The weather is slowly but surely warming up. So grab your swimsuit, because the UK’s most exhilarating wild swimming spots are calling.
But if you don’t want to run and have had enough of walks, don’t worry. The Outdoor Swimming Society have launched a free Swim Couch to 5K programme – just like the Couch to 5K for running– to encourage people to take a dip in the sea or a lake, or river.
As well as unbeatable views, wild swimming offers substantial health benefits.
Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming: 300 hidden dips in the rivers, lakes and waterfalls of Britain, tells stylist.co.uk that swimming in the wild “provides a huge shot of natural endorphins that lifts moods.”
This being the UK, we can’t promise a warm dip, but Start says that perseverance is key. Studies by NASA have shown that repeated cold swimming leads to substantial bodily changes known as “cold adaptation.”
“These make the water feel much less cold, but also bring down blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce fat disposition, inhibit blood clotting and increase fertility and libido in both men and women,” he explains.
Health benefits aside, more often that not you’re also just a short swim from a mood-enhancing country pub. So what are you waiting for?
From picturesque plunge pools to rapids that rival a Jacuzzi and idyllic ponds on London’s doorstep, Stylist has trawled Start’s exhaustive guide and selected our pick of Britain’s 12 best wild swimming spots:
Beckenham Place Park, London
Best for: Trying water sports like kayaking, boating and paddle boarding.
Part of a £6.8 million regeneration, this beautiful Georgian mansion is being transformed to become the ultimate London summer spot. The 285 metre long lake will be open to all swimmers above the age of eight from 20 July, for a small fee (£3 for adults).
Not only can you splish and splash to your heart’s content, there’s a jetty and mini beach to keep you entertained, too.
Find it: Beckenham Hill and Ravensbourne are the closest overground stations.
Ullswater, Lake District
Best for: Jumps and snorkelling
As well as being one of the Lake District’s prettiest spots, Ullswater boasts plenty of opportunities for more adventurous swimming. Head to the high point at Kailpot Crag - a mile south-west of Howtown Pier - for a thrilling jump into the deep, clear waters below. It’s also a popular spot for snorkelling and to see the sunset. Once you’re done, you can wander down to the beach to warm up and cook some dinner.
Find it: The nearest train station to Ullswater is Penrith. Grid reference: 54.5763, -2.873.
Stay at: Park Foot
Hampstead Heath Ponds, London
Best for: Women-only swimming
A dip in Hampstead Ponds should be on the bucket list of every Londoner. Set in the rolling hills of the heath, the three ponds are one of the most idyllic swimming spots you’ll find so close to the city.
The women’s pond is the most picturesque and secluded of the trio, as it’s enveloped by trees. The mixed pond is where it’s at in high summer, as the lawns make for a popular picnic spot after a dip. All three are deep enough for a proper swim, though they’re definitely not known for their warm waters, so brace yourself!
Find it: Kentish Town or Hampstead are the nearest tubes
River Thames, Pangbourne, Berkshire
Best for: Long-distance swimming
Fancy a getting out of the city? Pangbourne is within easy reach of London and a great spot for a wild swim. Take a dip and enjoy the clear waters and unspoilt views. If you’re in it for the long haul, you can swim the six miles to Reading with views of historic Mapledurham House en route. Or if you’re more for the leisurely approach, follow your dip with a jaunt to the quaint pubs in Goring-on-Thames.
Find it: The nearest train station is Pangbourne. Grid reference: 51.5080, -1.1109
Claverton Weir, River Avon, near Bath
Best for: Families
Forming a long, meandering waterfall over the Avon, Claverton is not only picturesque, but its varying depths mean it caters to wild swimmers of all abilities. Take a satisfying swim for the best part of an hour up the Avon above the weir or bring the kids and their inflatables for a day paddling under the dam.
Find it: The nearest station is Freshford. Grid reference 51.3772, -2.3003
Salmon Leaps, River Teign
Best for: A spa experience
Dartmoor’s Teign has it all as far as a wild swimming excursion goes: a calm river and pool for a tranquil dip, grassy banks for picnics and the stunning Victorian Salmon Leaps - three plunge pools in the woods below Castle Drogo that cascade dramatically into one another.
