Wild Swimming: The UK’s Best Natural Swim Spots
A tonic for both the body and the mind, wild swimming has become increasingly popular over the past few years. This comes as no surprise, as this refreshing sport allows you to get in a full workout, while taking in some of the most breathtaking views nature has to offer. It really is an outdoor-lover’s dream! And, luckily for you, the UK is full of idyllic lakes, waterfalls, rivers and seas that are just waiting for you to take the plunge (albeit a potentially icy cold one)! From the ponds of Hampstead Heath in the country's bustling capital, to the Allt Daraich Waterfall in rural Scotland, we have a whole host of wild swimming spots to recommend! So, if you’re interested in getting your hair wet in some of Britain’s most beautiful waters, why not read on to discover some of our favourite destinations?
A dip in the Lake District's Derwentwater and Ullswater is just what you need!
Home to almost 100 bodies of water and surrounded by lofty peaks, we couldn't think of a better area to take a dip than the Lake District in North West England. A haven for those who love to frolic in fresh waters, this National Park is the perfect place for swimmers of all levels, whether you're just starting out on your wild swimming adventure, or you've been at it for a long time. For the novices among you, we suggest commencing in Derwentwater in the picturesque town of Keswick. With shallow shorelines, you can slowly but surely paddle your way in, adapting your body to the cool water temperatures. Make sure to lift your head up and enjoy the unique view of the iconic Skiddaw Mountain in front of you. But don't get too distracted by this natural wonder – keep an eye out for passing boats, avoiding them by safely sticking close to the shore. For the more adventurous among you, we recommend hopping on one of these boats at Derwentwater and heading across to Hawes End, situated at the foot of the beautiful Cat Bells. With a long jetty and deep water, you can practice jumping and diving to your heart's content here, all the while taking in the awe-inspiring sights of Keswick's stunning surroundings.
Another ideal location for experienced swimmers can be found at Ullswater. The National Park's second largest lake, it stretches 7.5 miles long and has multiple entry spots. A well-known favourite of these is the Kailpot Crag. Just a short walk from Shandwick, down a path encompassed by Pine, Oak and Rowan trees, it sits on deep waters, so you can climb the ledges of the crag and enjoy plunging into the crisp, refreshing depths from a height – perfect for thrill-seekers! If you're a confident swimmer, you'll be able to cover a good distance thanks to the length of this particular lake. And what's even better, at the end of your water-filled workout, you can treat yourself to a well-deserved hot drink and cake, as the Lake District is full of small, charming coffee shops in its quaint towns and villages. Just remember to bring a cosy jumper or tracksuit to change into!
Wondering where to swim near Cornwall? Bude Sea Pool and Baby Bay are the best places to go
We couldn't talk about wild swimming in the UK without mentioning the much-loved region of Cornwall! Known for its sunny seaside towns and beaches, there are plenty of places to get your hair wet. When it comes to wild swimming, Bude Sea Pool is a popular choice, especially for newbies to the sport. Built in 1930, this semi-natural tidal pool is 91 metres long and 45 metres wide. Great for the whole family, it allows you to enjoy swimming in the Atlantic's waters without the risk of being out in the open ocean. In summer, it's even manned by lifeguards, so you can swim in the salty water knowing that you will be out of harm’s way. What's more, in summertime the water is pleasantly mild, so a pair of classic swim shorts is all you'll need! It can get rather busy though, so, if you prefer veering off the beaten track, you'd be best heading down the coast to Polzeath. While the main beach is also pretty popular (especially among surfers), look a little further and you'll find a small inlet, officially known as Pentireglaze Haven, but more commonly nicknamed 'Baby Bay.' This secluded spot, surrounded by rocks, has perfectly white sand and bright blue waters, and will transport you to a whole different world – one that is peaceful and picture-perfect. We recommend going for your swim while the sun is setting for a truly unforgettable experience!
