in Cumbrian countryside include Stickle Tarn and the awe-inspiring Wastwater.


North of the border, bathers should just head to the lochs for some dramatic swimming locations, with Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Great Glen being particularly recommended.

Other Popular Sites in the UK

In Surrey, Frensham’s Great Pond provides a safe and pleasant location for swimming. In the summertime it is a particularly popular communal spot, with a lifeguard on duty to supervise bathers.

Yorkshire’s Stainforth Force is one of the most celebrated natural bathing spots in the north of England, with its three pools, waterfall and beautiful backdrop of woodland and rocky moorland.

Finally, despite officialdom being generally adverse to the idea of public natural swimming, Britain’s few exceptions can surprisingly be found in the centre of its capital city. Hyde Park’s Serpentine lake and the Hampstead Ponds are a gift to stressed out city dwellers with their murky but reviving waters.

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