Kids will love the exhilarating ride when turbulence lifts them off their feet and slides them between the pools - you might even want to bring a rubber ring. But we recommend letting nature do its work by bobbing around while the bubbling water pummels your entire body. Be warned: nature’s Jacuzzis are cold, but the massage is worth it!
Find it: The nearest station is Newton Abbot. Grid reference: 50.6926, -3.8097
Overbeck Bridge, Wastwater
Best for: Mountain views
The deepest lake in the UK and spanning 5km, Wayswater is an ideal spot for a long swim, especially in the morning. The views aren’t bad either – it’s overlooked by Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak, while the waters are as clear as the Mediterranean. Be sure to swim up to the quartz beach at Overbeck Bridge to sit back and take in those dramatic mountains.
Find it: The nearest stations are Workington or Flimby. 54.4501, -3.2838
Stay at: The Wasdale Head Inn and Camping
Fairy Glen, Betws-Y-Coed, Wales
Best for: Fairy-tale views
In the 18th century, the largely unchartered areas near Fairy Glen in North Wales were a source of endless inspiration for artists of the Aesthetic Movement. Now, entry to this moss-banked narrow gorge is charged at £1, but it’s still just as picturesque.
Find it: The nearest train station is Betws-Y-Coed. Grid reference: 53.0725, -3.7953
Serpentine, Hyde Park, London
Best for: A wild swim in the city
During the winter months, the Serpentine lake is the territory of its swimming club, but from May until September it’s open to the public, with Londoners flocking there to escape the urban heat and sunbathe on the grassy banks. As well as the popular Lido cafe, there’s a family area that’s safe for kids and has a chlorinated paddling pool and play area. Adult entry is £4.50; concs, £3.50; children, £1.50; family tickets are £10.
Opening times: 10am - 6pm on weekends in May, and all week from June to September.
Find it: Hyde Park Corner is the nearest tube.
Blue Pool, Friog, Fairbourne, Wales
Best for: Intrepid explorers
A disused mine quarry, the Blue Pool is accessed via a low railway bridge, but it’s well worth the spooky entrance once you slide into the deep, green-blue pool with views over over Cardigan Bay, Cadair Idris and the Rhinog mountains. Its square shape and smooth walls mean it’s the nearest thing you’ll get to a swimming pool in the wild.
Get there: Morfa Mawddach is the nearest station. Grid reference: 53.0207, -3.2160
River Derwent near Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
Best for: Quaint country views
Always wanted to live out the fantasy of a summer splash with Mr Darcy? Chatsworth House is just the place for it, as it was chosen as the location for Pemberley in both the film and TV adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Whilst the grounds and the stately home itself are gorgeous, the real treat here is a serene swim upstream of the River Derwent.
Get there: The nearest stations are Chesterfield (trains from Sheffield or London) or Matlock (trains from Derby).
Grassington Weir, North Yorkshire
Best for: Group excursions
You can easily while away a whole day exploring the quaint Dales market town of Grassington, especially as its pristine river and waterfalls are ideal for wild swimming. The grassy common is perfect for picnics followed by a cooling paddle above the weir, or if you're feeling adventurous you can ride down the chute beside the old mill-house. Don't forget the inflatables.
Find it: Skipton is the nearest train station. Grid reference: 54.067938,-2.000214,49526
10 ways to swim wild and safe
A newcomer to wild swimming? Start shares his top tips:
- Never swim in canals, urban rivers, stagnant lakes or reedy shallows
- Never swim in flood water and be cautious of water quality during droughts
- Keep cuts and wounds covered with waterproof plasters if you are concerned
- Avoid contact with blue-green algae
- Never swim alone and keep a constant watch on weak swimmers
- Never jump into water you have not thoroughly checked for depth and obstructions
- Always make sure you know how you will get out before you get in
- Don’t get too cold - warm up with exercise and warm clothes before and after a swim
- Wear footwear if you can
- Watch out for boats on any navigable river. Wear a coloured swim hat so you can be seen
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To discover more stunning secret swimming locations in the UK purchase Wild Swimming: 300 hidden dips in the rivers, lakes and waterfalls of Britain by Daniel Start (£16.99), published by Wild Things Publishing Ltd. Local ‘Wild Guides’ are also available for the south east, south west, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales.
You can also search for nearby wild swimming spots on the map at wildswimming.co.uk
Images: Daniel Start/Rex Features/iStock