Where can you go swimming in Northern Ireland? Head to the North Coast
Is there anywhere as majestic as Northern Ireland's rugged coast lines? We don't think so! Stretching two miles, the golden strand of Portstewart lies on Northern Ireland's North Coast and is a favourite swim spot among locals and visitors alike. Surrounded by greenery, cliffs, ancient sand dunes and, most strikingly, the Mussenden Temple, it really is an outstanding location for a swim. And, if that wasn't convincing enough, Portstewart Strand is known for the quality of its water, so you can rest assured that you're bathing in sparkly clean H2O! A similarly well-kept but admittedly rather busy spot for a swim lies just a 30-minute drive away in County Antrim – Ballintoy Harbour! Many people visit this pretty site year-on-year to see its structured granite walls, small boats and array of large rocks. However, keen swimmers will want to walk back up the road from the car park, where the entrance to a small path can be found, leading down to the sandy shore that sits under a chalky white cliff. Astonishingly clear and inviting waters await you here, meaning all that's left to do when you reach them is to dip your feet!
Wondering where to swim in the Capital? Head to London's Hampstead Heath Ponds, or travel a little further down the River Thames
Don't worry, wild swimming isn't off the cards for all you city-dwellers! For those of you living in England’s capital, thanks to North London's Hampstead Heath Ponds, you don't need to escape to the country to take a swim in natural waters! Originally built back in the 17th and 18th centuries, Hampstead Heath’s pools were dug with the intention of creating reservoirs, to accommodate London’s growing population and increasing demand for water. However, these ponds have since been serving as outdoor bathing havens for local Londoners. There are three main ponds open to the public – the Hampstead Mixed Pond, the Kenwood Ladies' Pond and the Highgate Men's Pond. All three ponds are surrounded by calming vegetation, and provide a beacon of tranquillity, transporting swimmers far away from city life. Just make sure to arrive early enough to avoid the large crowds, especially when it’s hot outside. Our top tip is to visit on a drizzly day, as there will be less people, but the pond remains just as beautiful! And, while you certainly cannot swim in the Thames in London itself, if you're willing to travel to the neighbouring region of Berkshire, you can take a dip in one of the world's most iconic rivers, down by the Pangbourne Meadows. Clean and safe to swim in, this is an excellent place to unwind. We recommend bringing your picnic bag with you, as the meadows are a great place for a post-swim lunch!
Enjoy the beautiful waterfalls of Skye, including the Fairy Pools
If you've already tried swimming in seas, lakes and rivers and are looking for an experience that is a little more unique, why not try swimming under a waterfall? Luckily for you, you don't need to jet off far to find one! Scotland's Isle of Skye is without a shadow of a doubt your best bet. This majestic island will take your breath away not only with its stunning scenery, but also its icy cold waters! The charmingly named Fairy Pools are often the top waterfall recommendation in Skye. These rock pools are filled with crystal clear water, running fresh from the mountains, and provide a real mystical atmosphere. However, it comes as no surprise that the Fairy Pools attract visitors from all over the globe, and a lot of them at that! So, if you're looking for a less touristy waterfall, we'll let you in on a little local secret... If you head 30 minutes east of the Fairy Pools, look out for the Slighachan bridge. Park your car and walk over the bridge, continuing for around 10-15 minutes. You'll then come across Allt Daraich – a hidden waterfall and pool that is less known to tourists, but just as beautiful and enchanting as the Fairy Pools. You can choose between the bottom pool, with its turquoise water contrasting against the craggy rocks or, for those who prefer a little adventure, you can climb up to the top pool and enjoy bathing in its depths, with the relaxing sounds of the waterfall rushing below. One thing's for sure – you'll leave this experience feeling reinvigorated and revitalized. And for those who believe in fairytales, you may leave feeling more beautiful too, as legend has it that if you dip your face into the pool and don’t dry it after, the fairies will grant you eternal beauty!
Get swimming outdoors now!
So, there you have it! A rundown of our top spots for a dip in natural waters. Whether you escape to the country and dive into some of the UK's most secluded, tranquil waters, or simply bathe in local ponds and tidal pools, there really is somewhere for everyone to enjoy the wonderful sport that is wild swimming! So, all that's left to do is pack your bag and go! And, if you are looking for other water-based activities to try out while you're at it, make sure to consult our guide to The Top Five Watersports to Try This Summer for more aquatic fun!
Just remember, like all outdoor sports, wild swimming does come with risks. Open water is almost always colder than swimming pools, so make sure that you dress appropriately for the water temperature – wearing a wetsuit, swim boots and gloves where required – and avoid swimming in the winter months where possible. Ensure that the water is safe for swimming before jumping in and, if you can, find a partner or group to swim with, or stick to busy, supervised locations. Finally, if you’re not a strong and experienced swimmer, always keep close to shorelines. Staying safe will maximise your wild swimming enjoyment!