Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming, shares his top 10 wild swimming spots in the UK for beginners
When it comes to wild swimming, everyone is different. Some people like to drift downstream on a river safari, others like to follow a mountain brook dipping in every pool or waterfall as they go. I like rope swings, river tubing and places for jumping, while others would prefer to take a canoe ride, and jump in for a swim along the way. Whatever your style you will find many places recommended in the various wild swimming guidebooks, or if you search the internet for wild swimming places or maps.
To find your own places, all you need is an Ordnance Survey map (ideally 1:25,000) and some map reading skills or download using the Viewranger app on a smartphone.
On smaller rivers look for old weirs (marked by a straight line across the river) which create pools in rivers otherwise too shallow for swimming. On larger rivers, especially those with locks and boats, it should be deep enough to swim anywhere. Examine the bends of rivers, where the inside often creates a beach while the outside deepens into a deep pool.
Bridges are often built where the river naturally narrows into a gorge, and these can make excellent plunge pools for bridge jumping. Bridges, fords and riverside tracks indicate there will be few problems with access.
In National Park areas much of the land will be marked orange or ‘access land’ with free right to roam. Lakes and rivers in these areas are often wilder and perfect for a dip, as you can get right up to the bank or shore. Waterfalls will also be marked, and many have a plunge pool where the water has scoured out a bowl. While mountain areas will often be dramatic with waterfalls, gorges and tarns and the cleanest of waters, the water will be cold, good for short and exhilarating plunges only.
Lowland areas will have warmer winding rivers and lakes, better for a longer swim, but with a greater possibility of bugs and beasties. Check the ‘historic river water quality’ using the Environment Agency online maps.
The following list offers some great places for beginners to have a go.
1. Farleigh Hungerford, R Frome, Wiltshire
England’s oldest surviving river swimming club, founded in the 1930s, above a small weir with lawns, a diving board and rope swings. There’s a ruined castle nearby and a great riverside campsite at Stowford Farm just upstream, which serves delicious cream teas. This is a wonderfully friendly and sociable place to wild swim Descend into the village from A36 (signed Trowbridge). 51.3179, -2.2810.
2. Grantchester Meadows, R Cam, Cambridge
Over two miles of meadows and swimming from Sheep’s Green down to the Orchard Tea Gardens in Grantchester. Deep banks make this good for diving, but it can be muddy. Once a favourite wild swimming places of the Bloomsbury Group, including Rupert Brooke and Virginia Woolfe. 20 minutes walk from the train station. 52.1907, 0.1046
3. Sharrah Pool, R Dart, Dartmoor
The Rivert Dart has so many possibilities for swimming. Most families flock to beautiful Spitchwick Common near New Bridge. For something wilder head upstream to Horseshoe Falls and eventually Sharrah pool through the forested nature reserve. There are some good chutes here if you have an inner tube. 40 mins, 50.5301, -3.8396.
4. Port Meadow, River Thames, Oxford
Two miles of sandy beaches and grassy meadows though watch out for cattle. The idyllic countryside views with the church spires in the background provided much inspiration for Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. Yet the city and Oxford mainline station are only 15 mins walk away. From the station turn right onto the main road then find the Thames footpath on right and follow it ¾ mile upstream. Or access via The Perch inn (OX2 0NG, 01865 728891). 51.7698, -1.2881.
5. Wimborne Minster, R Stour, Bournemouth
An old Roman ford, footbridge and popular river pool with little beach. Good for both paddling and longer swims. Near the National Trust’s Kingston Lacy estate and beech avenue. 50.8000, -2.0076.
6. Lower Ddwli Falls, R Fechan, Waterfall Woods, South Wales
Part of a series of stunning ‘forest lidos’ on beautiful trails through the ‘Waterfall Woods’ in the Brecon Beacons. This fantastic pool sits under a wide, arced cascade. Park at Pont Melin-fach car park, off the Ystradfellte road. 51.7826, -3.5853.
7. Blue Pool, Friog, Fairbourne
A very deep, green–blue rectangular pool in a great quarry amphitheatre entered by a spooky railway tunnel. Views of Cardigan Bay. 300m south of Fairbourne church, turn left at telephone box and head up into the ruined mine area. 52.6891, -4.0413 16.
8. Overbeck Bridge, Wast water, Lake District
England’s deepest lake under the dramatic backdrop of England’s tallest mountain. Quartz white beaches lead into clear waters. There is a small lane along the north-west shore which provides plenty of options in which to stop and swim. Good pub (Wasdale Head Inn, CA20 1EX, 019467 26229) and National Trust campsite. 54.4501, -3.2838.
9. Appletreewick, River Wharfe, Yorkshire Dales
A pretty river pool with a small island and rapids upstream. There’s a rope swing on the far side, grassy banks and field for picnics. This is a great spot to while away summer days whilst kids tube down the river on rubber rings. Access from the footpath next to Mason Farm camping (BD23 6DD, 01756 720275) a popular family site right by the river.. 54.0332, -1.9213.
10. Faerie Pools, Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Embued with legend and fairy tales, the famous ‘Allt Coir a Mhadaidh’ pools and waterfalls are tinged with jade hues due to the volcanic gabbro rocks and the mystical peaks of the Black Cuillin mountains tower over.. Swim through the underwater arch between the pools or find the high jump. From Sligachan Hotel (A87) follow A863 / B8009 and turn L (signed Glen Brittle) just before Carbost. After 4 miles find ‘Fairy Pool’ car park on L. 20 mins, 57.2497, -6.2554 T6.