Swim in a bend of the River Otter, on unspoilt beaches and beside willows in the beautiful River Stour. Sophie Pierce and Matt Newbury, authors of Wild Swimming Walks in Dorset and East Devon, choose their favourite swim/walk routes.
Ottery St Mary Circular, Devon
This is a relaxing amble through what feels like Wind in the Willows country. The walk starts and finishes in the pretty town of Ottery St Mary. It follows the beautiful River Otter, childhood playground of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and is pretty much flat all the way, making it suitable for all ages and abilities. The first swim spot is a pool on a bend in the river, overhung by willows and with a couple of rope swings. This is a great place for younger members of the party to paddle. The main swim location is slightly further downstream, a truly stunning stretch of river above a weir. It is long and deep, so ideal for a bit more of a serious swim, or you may just prefer to float languidly, admiring the changing skies above! Half way through the walk there’s a handy pub stop in the village of Tipton St John, before the walk returns back up the river to the start. Crummock Water.
Devon Combes Double, Devon
I love this circular walk, from the quaint East Devon village of Salcombe Regis, because it is usually quiet and you get a real sense of being ‘away from it all.’ The route takes you down two steep and remote valleys to two beautiful, unspoilt beaches. You wander down through wildflower meadows and chalk grassland to find the first swim location, Weston Mouth. This is a long shingle beach, with incredibly clear water, where you can swim for miles along the shore. (you should also note that it is popular with naturists who gather at the western end). After your dip, the walk continues along the cliffs and through an old quarry to the next swim spot, Salcombe Mouth, another quiet and peaceful beach. Top tip for both swims: take wet shoes, the shingle can be agony on your feet! After your second swim, it’s straight back up the valley to Salcombe Regis.
Studland Circular, Dorset
This is a wonderful walk, because although it includes the endless sandy beach at Studland, it also takes you to the much lesser known, but equally magical, shores of Poole Harbour. You need to start the walk about two hours before high tide, from the Knoll Beach car park. The route takes you through some rugged heathland, bright with yellow gorse and purple heather in the summer, to the now abandoned Redhorn Quay. This is a wonderfully atmospheric place, with a shipwreck by the shore, where you can imagine boats coming and going to Brownsea Island in the old days. The water here is usually calm, and it makes a beautiful swim spot. (note though, for the best swimming, you need to be at the Quay around high water). The walk then continues clockwise around Studland, passing numerous beaches for more swims, including Shell Bay, where you get great views of the ships coming in and out of Poole Harbour.
Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, Dorset
This is hands down one of the most beautiful walks in the UK, but you’ll need to put in the effort for the ample rewards, as it follows one of the steepest sections of the South West Coast Path. The walk starts with a swim at impossibly beautiful Lulworth Cove, where the white pebbly beach against the clear blue waters gives it a real Mediterranean feel. The walk then heads up Hambury Tout before crossing over the fields of The Warren back to the coast with breath-taking views across to the Isle of Portland. Talking about being out of breath, the walk then follows a rollercoaster of a coast path before dropping down to the iconic Durdle Door. Here our top tip is to walk to the end of the beach and swim through Bat’s Hole, where you can access a deserted beach with the apt name of Lone Beach.
Throop Loop, Dorset
What I love about this walk is how close it is to Bournemouth, but you feel a million miles away from the urban sprawl. Most of the route is through the 35-hectare Sour Valley Nature Reserve, following the beautiful River Stour, with some gorgeous and varied swim spots along the way. The first is from a sandy beach and the second from the curved trunk of a remarkable willow tree. Along the route we passed historic farms, alpacas, a pumpkin patch, a Georgian manor house, a golf course and even an Alice in Wonderland theme park, before discovering another huge, lake-like swim spot in a lazy bend in the river. It was then past Throop Mill and back through the Nature Reserve, along what is known as the Dragonfly Trail and back to the visitor centre where a well-earned cup of tea can be enjoyed.
Isle of Portland Circular, Dorset
This has got to be a contender for my favourite walk in the book, as Portland is both spectacular and fascinating, with some remarkable swim spots along the way. The
isle is joined to the mainland by Chesil Beach, an iconic strip of shingle beach which gets you into the mood for adventures from the off. The walk starts near the iconic lighthouse at Portland Bill where a first swim can be enjoyed from an area known as Red Pool, where the remains of quarrying activity have left a series of ledges you can swim and jump from (having checked the depth first, obvs.). The walk then follows the coast path along to Church Ope Cove, where the bleached pebbles against the turquoise waters make for a magical dip. The walk finishes by taking you back toward the start through Perryfield Quarry, which is both an active stone quarry and a butterfly reserve.
Wild Swimming Walks in Dorset and East Devon by Sophie Pierce and Matt Newbury is published by Wild Things Publishing.